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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
Troops and Traditions

The War on the Waters

This aspect of the War of 1812 was made up of several almost independent struggles. On the high seas the U.S. Navy gained success in a number of single-ship frigate actions. The British frigates were generally smaller and less well-manned than their opponents and were often embarrassed by superior American gunnery and ship handling. In only one case, that of HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake did the British prevail, and the victor brought the unfortunate Chesapeake to Halifax harbour. In spite of its reverses, the Royal Navy had more ships than the U.S. Navy and was consequently able to maintain a tight blockade on American waters and was successful in transporting British Army troops to American shores.

An important feature of the war on both sides was the taking of merchant ships of the enemy as prizes. Both naval warships and privateers (civilian vessels commissioned with letters of marque) preyed on the opposing side. In the Maritimes some considerable fortunes were made from the sale of prizes and their cargoes.

On the restricted waters of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain command of the waters was crucial to the success of land operations. Throughout much of the war the rival commodores -- Sir James Yeo of the Royal Navy and the American Isaac Chauncey -- manoeuvred vessels in ever-increasing numbers and size, without ever risking calamitous defeat. When British subordinates risked everything on single actions in 1813 on Lake Erie and in 1814 on Lake Champlain, and were defeated, British military operations in these areas collapsed.

When George Stanley's The War of 1812 : land operations, listed in The War on Land and Joint Operations section, was completed in 1983, it was announced that it would be accompanied by an up-to-date volume on naval operations. This has never appeared. In the meantime, the reader should consult William S. Dudley's The naval War of 1812 : a documentary history, listed in the Collections of Documents section, but should also be aware that it has not yet been completed and lacks a volume for 1814.

Eckert, Edward K. -- The Navy Department in the War of 1812. -- Gainesville, Fl. : Univ. of Florida Press, 1973. -- 77 p. -- (University of Florida social sciences monograph number 48)

Forester, C.S. -- The age of fighting sail : the story of the naval War of 1812. -- Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1956. -- 284 p. -- (Mainstream of America series)

  • London edition titled : The naval War of 1812.
  • A highly readable account from the master of sea stories. Deals with the war on the high seas and, to a lesser extent, the Great Lakes, with an American emphasis.

Mahan, A.T. -- Sea power in its relations to the War of 1812. -- London : Low Marston; Boston : Scribners, 1905. -- 2 vols.

  • An enormously important book both for our understanding of the War of 1812 and of the role of seapower in international relations.
  • Mahan had a considerable influence on high command in the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century.
  • Many subsequent editions.

Roosevelt, Theodore. -- The naval War of 1812 : or the history of the United States Navy during the last war with Great Britain. -- New York : Putman's, 1882. -- 498 p.

  • Many subsequent editions.

Shulman, Mark Russell. -- "The influence of history upon sea power : the navalist reinterpretation of the War of 1812". -- The journal of military history. -- Vol. 56, no. 2 (April 1992). -- P. 183-205

The Great Lakes

Douglas, W.A.B. -- "The anatomy of naval incompetence : the Provincial Marine in defence of Upper Canada before 1813". -- Ontario history. -- Vol. 71, no. 1 (March 1979). -- P. 3-25

_____. -- Gunfire on the Lakes : the naval War of 1812-1814 on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain = Cannonades sur les lacs : la guerre navale de 1812-1814 sur les Grands Lacs et le lac Champlain. -- Ottawa : National Museum of Man, 1977. -- 36 p.

Drake, Frederick C. -- "The Niagara Peninsula and naval aspects of the War of 1812". -- In Turner, Wesley B., ed. -- The military in the Niagara Peninsula : eighth annual Niagara Peninsula History Conference. -- St. Catharines, Ont. : Vanwell Pub., 1990. -- P. 15-37

Dunnavent, R. Blake. -- "Broadsides and brown water : the US Navy in riverine warfare during the War of 1812". -- American neptune. -- Vol. 59, no. 3 (1999). -- P. 199-210

  • Deals primarily with lakes Erie, Ontario, Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

Leaves from the war log of the Nancy : eighteen hundred and thirteen.-- Comments by C.H.J. Snider. -- Toronto : Rous & Mann, 1836. -- xliv p.

  • The North West Company's schooner Nancy was the only British warship on the Upper Lakes until she was destroyed in the Nottawasaga River in 1813.
  • This original edition, published in limited numbers, was republished by the Huronia Historical Development Council, Ontario Dept. of Tourism and Information.

Malcomson, Robert. -- Lords of the Lake : the naval war on Lake Ontario, 1812-1814. -- Toronto : R. Brass Studio, 1998. -- 411 p.

  • Also Annapolis, Md. : Naval Institute Press, 1998.

Malcolmson, Tom. -- "Muster tables for the Royal Navy's establishment on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812". -- The northern mariner = Le marin du nord. -- Vol. 9, no. 2 (April 1999). -- P. 41-67

  • A group biography of British seamen, in a statistical format.

Stacey, C.P. -- "The ships of the British squadron on Lake Ontario, 1812-14". -- The Canadian historical review. -- Vol. 34, no. 4 (December 1953). -- P. 311-323

Welsh, William Jeffrey; Skaggs, David Curtis, eds. -- War on the Great Lakes : essays commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. -- Kent, Ohio : Kent State Univ. Press, 1991. -- 154 p.

Individual Actions

Kingston, 1812

Stacey, C.P. -- "Commodore Chauncey's attack on Kingston harbour, November 10, 1812". -- The Canadian historical review. -- Vol. 32, no. 2 (June 1951). -- P. 126-138

The Burlington Races, 1813

Williamson, Robert J. -- "The Burlington Races revisited : a revised analysis of an 1813 naval battle for supremacy on Lake Ontario". -- Canadian military history. -- Vol. 8, no. 4 (Autumn 1999). -- P. 7-15

Lake Erie, 1813

Knoll, Denys W. -- Battle of Lake Erie : building the fleet in the wilderness. -- Washington : Naval Historical Foundation, 1979. -- 36 p. -- (Naval Historical Foundation publication, series II, no. 24)

Mahon, John K. -- "Oliver Hazard Perry : saviour of the Northwest". -- In Bradford, James C., ed. -- Command under sail : makers of the American naval tradition, 1775-1850. -- [Annapolis, Md. : Naval Institute Press], 1985. -- P. 126-146

Malcomson, Robert; Malcomson, Thomas. -- HMS Detroit : the Battle for Lake Erie. -- St. Catharines, Ont. : Vanwell Pub., 1990. -- 150 p.

Saunders, Robert. -- Newfoundland's role in the historic Battle of Lake Erie, September 10th, 1813. -- Poole, England : [s.n.], 1954. -- 56 p.

Stacey, C.P. -- "Another look at the Battle of Lake Erie". -- The Canadian historical review. -- Vol. 39, no. 1 (March 1958). -- P. 41-51

Lake Champlain

Bird, Harrison. -- Navies in the mountains : the battles on the waters of Lake Champlain and Lake George, 1609-1814. -- New York : Oxford Univ. Press, 1962. -- 361 p.

Crisman, Kevin J. -- The Eagle : an American brig on Lake Champlain during the War of 1812. -- Shelburne, Vt. : New England Press in association with the Naval Institute Press, 1987. -- 276 p.

The High Seas

Lohnes, Barry J. -- "British naval problems at Halifax during the War of 1812". -- Mariner's mirror. -- Vol. 59, no. 3 (August 1973). -- P. 317-333

Napier, Henry Edward. -- New England blockaded in 1814 : the journal of Henry Edward Napier, Lieutenant in H.M.S. Nymphe. -- Whitehill, Walter Muir, ed. -- Salem, Mass. : Peabody Museum, 1939. -- 88 p.


[Jones, or Johnson, Noah]. -- Journal of two cruises aboard the American privateer Yankee, by a Wanderer. -- Introd. by E.M. Eller. -- New York : Macmillan, 1967. -- 156 p.

  • Two cruises of the brig Yankee, the most successful of all American privateers, from Bristol, Rhode Island.

Kert, Faye Margaret. -- Prize and prejudice : privateering and naval prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812. -- St. John's, Nfld. : International Maritime Economic History Ass., 1997. -- 253 p. -- (Research in Maritime History, no. 11)

Leefe, John. -- "The Atlantic privateers". -- The Nova Scotia historical quarterly. -- Vol. 8, no. 1-2 (March-June 1978). -- P. 1-17, 109-124

_____. -- "A bluenose privateer of 1812". -- The Nova Scotia historical quarterly. -- Vol. 3, no. 1 (March 1973). -- P. 1-20

  • The schooner Liverpool Packet.


Roland, Charles G. -- "Medical aspects of war in the west in 1812". -- In Pryke, K.G.; Kulisek, L.L., eds. -- The Western District : papers from the Western District Conference. -- Windsor, Ont. : Essex County Historical Soc. and the Western District Council, 1983. -- P. 49-60. -- (Essex County Historical Soc. occasional papers, no. 2)


Steppler, Glenn A. -- "British military artificers in Canada, 1760-1815". -- Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. -- Vol. 60 (Autumn 1982). -- P. 150-163

_____. -- A duty troublesome beyond measure : logistical considerations in the Canadian War of 1812. -- Ottawa : National Library of Canada, 1975. -- 4 microfiches. -- (Canadian theses on microfiche, no. 23204). -- M.A. thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, Que., 1974

Stickney, Kenneth McIntyre. -- Logistics and communications in the 1814 Niagara campaign. -- 242 l. -- M.A. thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1976

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