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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History

Canadian Military History: An Overview
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War of 1812
General References

General Works

Early Canadian interpretation of the war began before it was even certain that the colonies could be saved. The Rev. John Strachan delivered a sermon at York (now Toronto) on December 22, 1812, in which he stated :

It will be told by the future Historian, that the Province of Upper Canada, without the assistance of men or arms, except for a handful of regular troops, repelled its invaders, slew or took them all prisoners, and captured from its enemies the greater part of the arms by which it was defended. ... And never, surely, was greater activity shewn in any country, than our militia here exhibited, never greater valour, cooler resolution, and more approved conduct; they have emulated the choicest veterans....1

The only mention of Native people in the wording of the new Constitution was in section 91, paragraph 24, where it stated that "the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated: (...) 24. Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians."

Thus was born the "militia myth" that Upper Canada was saved only by the efforts of its settlers, with a little help from the British Regular Army. Canadian historians clung to this comforting thesis, which paralleled so well the idea of very limited defence expenditure for professional forces coupled with a large paper militia, for nearly a century and a half. During the same years American historians such as Henry Adams and Alfred Thayer Mahan, and even Theodore Roosevelt, produced sophisticated analyses of the economic and political background of the war and the role of maritime power upon strategy.

Canada's answer was A.E. Cruikshank, militia brigadier-general and semi-official departmental historian who, at the turn of the twentieth century, wrote very extensively in the militia tradition about the war and upon whom we are still dependent for compilations of published documents. It was not until the 1950s that C.P. Stacey and his colleagues at the Historical Section at Army Headquarters began to write articles that put the war into a different perspective, in which British Regular soldiers and seamen, with valuable aid from the militia and First Nations, saved Upper Canada in a series of defensive campaigns directed by Prevost.

Hitsman's The incredible War of 1812, especially in its new edition as updated by Donald Graves with notes, bibliography and appendices, is still the most valuable general work for the Canadian student of the war.

* Berton, Pierre. -- Flames across the border, 1813-1814. -- Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1981. -- 492 p. -- Also published in French under the title: L'invasion du Canada : à l'assaut du Québec, tome 2, 1813-1814

*_____.The invasion of Canada, 1812-1813. -- Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1980. -- 363 p. -- Also published in French under the title: L'invasion du Canada : les Américains attaquent, tome 1, 1812-1813

  • Berton's books are well-written accounts of the war, but he is the leading modern proponent of the myth of the saving of Upper Canada by its militia.

Bowler, R. Arthur. -- The War of 1812. -- New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973. -- 89 p. -- (Canadian history through the press series)

Bowler, R. Arthur, ed. -- War along the Niagara : essays on the War of 1812 and its legacy. -- Youngstown, N.Y. : Old Fort Niagara Association, 1991. -- 120 p.

  • Papers, on various aspects of the war, given at a conference in Buffalo in 1989.

Caffery, Kate. -- The twilight's last gleaming : Britain vs. America, 1812-1815. -- New York : Stein and Day, 1977. -- 340 p.

  • London edition titled : The lion and the union.

Elting, John. -- Amateurs, to arms! A military history of the War of 1812. -- Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books, 1991. -- 353 p. -- (Major battles and campaigns, no. 4)

  • The American point of view from a U.S. Army colonel.

Everest, Allan S. -- The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley. -- Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse Univ. Press, 1981. -- 239 p. -- (A New York State study)

Hickey, Donald R. -- The War of 1812 : a forgotten conflict. -- Urbana, Ill. : Univ. of Illinois Press, 1989. -- 457 p.

Hitsman, J. Mackay. -- The incredible War of 1812. -- [S.l.] : Univ. of Toronto Press, 1965. -- 265 p.

  • This excellent general volume has been updated by Donald E. Graves and re-published with additional material, including a valuable bibliography. Toronto : R. Brass Studio, 1999. -- [400] p.

Mahon, John K. -- The War of 1812. -- Gainesville, Fl. : Univ. of Florida Press, 1972. -- 476 p.

  • This work billed itself as the "first in-depth study of the war written during the last eighty years," even though Mahon's bibliography cites Hitsman's book.

Mason, Philip P., ed. -- After Tippecanoe : some aspects of the War of 1812. -- East Lansing, Mich. : Michigan State Univ. Press; Toronto : Ryerson Press, 1963. -- 106 p.

  • Six historians -- three American and three Canadian -- presented papers on the causes of the war, the role of Sir Isaac Brock, the contribution of the Canadian militia, the naval war on the Great Lakes, the role of the First Nations and Kentucky in the Northwest campaigns.

Richardson, [John]. -- War of 1812 : first series : containing a full and detailed narrative of the operations of the Right Division of the Canadian Army. -- [S.l. : s.n.], 1842. -- 182 p. -- Also reproduced in microform format : CIHM microfiche series, no. 32818

  • Initially published in serial form as "A Canadian campaign," by a British Officer in the New monthly magazine and literary journal. -- Vol. 17-19 (November 1826-June 1827).

Sheppard, George. -- "'Deeds speak' : militiamen, medals, and the invented traditions of 1812". -- Ontario history. -- Vol. 83 [i.e., 82], no. 3 (September 1990). -- P. 207-232

Stacey, C.P. -- "The War of 1812 in Canadian history". -- Ontario history. -- Vol. 50, no. 3 (Summer 1958). -- P. 153-159

  • An important article in developing a modern interpretation of the war that dismisses the "militia myth."

Thompson, David. -- History of the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America : with a retrospective view of the causes from whence it originated; collected from the most authentic sources. -- Niagara, U.C. : Printed by T. Sewell, 1832. -- 300 p. -- Also reproduced in microform format: CIHM microfiche series, no. 41416

  • Facsimile reprint by S.R. Publishers, 1966.

Turner, Wesley B. -- The War of 1812 : the war that both sides won. -- Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1990. -- 144 p.

  • 2nd ed. -- Toronto : Dundurn Press, 2000. -- 159 p.

Watts, Ryan James. -- Two views of war : a comparison of nineteenth century central Canadian and American views of the War of 1812. -- Ottawa : National Library of Canada, 1991. -- 3 microfiches. -- (Canadian theses on microfiche). -- M.A. thesis, Queen's Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1990

Zaslow, Morris, ed. -- The defended border : Upper Canada and the War of 1812 : a collection of writings giving a comprehensive picture of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada : the military struggle, the effects of the war on the people, and the legacies of the war. -- Toronto : Macmillan, 1964. -- 370 p.

  • Perhaps the first major, modern investigation of the war from the Canadian perspective.


1. Quoted in J. Mackay Hitsman, "The incredible War of 1812", updated by Donald E. Graves (Toronto : R. Brass Studio, 1999),p. xvii. -- Toronto Leader. -- November 22, 1864. -- P. 2. [Back]

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