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The War of 1812: The United States Was Woefully Unprepared for War
Digital History ID 171

Author:   Benjamin Rush


The United States was woefully unprepared for war. The army consisted of fewer than 7000 soldiers; the navy of less than 20 vessels.

The American strategy called for a three-pronged invasion of Canada and heavy harassment of British shipping. The attack on Canada, however, was a disastrous failure. At Detroit, 2000 American soldiers surrendered to a much smaller British and Indian force. An attacked across the Niagara River, near Buffalo, New York, resulted in 900 American prisoners of war when the New York State militia refused to provide support. Along Lake Champlain, a third army retreated into U.S. territory after failing to cut undefended British supply lines. By the end of 1812, British forces controlled key forts in the Old Northwest, including Detroit and Fort Dearborn, the future site of Chicago.

In this excerpt, Benjamin Tallmadge (1754-1835), who had served as a colonel during the Revolution and as an agent for the Ohio Company, a land acquisition company, comments on the U.S. army's deplorable condition.


The House have passed a Bill raising the wages of Privates in the Army to Eight Dollars, & the non commissioned Officers accordingly--It also authorizes the Enlistment of Minors...& secures from arrest Debtors of any magnitude or Amo[un]t who will fly to the American Standard, as recently Criminals were protected by the hors of the altar....

Our Northern & Western Armies seem to be doomed to misfortunate and Disgrace.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Benjamin Tallmadge to James McHenry

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