Suggested Resources on the War of 1812 from the Archivist

by Mary-Jo Kline

Prof. Taylor’s most recent book, the prizewinning The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (New York: Knopf, 2010), focuses on the conflict along the US-Canadian border involving American loyalist families who had fled the new republic, recent Irish immigrants, American Indians, and other residents of this frontier. His next book, to be published by Norton in 2013, will examine still another aspect of the war in American Exodus, British Canaan: The Slave War of 1812.

For more general surveys of the conflict, you may want to consult one of these recent studies of the war on this side of the Atlantic as well as the Napoleonic wars in Europe that underlay so much of the conflict between the United States and Britain:

  • Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo. New York: Viking, 2007. Naval history of the Napoleonic Wars (including the War of 1812) for the general reader.
  • Barbuto, Richard V. Niagara, 1814: America Invades Canada. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. Good survey reflecting recent scholarship.
  • Black, Jeremy. The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. Brief account, part of the Campaigns and Commanders series.
  • Dudley, W. S., ed. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 3 vols. Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 1992. One of the fine products of the Naval Historical Center. Great resources for the classroom here.
  • Harvey, Robert. The War of Wars: The Great European Conflict, 1793–1815. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006. For the general reader; focuses on the Continent.
  • Heidler, David Stephen, and Jeanne T. Heidler. The War of 1812. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. Part of Greenwood’s Guides to Historic Events series designed to help classroom students at 8–12 level.
  • Hickey, Donald R., and Connie D. Clark. The Rockets’ Red Glare: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Good coffee table book with narrative and lavish illustrations.
  • Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Probably your best introduction—readable and scholarly.
  • Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 1999. Good study from the Canadian side of the border.
  • Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983. By the director of the Papers of James Madison.
  • Malcomson, Robert. Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008. Another good contribution from a Canadian author, concentrating on an episode used by the British to justify their destructive campaign in the Chesapeake.
  • Malcomson, Robert. Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812–1814. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.
  • Turner, Wesley B. British Generals in the War of 1812: High Command in the Canadas. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999.

Websites and television channels have already anticipated this year’s bicentennial of the War of 1812. While there’ll be worthy additions later this year, these are the major offerings already available:

  • PBS’s film The War of 1812 was broadcast last October. One of its producers was WNED-TV, a channel that serves both Buffalo and Toronto, so you won’t be surprised that the film and the related materials mounted on its website have a healthily international flavor. The link to “Essays” from this page takes you to good materials on American, British, Canadian, Native, and African American perspectives on the war as well as essays on naval warfare, medical care, prisoners of war, and the Treaty of Ghent. You can click on “Historic Sites” for pages on major battlefields along with interactive maps. Under “Classroom,” you’ll find excellent offerings with lesson plans for elementary, secondary, and “commencement” levels. The lesson plans are tied to viewing the film itself, and you and your students can watch the full program online.
  • The Library of Congress has done a superb job gathering sources on the War of 1812 from the Library’s own digital collections (and elsewhere) in its online “Web Guides” series.
  • The Canadian War of 1812 website is not only very good in and of itself but invaluable for giving your students a sense of how the war is and was viewed north of the border.
  • The History.com website for the war doesn’t have as much depth—although this could change during the year.
  • History Central has a decent offering on the war.
  • Don’t forget the Center for Military History: check out American Military History’s chapter on the War of 1812.

These authors focus more closely on the British campaign against Washington and the invasion of Maryland:

  • Eshelman, Ralph E., Scott S. Sheads, and Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. While this book advertises itself as a reference guide to 1812 sites in the Chesapeake region, it’s a great deal more than that. The authors not only list more than 800 sites but also provide detailed information about the sites and the events that occurred there. The book also boasts historical overviews and a detailed war chronology. Do your best to get this for yourself and your students.
  • Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998.

You’ll enjoy this biographies of the British admiral who commanded naval forces in the Washington/Maryland campaign:

  • Morriss, Roger. Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772–1853. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

You’ll even find a Web offering on Robert Ross, commander of British land forces in the capital.

These take a closer look at the composition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

  • Molotsky, Irvin. The Flag, the Poet, and the Song: The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner. New York: Dutton, 2001. Brief book for the general reader.
  • Taylor, Lonn, et al. The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon. New York: Smithsonian Books: Collins, 2008. Wide-ranging overview of topics related to the American flag and anthem designed to help celebrate the return of the Fort McHenry flag to public view at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

The Internet offers plenty of material on Francis Scott Key and his poem. The best comes from the Maryland Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History:

The Library of Congress’s online “Treasures” exhibition for the anthem is helpful.

Anthem, a documentary on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” will be released next summer. The producers’ website already provides useful materials on lyrics and melody of our national song and on other music of the War of 1812.

Finally, I must mention a minor contribution of the Internet Archive—the full text of Caleb C. Magruder’s 1919 essay “Dr. William Beanes: The Incidental Cause of the Authorship of the Star-Spangled Banner”—a digitized version of the essay, which spans pages 207–225 in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society for 1919.

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