By Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press
Pity the War of 1812. Its bicentennial is at hand, and events are planned for many parts of North America, from Canada and the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic and the South. But good luck finding someone who can explain in 10 words or fewer what the war was about.
Some historians see the war as a last gasp by England to control its former colonies, and it’s sometimes called the Second War of Independence. At the time, Americans viewed the war “as an opportunity for us to throw off Britain once and for all,” said Troy Bickham, author of a book out in June called “The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire and the War of 1812.”
But in Canada, the War of 1812 is seen as an attempted land grab by the U.S. The U.S. invaded Canada and at one point controlled Toronto, but the British, seeking control of the Great Lakes, won Detroit and other important ports.
The War of 1812 also was complicated by what Bickham calls “parallel wars.” The British were fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, while the U.S. battled Native Americans allied with Britain for control of frontier territories.
Amid the muddle, a few important episodes stand out, from decisive battles to the burning of the White House. Some are being commemorated with programs and military re-enactments, from now through the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, in 2015. Other key moments involve artifacts or historic sites that can be seen any time. Here are some details.
The War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” after soldiers at Fort McHenry in Baltimore raised an American flag to mark a victory over the British on Sept.14, 1814. The fort is now a national monument, http://www.nps.gov/fomc. The original manuscript for the song will be part of a War of 1812 exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., Baltimore, opening June10.
Also in Baltimore, a June13-19 “Star-Spangled Sailabration” will include a parade of 40 tall ships and naval vessels, an air show featuring the Blue Angels and other festivities, http://www.star spangled200.com. The flotilla is one of several organized by Operation Sail: June1-12 in Norfolk, Va.; June30-July5 in Boston; and July6-8 in New London, Conn.
In Washington, D.C., you can see the flag that inspired the national anthem at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/
Britain had 600 ships while the U.S. had just 17, including the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, which Bickham says was the most important ship in our fleet. You can visit the ship in Charlestown, Mass., just outside Boston, http://www.history
One of the biggest U.S. victories of the war took place in Horseshoe Bend, now a national military park site in Alabama, http://www.nps.gov/hobe. Here Andrew Jackson led the slaughter of the Creek Red Sticks tribe, ending a long-standing conflict and securing 23million acres of territory.
Many of the important battles were fought as Britain sought control of Great Lakes territories and states, including parts of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
Fort Dearborn, where Chicago is now, was destroyed during the war. Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, which was captured by the British early in the war, is still standing and will host a variety of programs for the bicentennial, http://www.mackinacparks.com.
The Americans retook Michigan after the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 off the coast of Ohio, and a re-enactment is planned on the water next year. The reconstructed flagship Niagara, which was commanded by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the battle, is based in Erie, Pa., though it sails to other ports during the summer, http://www.flag shipniagara.org.
Ohio is home to a 352-foot monument, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, which towers over Lake Erie on South Bass Island in Put-in-Bay, http://www.nps.gov/pevi. Events there include a “Re-Declaration of War” on June18 and a birthday party for Perry, Aug.18-19. Fort Meigs, in nearby Perrysburg, Ohio, is a War of 1812 battlefield with a reconstructed fort, http://www.fort meigs.org.
Jackson led the final U.S. victory of the war at the Battle of New Orleans, which took place on the Chalmette Battlefield, now part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, http://www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette
-battlefield.htm. Jackson’s triumphs made him a national hero, and he was eventually elected president.
Find out more
Go to http://www.visit1812.com for more events and sites.
Canada is hosting commemorations of the bicentennial, including a War of 1812 Heritage Trail, http://www.discover 1812.com, and living-history programs at Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg, Ontario, 20 miles from Detroit, http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/on/malden/index.aspx.