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1812: The War That Forged a Nation

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Although frequently overlooked between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 tested a rising generation of American leaders; unified the United States with a renewed sense of national purpose; and set the stage for westward expansion from Mackinac Island to the Gulf of Mexico. USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," proved the mettle of the fledgling American navy; Oliver Hazard Perry hoisted a flag boasting, "Don't Give Up the Ship"; and Andrew Jackson's ragged force stood behind it's cotton bales at New Orleans and bested the pride of British regulars. Here are the stories of commanding generals such as America's double-dealing James Wilkinson, Great Britain's gallant Sir Isaac Brock, Canada's heroine farm wife Laura Secord, and country doctor William Beanes, whose capture set the stage for Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." During the War of 1812, the United States cast off its cloak of colonial adolescence and -- with both humiliating and glorious moments -- found the fire that was to forge a nation.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

392 pages, Paperback

First published October 5, 2004

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About the author

Walter R. Borneman

20 books130 followers
Walter R. Borneman, b.1952, an American historian and lawyer, is the author of well-known popular books on 18th and 19th century United States history. He received his B.A. in 1974 from Western State College of Colorado, and received an M.A. in history there in 1975 for a thesis on "Irwin : silver camp of the Ruby Mountains"; in 1981 he received a law degree from the University of Denver, and practiced law. His latest book, published in May 2012, is The Admirals Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--the 5-star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 173 reviews
Profile Image for happy.
302 reviews89 followers
September 6, 2014
In this look at America’s real “Forgotten War”, Mr. Borneman gives us a very reader friendly account of the US’s second war with Great Britain. His writing style is informal and very accessible and the story flows very smoothly. He even quotes the lyrics of late 50’s song “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jonny Horton

He starts the story before most accounts of the war with William Henry Harrison’s victory over an Indian Confederation led by Tecumseh at Tippecanoe in modern day Indiana. This led to both his later election to the presidency and the opening of the Midwest to white settlement. He also recounts Aaron Burr’s attempt to set up an independent country in what is now the southern US west of the Allegany Mountains. He uses these tales in setting up some of the causes of the War. In his discussion of the causes of the war, he emphasizes the western and southern desires to annex Canada, which they saw as easy pickings. The author does cite some statistics to justify their hopes, ie the differences in population and the fact that many of the inhabitants were of US decent who the War Hawks, as those desiring war became to be called, assumed would be sympathetic to joining the US. To say the War Hawks were mistaken in that assumption would be an understatement. That said he doesn’t skimp on recounting the commonly accepted cause of the war – the British Navy’s habit of stopping American shipping on the high seas and impressing any crew member that they considered a British citizen. He also talks about Britain’s blockade of France and their seizing any ship caught trading with the French.

Mr. Borneman does a good job of telling the US Army’s unpreparedness of war and the resulting disasters that befell the Army, the attempts to conquer Canada and the fall of Detroit to a much smaller British/Canadian force. In looking at the unpreparedness of the US for war he examines the philosophy of the Republicans, the followers of Jefferson and Madison, concerning the military. They were very suspicious of a standing military. In discussing the various invasions of Canada, the author does a good job of explaining the problems the US commanders had with the various states militia units and their refusal to leave the borders of the United States. This was especially true of units from the New England states. In many cases this caused the available troops to fall by more than half!

His retelling of the various naval encounters is also well done. In a war were the Army was not well prepared and its leadership was sorely lacking, the Navy was both well prepared, what there was of it, and very well led. He recounts the early frigate victories and later the war on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. These stories set many of the traditions and mottos that are still part of the US Navy.

In telling the story of the war, Mr. Borneman lets the reader know that Britain thought that it was a sideshow and they had bigger problems (the war with Napoleon). If they had been able to focus on the war, the US would not have fared well. He illustrates this by telling the British raids in the Chesapeake in the summer and fall of 1814. He makes the point of saying Britain never intended to invade and conquer, but just intended to bring the Americans to the table and get concessions from them. They were essentially a big raid.

In telling the of the end of the war, he lets the reader no that for the most part all of the terms of the peace treaty could have been achieved without the US resulting to war. His telling of the most famous US victory of the war – the Battle of New Orleans, that was fought after the peace treaty had been signed, lets the reader know how close it really was. If the British had been able to better coordinate their forces and get artillery on the flank of Jackson’s position, they probably would have been able to defeat Jackson and Mr. Horton would not have had a number 1 single 150 yrs later.

While short, this is a very good overview of the war and a good introduction to the events that led to America’s national anthem. I rate it a solid 4 stars for Good Reads.

Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,117 reviews40 followers
December 17, 2012
The War of 1812 was yet another war that requires head scratching as to why it even started. They had to name it after a calendar year because there wasn't much else they could do. For the Yanks, it really was a great war, and here's why:

1. Commodore Hazard Perry was able to write the immortal, "We have met the enemy and they are ours...". Take that, evil Pommie empire.

2. 'Old Ironsides'. The baddest-ass nickname ever given to a ship.

3. The redcoats burned the White House. Americans have had a chip on their shoulder ever since.

4. President Madison was, apart from Lincoln, the only President to actually be on a battlefield as the nation's commander-in-chief. Of all the Presidents, tiny little Madison was the least likely to ever do that.

5. The Star-Spangled Banner. Rockets' red glare.

6. The Battle of New Orleans. The war was already over, but someone forgot to tell the Brits, who lost their general. Jackson would turn the victory into a future presidency.

Walter Borneman makes life easy for the reader by breaking the War of 1812 into focused and succinct chapters, which makes the entire book rather gripping. Although the outcome of the war was really a stalemate, the book is decidedly victorious in its revelation of how a clumsy and fledgling republic was forged into a nation.

Book Season = Autumn (east coast war = leaves change colours)
Profile Image for Alan Tomkins-Raney.
244 reviews39 followers
June 12, 2019
For the most part this is an interesting and entertaining history of the War of 1812. The best parts are those describing the various naval battles, as well as Andrew Jackson's campaigns and victories. I did have a problem with the author's very questionable version of John Marshall's role in Aaron Burr's treason trial during the early chapters; in fact, I felt the whole Aaron Burr situation was rather sloppily handled and not entirely accurate. But that was a minor portion of the book. For the most part, this is a serviceable and highly readable recount of the War of 1812, a war that really did not need to be fought and was poorly prosecuted by the Madison administration. In fact, Madison and Jefferson both deserve more of a drubbing than they get in this book. The author seeks to find some justification in hindsight for this foolish war by asserting at the end that its overall effect was to forge a stronger nation, making us one republic versus a union of sovereign states. Perhaps, but I feel a stronger case could be made that John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court, in triumphing over his struggles with the seditious Thomas Jefferson, probably had a much greater role in determining the structure and character of our constituted government. Maybe the war accomplished this in the hearts and minds of the citizens, which, of course, would be a determining factor, too. Anyway, at times I felt like this was more of a 3 star book, but like most Borneman books, it's fun to read, so I gave it 4.
Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,730 reviews
December 20, 2012
In honor of the War of 1812's bicentennial I purchased this book looking for an introduction on the subject. I don't remember it being discussed in school and I had no previous knowledge on the conflict. As an introduction to the subject, Borneman's book meets the definition, but only barely.

This is a comprehensive, if somewhat superficial, look at the war that gave the United States a national identity, even as it ended in essentially a stalemate. Borneman is mostly known for history books dealing with the western United States, and he even mentions in his Acknowledgements how this book seems to be out of his field. However, Borneman maintains that the war set the United States on a course that would result in the western expansion that is his bread and butter, and thus deserves to be looked at more closely. It's a very interesting book that covers the entire war that tells everything that happened, though it doesn't quite go into as much detail as I would have liked.

Borneman lays out a general foundation for why the two nations went to war, but does little more than relate in simple terms the causes and a few early skirmishes. He goes into greater details about the engagements of the war between 1812 and 1814. He writes very clear descriptions of the battles on land and on sea, and you can really appreciate what the soldiers went through during them. However, in between the engagements, Borneman almost becomes bored and fails to relate why the participants selected their next targets and what strategic value they hold.

That the War of 1812 `forged' a nation, is hardly a novel concept. Indeed it has been the favourite ex post explanation and justification from the American perspective since the very conclusion of the war. In fairness, while Borneman doesn't lay claim to any new insight, unfortunately his purported theme fails even as a pivot or point of departure for this most recent recounting of this most curious war. There is one chapter devoted in an almost maudlin way to the origins of the American Anthem and the book's final pages build to a conclusion that was never seriously argued or developed: that the war was a great unifier of the until then, loosely federated states, and indeed, the factious American populace itself. This is not to say the war did not have the effect claimed, but just that the argument was not well made out and did not set the theme of the work as its' title promised.

Nor does the author recognize, or even realize, the possibility that the war forged not one but two nations. It is only in the book's afterward `P.S. section' that idea finally dawns on him and then only after being challenged by a Canadian. Remarkably, he dismisses the notion on the basis that Canada did not become a nation until many years after the treaty of Ghent so therefore the war could not be seen to have had this singular effect. Implicit in this view is the belief that but for the revolutionary war that which is now America would have remained a colony of Britain and without the war of 1812 it would have remained a hapless and divided secondary power. The countervailing view is that it had not been for these two nasty wars the 49th parallel would presently not be a scar on the North American map and that America would now occupy 9/10th of the continent instead of only 2/5th. When American tourists to Canada ponder why it is that a people that look, talk and drive cars just like them live in a separate country, they need only to read up on the war of 1812 to understand why. When the war started 80% of Upper Canada's (Ontario) population was American born or second generation. As Bornemane himself acknowledge the country (colony - whatever you want to call it) was like a ripe plum just about ready to fall into the American lap. But the pillaging of the farms and businesses of the settlers and the burning to the ground of the communities of York (Toronto) Newark (Niagara Falls) and Port Dover by those that should have been their friends, neighbour s and natural allies, created a cleavage in the nascent consciousness that Canadians to this day have not fully recovered. Seen this way the war of 1812 didn't so much forge one nation as it (accidentally) created another.

Borneman's style is very readable, as history books go. Many history books can use over complicated jargon and become painful to read, skipping back and forth in time, etc. Borneman's style was clear and enjoyable. He laid out the facts chronologically and generally in easy to read language (except for maybe some of the naval battles). However, the author also writes very colloquially, almost at a middle school level. This was at times distracting and on the whole lowered my opinion of the author's conclusions.

The author also completely fails to support his main argument, that the War of 1812 somehow formed one nation out of fifteen different states. He does this mainly by the lack of focus on the subject until the very end of the book, when he dedicates a half dozen pages to it. In fact, many of his points throughout the book contradict this premise In addition, Borneman completely fails to support his conclusion of who "won" the war. The objectives laid out by him in the first chapters are disregarded entirely when deciding a "winner" at the conclusion, instead falling back on this upsupported premise about forging a nation.

On the whole, if you are hoping for a brief, readable introduction to War of 1812, Borneman's book is okay. But if you have read a few history books and want a more in depth introduction to the subject, Borneman's book will only frustrate you as it did me.
Profile Image for John Vanek.
30 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2016
Borneman tried to write a concise history of the War of 1812. This book is concise, but that's about all it has going for it.

In his attempt to condense complicated political and military decisions, Borneman ended up writing some rather convoluted sentences that confuse or obscure more than they explain. Moreover, Borneman's writing style--with frequent attempts to be cute--was distracting. There's plenty of room for humor in history and for the author's personality to show through, but this humor seemed forced. Or at least it missed the mark with me. I also found the book severely lacking in political and social context. The history of the period is layered with complexities, but Borneman did away with most of it in favor of a series of simple vignettes. The reader moves from battle to battle with little sense of the overall picture or the political dogfights taking place behind the scenes.

The subtitle is apparently his thesis, and an incredibly weak thesis it is. Having read Fred Anderson's great The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War and a number of books about the early Republic, it's clear that a shared American identity was, in some important ways, already far more pervasive than Borneman admits. Or, in contradiction to his thesis, the deep antagonism New England Federalists expressed toward the War of 1812 from before it was declared right through its conclusion suggests the war lacked the unifying power Borneman claims it had. The War of 1812 was perhaps the most divisive foreign war in American history, at least until Vietnam. Borneman chose a thesis that ignores this fact and provides very little evidence in support of it. (I realize the book's primary goal was to provide a concise narrative for a popular audience, but still… any number of more reasonable conclusions about the war might have sufficed as a stand-in thesis.)

Even though it's a somewhat longer read (and is far from perfect in its own right), I definitely recommend The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by Donald R. Hickey over this poor effort.
Profile Image for Chris Cole.
109 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2018
I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew about the War of 1812 before I bought this book. I purchased it at the bookstore at Fort McHenry, where one of the key conflicts occurred late in the war. Fascinating period in our history, even though it is too often overshadowed by the revolution that preceded it and the civil war that followed.

Fast-paced, detailed read that had me excited to turn every page.

Profile Image for Brian Willis.
569 reviews29 followers
March 17, 2019
I purchased this book on a visit to Fort McHenry in the summer of 2016, and I can understand why it was pretty much the featured book on display. This is the 304 page account of the war for anybody who wants the meat and potatoes without extra academic content. Breezy and complete, Borneman covers every major battle, relying on Theodore Roosevelt's award winning account of the naval part of the war, and supplementing them with maps.

This is an interesting, "forgotten" war. It does not have the epoch defining consequences attributed to the Revolution or the Civil War, but Borneman makes the important distinction that this war actually united the states, so much so that the United States became singular rather than plural in usage after the Treaty of Ghent. It made political superstars of Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William Henry Harrison, and James Monroe, and it made the careers of a number of generals who were to be in their declining years in the immediate build up to the Civil War.

If you want a book specifically on this war, this is the place to go. Recommended for all interested in early 19th century American history, or the specific battle facts of this war.
Profile Image for Jerry Smith.
726 reviews13 followers
October 15, 2017
Thoroughly enjoyable account of the War of 1812 which, I am certain, few people know very much about at all despite it being the genesis of many iconic characters and incidents in US history - the most obvious popular result being the words for the national anthem, penned as the British shelled Baltimore.

This is by no means a stuffy, detail-laden narrative but there is more than enough here to get a good idea of the causes of the conflict and the battles in this ostensibly evenly matched contest. It is clear however, that this war very much set the US on the path to truly united nationhood. It was after the war that politicians started saying: "The United States is" as opposed to the "United States are". There is some resonance with the Civil War that was to follow nearly 50 years later and indeed, some of the same characters.

It is never terribly satisfying, in my opinion, to read about battles. They tend to be so fluid of course, that it can be very hard to keep the battlefields in one's mind (or even to get them in there in the first place) when reading about soldier's movements etc. It really needs a 3D medium, or at least a moving screen to truly appreciate it, at least to this reader. However this book doesn't attempt detailed descriptions and is content to give an overview of the battles and the main protagonists and is all the more readable for that.

Wars are horrifyingly terrible of course, but the reasons for them and the specific context always interesting, as is the result and it's world impact. That is certainly the case here and although this seemed, at times, a half-hearted contest, especially from the British end, it was certainly a very important war and set the US on it's path to nationhood and sowed the seeds of the country taking the world stage which led, ultimately to superpower status. Whether that is a good thing is covered in many other books! I very much enjoyed, and feel educated by this book.
Profile Image for Joel.
208 reviews34 followers
March 22, 2015
This book caught my attention because the War of 1812 tends to get short shrift in American history classes; students wind up with a weak understanding of what happened and why. After reading this book- a very good and readable account, by the way- I'd say that there's a good reason why: because the war didn't really amount to much. Neither side ever managed to capture and hold much enemy ground. There were some stirring naval battles, on the high seas and the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, but they ultimately didn't change much. America tried to invade Canada several times, with farcical results. The British burned Washington D.C., but it was a hit-and-run attack from the sea; the British sacked the town, then left and sailed away quickly. They then tried to repeat the strategy on Baltimore, but were repulsed rather easily. The British probably would have won the war unglamorously, through a naval blockade which was strangling the American economy to death; except that Napoleon was returning to power in France, making the British eager to end the sideshow of the American war on any terms so they could focus their energies on the real threat.

The book is at its weakest when Borneman tries to make the case for the war's long-term significance. His central thesis is that the war unified the nation; prior to the War of 1812, he argues, Americans were primarily loyal to their home state, not to the nation itself, and 'The United States' was used as a plural term, not singular. He basically claims that the war reversed these attitudes. While he marshals solid evidence in support of this thesis, he pushes it farther than it can really go. Even a half-century later, during the Civil War, many soldiers- both South and North- were far more enthusiastic about fighting for their home state than for the Union or the Confederacy. The War of 1812, I think, is better viewed as a signpost on a gradual road to national unity, than as an event where attitudes changed suddenly and radically.

It's still a good book, and if you have a deep interest in American history, and feel that the War of 1812 is a gap in your body of knowledge, I'd certainly recommend this book. But if your interest in history is more casual- if you're only looking for the very most interesting and/or important subjects to read about- you can pass this one by.
Profile Image for Robert Melnyk.
339 reviews14 followers
June 17, 2018
Very well done book on The War of 1812. The book does a nice job of detailing the war itself, but also the history as to why the war took place, and the effects and impact it had on the nation and the rest of the world. From James Madison to James Monroe, from Old Ironsides to Old Hickory, this book is full of interesting details and descriptions of a war that did indeed forge a nation. Interesting read for those who enjoy American History.
Profile Image for Mike.
75 reviews19 followers
July 24, 2020
"In some respects, it was a silly little war--fought between creaking sailing ships and inexperienced armies often led by bumbling generals. It featured a tit-for-tat, "You burned our capital, so we'll burn yours," and a legendary battle unknowingly fought after the signing of a peace treaty."

My first book having anything to do with the War of 1812. I knew almost nothing about it, save the Star Spangled Banner and a vague knowledge of Andrew Jackson winning a battle in New Orleans. They call it a forgotten war for a reason -- I don't remember covering it very much in school. The origins of the war were a mix of British impressment of American sailors, free trade disputes, and an expansionist wing of the hawkish republicans dead-set of grabbing as much of Canada as possible. America's list of grievances also included provocation of indian unrest on its frontiers, and the outright seizure of commercial ships.

"In June 1812 a still infant nation of eighteen loosely joined states had the audacity to declare war on the British Empire."

It turned rather quickly, however, into a fight for Americas very existence as a nation. For a time it looked like the British Empire might regain its former colonies.

Some interesting tidbits that caught my attention:

I had no idea about "The Burr Conspiracy," wherein the disgruntled politico plotted with a shady general to steal Louisiana, Mexico and the entire Southwest from the country who'd cast him aside. It really showed how tenuous the union was at that time, and made for some fascinating reading.

I hadn't known anything of "Old Tippecanoe," or the battle that earned him that nickname. It was a relatively minor military engagement, but it had huge lasting political ramifications -- eventually sending William Henry Harrison to the white house.

It's interesting learning that one of the main reasons America survived the war was because Britain was entangled in a European conflict on a massive scale with Napoleon.

The Battle of Bladensburg was the only time an American president was ever on an actual battlefield as commander in chief.

Teddy Roosevelt wrote a history of the war that is actually still viewed as an authoritative source. Maybe i'll give it a read in the future.

It's often assumed that because The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, that it was wanton. That's not necessarily the case. New Orleans was a treasure chest of goods, due to the fact that the shipping of those goods had been basically halted.

"Great Britain waited eagerly for news of the American ratification [of the treaty] and the latest word from Admiral Cochrane on the Gulf Coast. After all, the Treaty of Ghent had called for a return to status ante bellum...If the Royal Navy hsould by now find itself ensconced in New Orleans, the British government, for all of its interest in ending the American war, might well claim this activity decidedly outside the intents of the treaty."

Overall a really interesting read. I'll definitely have to revisit this war, it's an interesting one that should be taught more. This book feels more like an introductory entry into the War of 1812. There are certainly more expansive histories of it -- but overall I'd still recommend this book to anyone interested.

"So what had the war accomplished? With plenty of missteps, the United States had cast aside its cloak of colonial adolescence and stumbled forth onto the world stage. To be sure, there would be family quarrels--one of which would threaten to tear it asunder two generations hence. But after the War of 1812, the United States was a singular term, not plural. After the War of 1812, there was no longer any doubt that the United States of America would become a force to be reckoned with in North America and in time throughout the world. The war had forged a nation."
Profile Image for Bryan.
131 reviews
April 5, 2019
A fantastic read, specifically for someone such as myself who is passionate about American history but lacks knowledge greater than a general awareness of where some of the battles took place and who we fought. Clearly, my passion originated not from the depth of my knowledge. At least on this topic.

I’ve seen other books that delve deeper into the various conflicts, but 1812 sticks with a mandate to focus on its sub header: The War That Forged A Nation. It provides great context for how the war was influenced by our status as an “unforged” nation, the men that fought it and how they had or would in the future influence our development, and how the war impacted our very constitution as a singular nation instead of a collection of states.

I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Andy.
23 reviews1 follower
February 4, 2018
A well-written, straight forward military history of a war that was frankly ill-conceived and at times poorly executed. The naval chapters were generally more riveting than the descriptions of land battles. The book is however very light on analysis and the author reveals that his main thesis - that the war forged national unity and identity - is basically derived from a Jackson biographer. I recommend the book for anyone, like me, who simply wants to know what the lesser known War of 1812 was all about. I do not recommend it for thoughtful analysis of the wider social and cultural stage on which this conflict took place. Very little attention is given to the sorry state of affairs that the average soldier or citizen must have faced in this war. What a pointless loss of life.
69 reviews
August 24, 2019
This book was a pretty easy read and a decent overview of the War of 1812. While it finished well and tried.I'm the beginning to explain the many and varied political party dynamics at the beginning, I found it difficult to keep them all straight and to remember those interactions that seemed meaningful throughout the book. A second read through of the first part after having finished the book might have been necessary.
Profile Image for Joe.
283 reviews8 followers
July 6, 2011
Borneman's exhaustive account of the War of 1812 covers every base and gives the necessary perspective to understand the importance of this war in American (and world) history.
Here's what I took away from this fact and research heavy tome:

Although the war was ostensibly over impressment and shipping rights on the high seas, the fact that the initial battle plan exclusively focused on a three-prong invasion of Canada rather than a strategy of building up a stronger navy suggests that 1812 was a pretty naked attempt at land-grabbing. The U.S. wanted Canada, expected to be greeted as liberators and used British violations of American maritime sovereignty.

The "status ante bellum" resolution to the war meant that, technically, nothing changed in British/American relations. However, the war had tremendous impact in the growth of America's national identity. Furthermore, a lot of people who would emerge as key players in America's future seem to get introduced to the country and to cut their teeth in this war:"
Future president Andrew Jackson
Future general and president Zachary Taylor
Future Mexican War and Civil War commander Winfield Scott, etc.

Also given fair attention is the enigmatic and rarely understood James Wilkinson. Wilkinson is not a name even known to most students of American History, but was a tremendously important and interesting person from the early years of the republic. Significantly, Wilkinson served with iconic villains Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr in the Revolutionary War. By 1812, Wilkinson had become a Brigadier General and was one of the longest serving American officers. While serving the U.S. in uniform, Wilkinson also served Spain as Agent 13, a highly-paid spy and secretly sent valuable intelligence to the Spanish. Wilkinson would commit treason again as he conspired with Burr to set up an independent nation in the West. Of Wilkinson it would later be said that "he never won a battle or lost a court martial." During the War of 1812, Wilkinson did his best to hinder the leadership of Andrew Jackson who had testified against him at an earlier court-martial.

Finally, Borneman's book is notable for the effort he takes to explain the war's many naval battles. The type of ships and naval warfare used in the war was so totally different from what would be seen after the widespread use of steam power, a great deal of explanation is necessary and helpful.
Profile Image for Gary Brecht.
236 reviews9 followers
July 28, 2011
This very readable account of the War of 1812 does a credible job of supporting its thesis...that the conflict's principal result was in solidifying the unity of the nascent United States. In spite of salient differences in the New England states versus Virginia and the southern states, the war reinforced national pride.

While the author failed to provide reasons why our military was so unprepared, he managed to humanize the British military by giving us some details about its chief officers. He tells us about their past victories and defeats, providing us with a humorous and sometimes ironic view of the principal combatants.

Borneman also fails to discuss the fact that the Federalists, Alexander Hamilton among its chief advocates, had always promoted maintaining a strong standing army while Madison and Jefferson played a role in weakening the military.

This book serves as an excellent outline of the war's main events. It gives the reader a grasp of the fundamental regional differences in our fledgeling nation; differences that eventually emerge as cataclysmic divisions in our country's unity just prior to the Civil War. In 1812 New England was largely opposed to a war against England and the Hartford Convention of 1814 underscores how closely we came to some states seceding from our fragile union.
Profile Image for Robert Clancy.
112 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2015
Borneman does a good job of covering many aspects of this reluctant war fought between the fledging United States and Great Britain, Canada, Spain and potentially France if she wasn't too busy fighting the rest of Europe. Villains and heroes, traitors and patriots, politicians and generals, this war involved them all. It took the burning of Washington, stalemate in Canada, victory on the Great Lakes and at New Orleans to coalesce a group of individual regions and interests into a nation.
Profile Image for Didi Mack.
29 reviews
October 13, 2017
Interesting read

Interesting take on Jackson, Claiborne and Jean Lafitte in the battle of New Orleans. Good information on world history during this period.
Profile Image for Clem.
483 reviews6 followers
November 22, 2022
An impulse buy on the Kindle (it was marked down) that I had doubts if I would ever get around to actually reading it. I did and am now glad. This book is a perfect, somewhat concise, primer for those studying history who want to understand the why’s and how’s of the second American conflict in the nation’s history.

Author Walter R. Borneman does mention throughout this work that, if anything, this war was important for the young United States to establish itself as a “proper” country that deserves to be respected as much as the other big boys half-way across the globe. Although this fact is eluded to in the subtitle of the book, this book doesn’t dwell too much on that aspect, and instead, is mainly a detailed account of the conflict.

Books that go into too much detail about battles in a war, can be a tad tedious for my tastes. Reading the intricacies of what goes on during these conflicts isn’t particularly interesting to me. It’s a bit like reading a book that details a play-by-play account of a basketball game (see John Grisham’s “Sooley”). It simply isn’t as exciting as seeing such events in a documentary or a well-done film. Yes, there are times when this book does get a bit bogged down in the weeds during such clashes (most are naval), but the author manages to navigate through these events much better than many other authors.

He spends an adequate time leading up to the conflict; setting up the stage as to why this war actually started. He begins several years before the event, but it’s all relevant and highly interesting. We read, for example, that the war was not entirely the result of the young nation being bullied. Although it’s true that the impressment of American sailors by the British Navy was a main reason, we also read that the new nation was quite greedy when it came to expansion. There were many who were eager to push the boundaries of the country up into Canada (then British owned). There was a lot of squabbling with the Native Americans (he has no problem referring to them as “Indians”), and in many cases, it seemed as though both sides of the conflict were using them as pawns on a chessboard.

Although not the author’s fault, sometimes it could be challenging remembering whose side the leaders of this conflict were on. English and American names are identical, and most of the names here are quite novel to everyone except the astute student. And there are a LOT of names. Borneman does an excellent job keeping the reader educated with the most notable figures; in some instances giving us a nice background of the individuals. This does aid in keeping the players straight without a scorecard. Still, reading a name such as “John Smith” can be challenging in remembering whether the individual was British or American.

It's also nice that this book isn’t aimed to be too serious nor scholarly. There were many of times when the author makes a wry comment within the pages that brings a bit of human-ish quality to his accounts. I remember one instance when he makes a humorous observation about growing up in the 1950s when the song “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton was popular. It’s nice to smile occasionally when reading about such deadly seriousness.

Anyway, to reiterate, this is a great place to start if you want to learn more about the war. It also serves as a good resource if one learned about the conflict years ago and now wants to revisit the key events.
Profile Image for Dennis Phillips.
194 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2019
The War of 1812 is often passed over very quickly in American history class because it is supposedly neither very interesting nor important. Walter Borneman seems to have taken exception to this idea and has set about to show his readers just how interesting and important this war was. His writing style and his ability to guide the reader along through a maze of events and people in a clearly understandable way help him to accomplish his first goal. I think however, that he may have overreached on the importance of the war, at least when it comes to national unity.

Borneman writes much like a novelist and his prose keeps the story of this conflict going in a quick paced and highly engaging manner. He is in fact, a little too conversational at times and although I did find this to be a little distracting it wasn't a big problem at all. The most amazing aspect of Mr. Borneman's writing style is that he manages to tie all of the action into the bigger picture with what appears to be very little effort. This is no small feat when one considers that this was a war that was pretty much divided into at least five separate little wars that were connected only tenuously to each other. Add to that the several Indian Nations involved, most of which sided with the British but not all, and one tribe that divided up and fought each other and one has the makings of a convoluted mess. Borneman somehow manages to tie it all together without getting his readers completely lost and on top of that he keeps it interesting. Not only interesting I might add, but fascinating.

Borneman's main contention is that the War of 1812 made the United States into a confident and united nation. He proves his point about American confidence fairly well and also shows that this war gained a good deal of respect for the U.S. among the powers of the world. The Monroe Doctrine would surely not have been possible before 1812 for no European nation would have paid it any attention at all.

On the other hand Mr. Borneman falls short in his argument about the new unity of the United States as a result of the war. One of the chief handicaps that hampered American plans during the war was that the states didn't work well with the Federal Government or with each other for that matter. State militia units were constantly refusing to cross out of their states or into Canada, and Vermont and New York farmers were selling tons of supplies to the British. While the outcome of the war did no doubt strengthen American unity somewhat, there was still a long way to go and no matter Mr. Borneman's claims, the United States remained a plural term for many of it's citizens for many years to come.

While the author's main thesis is not all that well supported by this book this is still an excellent short history of the War of 1812. It is highly readable, easy to follow and solidly researched. There is little or no new scholarship to be found here but for anyone who has a limited knowledge of this era of American history I would highly recommend this book. I would also think that even a student of this time period might find out a few new things within these pages for Mr. Borneman has brought a fairly complicated subject to life and has given it a focus.
595 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2020
Meticulously researched, 1812 is as much a primer on early American history as a text on the War of 1812. Walter Borneman covers a broad sweep of American history, from the Revolutionary War, where the older generals cut their teeth, to the Civil War where the younger men (or their sons and nephews) would make their own mark. In doing so Borneman's research passes through the Mexican War and the Indian Wars and, of course, focusing on the events of 1812-1814.

This book drove home for me how many years it has been since I have studied American history. (Did I once know that many of the early War of 1812 battles occurred in Canada? That the Americans burned York - now Toronto - in a fit of pique that provoked the British to turn Washington to ash? That "don't give up the ship" was first uttered by a mortally wounded captain in this war? I hope so, of course, but I can't say.) In fact, despite having visited such places as the Constitution in Boston, Mackinac Island, and even Andrew Jackson's plantation the Hermitage, to say nothing of living for two years in Baltimore, my recent knowledge of this war could only be reliably counted on to produce that it resulted in that most mangled of national anthems, The Star Spangled Banner. (On second thought, it may be because of and not in spite of my brief residency in Baltimore that I can reliably recall this last fact.)

Admittedly, the book occasionally became mired in the same details that are a strength. I found myself frequently flipping back a page or two in an attempt to fit a general and regiment together - or even to remember on what side a particular man fought. And his regiment, by the way: was is Kentucky or Tennessee? 44th or 78th? Fusilier or Highlander? You get the idea. The best written chapters to my mind are those that focus on the naval battles, particularly that of the Battle of Lake Erie. ("We have met the enemy and they are ours" can be credited to Oliver Hazard Perry in his victorious dispatch to future president William Henry Harrison following a decisive American victory in this battle.) I also thought the chapter on Andrew Jackson at New Orleans was a real page turner, but, yes, I am a total nerd.

Finally, I will add that I was amazed again by the number of key officers, politicians, and frankly heroes, who hadn't yet reached their 30th birthdays. It's well and fine to remember that in 1812, 30 was already middle-aged, but their heroics still left me feeling old and unaccomplished. Then again, we can't all found a nation.
18 reviews
July 2, 2022
Something like the War of 1812 you remember only a few things from American History that's pretty much known the Star-Spangled Banner, the burning of the White House by Canadians, the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the war, and Andrew Jackson fighting Native Americans in the South. This is the extent to which American History has impacted people who take a history class with this basic knowledge. So, reading it on my own I had already read about Natives living up in near the area where Michigan and Ohio to Illinois were. United States settlers were pushing westward and were taking fights with Native Americans who fought back leading to the federal government to start sending troops leading to more conflict in the area. This issue would be one of many that would lead to war with not only the Natives, but the Canadians living up North as they were suppling them with British arms and gunpowder. Now as for the British part of the war it was mainly due to trade laws and impressment on the seas as the British would stop American ships and take what were American citizens and impress them to serve on British ships as war in Europe was draining Britain to blockade ports and needed manpower. This coupled with Americans furious over the laws, attacks on the ocean and Native American attacks with British arms made them ready to invade Canada as a way to air out their grievances. The invasion was not only a failure but resulted in a few bloody battles that lead to a few generals who would later make their marks in American History such as General Winfield Scott who would turn to Napoleonic tactics that would put American troops under his command on equal footing to the British units later on in the war. General Henry Harrison who would later on defeat the Native Americans in open battle leading the Natives to leave for Canada. For the rest of the war the defeat of Napoleon in Europe would free up some units and would disembark for American where after landing some in various points some would make way to Maryland and burn the White House down some to New Orleans where the defense of a whole colorful cast of characters would defend the city against a British force at the end of the war led to a status quo. All in all, it expanded my history of the conflict as there were some things that I did know and expanded my knowledge on other matters.
Profile Image for David Fulmer.
395 reviews7 followers
August 12, 2022
I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the War of 1812, a conflict that I have often seen mentioned on historic plaques around the Midwest. I was not disappointed as this is a broad but not very deep account of the war that lasted about 2 and a half years and is remembered for such things as the Star-Spangled Banner, the burning of the White House, and such famous lines as "Don’t give up the ship!" and "We have met the enemy and they are ours." All that and more is included in this book, with context, so if you read this book and ever come across these signal events in American History, you’ll have some idea of what they’re all about.

The War of 1812 was fought between the (then about 18) United States and Great Britain for somewhat murky reasons including impressment, the British practice of taking sailors off American ships and forcing them to be sailors on their ships. Most of the battles were fought around the Great Lakes or at sea, along with a few other places Britain was able to land a fighting force from water - like Washington D.C. and New Orleans. In the end not much changed after the Treaty of Ghent brought the conflict to a conclusion, with both sides giving back whatever gains in territory they had made (which wasn’t much) and the issue of impressment being studiously ignored.

I’m not convinced Borneman proves the thesis of the subtitle here, “The War That Forged A Nation”, as he does not spend an awful lot of time going into the context either before or after the war. The war doesn’t seem to have been much of a turning point for anything and the size of the armies, navies, and battles were so small relative to what we think of as war nowadays that I’m not sure much of the United States felt a huge impact from the war one way or another. The book includes short descriptions of all the battles, definitions of things like the types of ships that were in the navy (sloops, and frigates, and so forth), and nice, brief biographical sketches of all the generals, admirals, and politicians on both the American and British sides. But this is not an in depth history full of original research by any means. It is an admirably succinct popular account of a war which is not well known, and full of enough detail, anecdotes, and colour to keep things interesting and keep things moving along.
Profile Image for Kristen.
324 reviews14 followers
May 26, 2020
I'm done, I'm finally done! It took me five and a half months but I read it all!
I took an American history class during the fall semester, and we spent a majority of it on the American Revolution. The class was supposed to cover all the way up through the Civil War, and in order to reach that point in history, we had to rush past the years of like 1800-1860. So I was walking through Barnes & Noble, killing time before a haircut, and I picked this book up, deciding to give it a chance. And I liked it. I've always really enjoyed American history, the events that have led us to where we are today are not only important, but really fascinating to me. It took me so long though, because I'm constantly bouncing between books when I read. I usually have anywhere from 2-5 books started, until I get deep enough into one where I get hooked and want to finish it. This one was the opposite. I read like 2/3rds and then got distracted by shiny new books, the new semester, and the end of the world....
I thought this book was a good look at a war I didn't know much about. The author has some really funny moments, where he just adds a little extra quip that would make me laugh. It was hard at times to keep the seemingly endless amount of military personnel straight, but I think in the end, it's not important that I can recall every single person mentioned. I do love the story of the Battle of New Orleans, it's a real underdog story, and I love that the American forces kind of stuck their tongues out at this elite British force that crapped the bed for numerous reasons.
My biggest takeaway is just how completely and unrelentingly us Americans continue to screw over Native Americans.
Profile Image for Steve.
528 reviews8 followers
September 11, 2020
The War of 1812 not only had the worst name of any American war, it's probably the war with the least publicity. Considering the national anthem, a Johnny Horton classic, and such famous sayings as "Don't give up the ship" came from this war, it only made sense for me to pick up a book on the subject. Borneman is not a deep thinker about history, but he gets his facts straight, and he's pretty good at making the various battles seem intelligible. The primary reason for the U.S. to declare war on a global empire such as Britain was to find a way to grab Canada. Yeah, there was also outrage against Britain impressing Americans into service upon their ships, but that was not something likely to change either way. After two years of numerous battles on sea and land, the two nations pretty much gave up at the same time, and restored the status quo ante bellum. The city of Washington D.C. was burned (as were several other places, such as Buffalo, and starting it off York, later known as Toronto). The Federalist party of John Adams was in shambles as the northeastern states came close to seceding from the country. And the Native Americans got the biggest shaft of all, losing territory in Ohio and on the Gulf Coast. I think there are much better books on this subject (not to mention general U.S. history of the first decades of the 19th Century, a weak point in general in my knowledge).
972 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2019
As somebody who spent more than thirty years living in Canada before moving to the US (where I've now spent a decade), the War of 1812 has become one of those things: I've gone from living in the country that won the war to moving to the country that won the war. And… I'm not sure how much I learned about the broad strokes of the war. Like most accounts of war, there were far more details than I will ever remember (or would really care to). But it did really help me see how the protagonists differ depending on whose history you read.

From the story as it was passed down to me when I was younger it was Canada who held off the invading Americans. And from this, I am aware how much, from the American perspective, it was not the Canadians who were the enemy but the British. And in a way, it seems fitting for that war, which neither country believes they lost for both countries to see themselves as underdogs in that war.

I don't expect that I will read this again because it contains too much detail for my interest. But as a bit of a time-filler, it was an educational way to fill a few minutes without worrying too much about when I might be interrupted. And so I am glad I read it. But I'm also looking forward to leaving room on my Currently Reading shelf for a new non-fiction book
21 reviews
July 29, 2020
I've never known much about the War of 1812, and Borneman does a good job of explaining why I've been so mystified about this war. It was a war with no single purpose, with ambivalence both among the states and the national leaders. Yes, there was impressment, the Orders in Council that affected U.S. commerce, and a faction that thought the U.S. could take Canada from the British, in part because the British were a bit busy with Napoleon at the time. It shows that America's ability to fight a war was pretty poor, disorganized and still dependent on state militias -- the kindness of strangers. I kept looking for an overall war strategy, but it's not really discussed because I don't think there was one. And it's especially odd to declare a war knowing that part of the war would be fought on the seas, where Britain had an enormous advantage, and the rest would be fought in North America, and substantially on our own territory unless were were more successful in bringing the battle to Canada than we had been just a few years before during the Revolution. He does point out that it solidified a feeling of nationhood that was still missing after the Revolution, so it has somewhat greater significance than the outcome, which was essentially a tie.
Overall, a good summary of a war that generally gets only a passing mention in most accounts of American history.
73 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2020
A little light and using primarily secondary sources, Borneman does a good job describing the military campaigns, but I would have liked to have seen more substantive discussion of the political scene. I came away still not having a good understanding of why the war was fought in the first place. But that may be because the rationale was pretty sketchy at the time and driven by hidden agendas that would not be spelled out in primary sources. His descriptions of individual battles are quite good and usually accompanied by adequately detailed maps. I chose this book because it was consistently included the Best Books on 1812 lists. Looks like I will be choosing something else from the lists to learn more about this portion of our country's history.
Profile Image for Sourdough Bread.
102 reviews2 followers
October 3, 2021

I read this book for a project I'm working on for the War of 1812 and well there was some help new information of use for me, a lot of it was basic things I learned about on the War of 1812 Wikipedia page. The bulk of the book was focused on the various military engagements of the war, most of it was not relevant to my project. I will give credit to the author since military history is quite boring and is probably one of the only sub genres of history I can't stand. This is one of the better pieces of military I have read but there were many battles that didn't deserve a full chapter since they were quite minor while larger battles were not really expanded upon in any meaningful way.
49 reviews
December 23, 2017
Good scorecard

The characters were well drawn. I felt like they were sketches done before a fine painting. Additional details would have helped. The military work was done so that it satisfied military historians and novices alike. More maps would have enlightened the reader on some of the campaign issues.
The workload along smoothly telling the communication story of the time. Being apart from the leaders would have been an interesting time....New Orleans happening after the Treaty of Ghent was signed.
I enjoyed the telling. The conclusion seems spot on too. Forging the colonies into a concerted whole is the war's result.
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