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The War of 1812
Digital History ID 181

Author:   Charles Grodin and Val Kilmer and Ephraim Hubbard Foster


In 1813, the United States suffered new failures. In January, an American army advancing toward Detroit was defeated and captured in the swamps west of Lake Erie. In April, Americans staged a raid on what is now Toronto, where they set fire to the two houses of the provincial parliament. This act brought British retaliation in the burning of Washington, D.C. Only a naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 raised American spirits.

In early 1814, prospects for an American victory dimmed. In the Spring, Britain defeated Napoleon in Europe, freeing 18,000 battle-tested British troops to invade the United States. The British launched three separate invasions: in upstate New York, the Chesapeake Bay, and New Orleans. Outnumbered more than three to one, American forces repelled Britain's northern invasion at Niagara and Lake Champlain.

In a second attempt to invade the United States, Britain landed 4000 soldiers on the Chesapeake Bay coast. This force then marched on Washington, where untrained soldiers lacking uniforms and standard equipment protected the capital. In August 1814, the British humiliated the nation by capturing and burning Washington, D.C. Britain's next objective was Baltimore. To reach the city, British warships had to pass the guns of Fort McHenry, manned by 1000 American soldiers. British warships began a 25-hour bombardment of the fort, but the Americans repulsed the attack with only four soldiers killed and 24 wounded. One observer, Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), a young lawyer detained on a British ship, was so moved by the American victory that he wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," the song destined to become the country's national anthem, on the back of an envelope.

The country still faced severe threats in the South. In 1813, the Creek Indians, encouraged by the British, attacked American settlements in present-day Alabama and Mississippi. In one incident known as the "Massacre at Fort Mims," near Mobile, 553 American men, women, and children were killed. Frontiersmen from Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, led by Major General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), retaliated and succeeded in defeating the Creeks in March 1814 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The following letter, by Tennessee Senator Ephraim Hubbard Foster (1795?-1854), refers to both the massacre and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.


I should not have this soon thrown myself in your presence but that had not the glorious and transporting news of the victory of the 27th attained by the unconquerable arms of Tennessee reached us yesterday evening. I hasten my friend to lay the account before you, that your heart may feel all the pleasant sensations, my own does at this moment. How pleasing is the thought, that while in the North everything means the face of discomforture, & disgrace, the American colours wave triumphant in the South. While [Generals] Wilkinson, Hampton, & Harrison are either lying inactive, or moving to no purpose but to there shame, the great & immortal Jackson, leads the valiant & daring sons of Tennessee to victory & to glory.

More than once has he laid the savage beneath the rod of his victory. More than once he made the mistaken beings feel the valor of his arms.... Behold, behold, my dear friend behold the blow he struck 27th March. [The battle that effectively ended the Creek War] More than 800 prostrate Indians atone for the loss of the brave Major Montgomery & his dead fellow soldiers. More than 2000 atone for the slaughter at Fort Mims and I am transported beyond conception. Did you ever read of the like. Will the like ever take place again. Yes. Yes. Headed by the Genl. the true Genl. Jackson. Our soldiers must conquer. The 27th of March, will ever be a jubilee in the annuls of Tennessean warfare....

Before this time General Jackson has set out for the Hickory ground.... In a few days more we hope to hear he has added another plume to the name of Tennessee. May the great gods continue unto him his former successes. May he go on conquering & to conquer until not one enemy shall dare show himself in the south.

I am somehow so elevated above myself that I can not talk on any other subject. My Graham, I am proud of being a Tennessean. Yes I am.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Ephraim Hubbard Foster to William Graham

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