Monday, August 22, 2011

Heroes of the War of 1812 - Thomas Masterman Hardy

Sir George Cranfield Berkeley
You will recall the account of the infamous affair of the Chesapeake and the Leopard that occurred in late June of 1807, where Captain Humphreys of the HMS Leopard fired on the Chesapeake before she had a chance to clear for action, killing three American sailors. You will recall that this was done on the orders of the arrogant Sir George Cranfield Berkeley, commander-in-chief of the British North American Station. What you may not know is that Sir George had a beautiful, high-born, spoiled, self-centered daughter named Louisa. Her uncle was the fifth Earl of Berkeley. Her brother was the Duke of Richmond.

Lady Louisa Berkeley
Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy met this young woman in Halifax when she was nineteen and he was forty, a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, and he courted her, because he was a rich man and a newly-made baronet as a result of his naval endeavors and it was time he married and begot an heir to the title. He had been at sea for half his childhood and all of his adult life. At Trafalgar he was Admiral Lord Nelson's flag captain aboard the Victory. Steady, intelligent, wise in the ways of the sea and fighting ships, Hardy was not greatly different in temperament from the fictional Captain Aubrey of Patrick O'Brian's sea stories. He was not literary, witty, or romantic. He was not a smart Regency buck of the sort that Louisa preferred.

Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Baronet

But there were no smart Regency bucks in Halifax; they were all far away in London. Hardy, if he wasn't smart in the sense of Society, was at least a great hero. And so on November 17th, 1807, they were married.

Berkeley was recalled to England as a result of American complaints about the Chesapeake-Leopard affair, although the English felt that it served the Americans right. Hardy put to sea in the Triumph to cruise the Bay of Chesapeake, walking on eggs, as it were, to avoid offending the Americans further. He never knew when the Americans might take it into their heads to attack, and so the stoves on board the Triumph were never lit, even in his cabin, where his poor bride sat alone and shivering. Some honeymoon.

She never forgave him.

All this and more can be found in a book written by one of their descendants, John Gore, who admired her more than I do: Nelson's Hardy and his Wife.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

THE BRINK OF FAME Was Released Today

It has nothing to do with the War of 1812, but instead is a book about Hollywood in 1914. Still, you might enjoy it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The War of 1812 – Yippee! Games!

A number of entities, including the U. S. Park Service, are gearing up for the War of 1812 bicentennial by making video games out of the various events. YouTube advertisements for their efforts have stimulated profane and hostile nationalistic rants in the comments section by flame war trolls whose ancestors were dodging the draft in the potato fields of Eastern Europe in 1812 (unlike mine, who were dodging the draft in the woods of Canada – Oh, yes, and one by the name of Boyd who was a doctor on a British hospital ship in the Mediterranean during the conflict). Ignore the inane remarks and enjoy the tantalizing videos. War can be fun, if you don't get sucked into the hostility.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Partisan American Politics and the War of 1812

If you can imagine it, the United States was deeply divided in 1812 along party lines. The parties were the Federalists, based mainly in the Northeast and favorably disposed toward Britain, and the Republicans, who were mostly Southerners, unfavorably disposed toward Britain and keen to go to war on the Northern border. The president, James Madison, was a Republican and a Virginian, the anointed heir of Thomas Jefferson, who was president before him. They thought that going to war was a swell idea, even though Jefferson and  the Republicans had been instrumental in dismantling the standing army (standing armies could not be trusted, and cost money) and also the navy (same deal). It was Jefferson who said that the taking of Canada would be a "mere matter of marching." Nobody ever asked him what the Canadians would be doing while the Americans were marching.

At last the irritations of rampaging Indians and forcible impressment of American seamen, to say nothing of the lust for Canadian land, became too much to bear, and Madison declared war. Here's how the legislative branch voted on the declaration:

  • All the Federalists, most from Northern states, voted no.
  • Thirteen Republicans, four of them from New Jersey, voted no, led by John Randolph of Virginia, who felt that Madison was selling out Republican principles.
  • A few, including those representing the western territories (Mississippi and Indiana), abstained.
  • The rest of the Republicans, led by the War Hawks, voted to pass the declaration, and the United States was off on its ill-prepared adventure.

You can read all about this and many other aspects of that war in The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 by David Stephen Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, from the Naval Institute Press.

You'll be happy to know that after the War of 1812 was over the Federalists faded away and everybody got along with everybody else in a time officially known as the "Era of Good Feeling."

I'm afraid it didn't last.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why We Fought the British in 1812: The Thing with the Indians

The Battle of Tippecanoe
They wanted the Northwest Territory.

They were encouraged in their desires by the British, who occupied trading posts and forts throughout the Western frontier of the United States long after the Treaty of Paris concluded the American Revolution. With British encouragement the Indians continued to believe it was possible for them to hold the Northwest Territory against the Americans and stop the encroachment of land-hungry American settlers on their hunting grounds.

Even after the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 (on the site of present-day Toledo), when Mad Anthony Wayne drove their warriors before him and the British refused to open the doors of their fort to let them in, some of them thought, we can still unite the tribes and resist the Americans.

This was Shawnee leader Tecumseh's plan, when territorial governor William Henry Harrison refused to relinquish the three million acres along the Wabash River ceded in the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809. The "Delawares, Putawatimies, Miamies and Eel River Miamies" were the signatories to the treaty, and for the three million acres they were to receive the following: "to the Delawares a permanent annuity of five hundred dollars; to the Miamies a like annuity of five hundred dollars; to the Eel river tribe a like annuity of two hundred and fifty dollars; and to the Putawatimies a like annuity of five hundred dollars." Tecumseh's position was that the Indians were one, and the separate tribes had no authority to sell land that belonged to all the Indians.

In the real world such a position can be maintained only by force of arms. The British happily provided rifles. Tecumseh went on a tour of the southern tribes to gather support, leaving his brother, Tenskwatawah the Prophet, in charge of the Shawnee capital of Prophetstown, where the Tippecanoe flows into the Wabash River. Now Tenskwatawa was a man venerated by the Shawnee as a person of supernatural powers. He preached a return to the old Indian ways, and he told the warriors of the tribe that the American bullets could not wound them if their hearts were pure. Before you say, "foolish native superstition," you might reflect that this was also the belief of Duncan McColl, a devout Scot.

It was to Prophetstown that William Henry Harrison came with a thousand men to parley with the Indian leaders. "We will talk to you tomorrow," they said. The Americans made camp nearby and went to sleep.

At four in the morning the bravest of the Indians came creeping into the camp with orders to murder Harrison and his senior officers. They were followed by three waves of charging warriors, secure, at least at first, in their invincibility. But God was not on their side, after all. Harrison escaped death, his forces overcame those of the natives, and he was able to mount and lead a cavalry charge that drove the Indians into a swamp before he burned Prophetstown to the ground. Thirty-eight of the Indian dead were found in Harrison's camp. It was a terrible defeat for them; Indians never left their dead if they could help it. Most of the survivors lost all faith in Tenskwatawa.

This and many other ripping stories can be found in Col. John R. Elting's sardonic account, Amateurs, to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. He begins it, "The United States swaggered into the War of 1812 like a Kansas farm boy entering his first saloon. And, like that same innocent, wretchedly gagging down his first drink, the new nation was totally unprepared for the raw impact of all-out war." The book goes on in that vein. You want to read it.

Of Tecumseh, more later.