Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Hot and Unnatural War

By Suzanne Kashuba

I grew up hearing the phrase “Niagara Frontier,” mostly in weather reports. I thought of it as a way to describe “that part of the world where I live.” But, back when this region really was a frontier, a brutal war devastated both sides of our long-tranquil international border.

It’s fascinating to think about that era. U.S. soldiers really did attack British-held Canada across the Niagara River. Bloody battles played out at those forts we visited as schoolchildren, quivering at the ghost stories among the silent cannons and verdant grounds.

WAR OF 1812 British 01

Nearly two centuries after it was fought, the first comprehensive film history of the war to air on public television will explore this significant event from divergent points of view. Watch the premiere of “The War of 1812” Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m. on WNED-TV. Or see the full two-hour film (plus bonus features) online.

To whet your curiosity, I’ve unearthed a few interesting tidbits related to this defining, yet little-known (at least to Americans) conflict.

Did You Know …

The War of 1812 marked the second (and last) time the U.S. invaded Canada.

Some of the most brutal battles of the War of 1812 took place on the Niagara Frontier (in Western New York and what is now Ontario, Canada) -- one of
seven distinct “theaters of war.”

Fire was used as a weapon – even against civilians -- during the War of 1812. Entire towns were burned to the ground, including Buffalo, N.Y. and numerous Native villages.

Four U.S. presidents proved their abilities and furthered their careers during the War of 1812: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and William Henry Harrison.

The sayings “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” and “Don’t give up the ship” originated during the War of 1812.

WAR OF 1812 Brock 05

British Major-General Isaac Brock — who captured Detroit during the War of 1812 — is buried beneath a cenotaph monument in Ontario’s Queenston Heights Park, overlooking the battlefield where he was ultimately killed. Brock’s horse, Alfred, who also died in the Battle of Queenston Heights, is buried here, too.

WAR OF 1812 Secord 03Canadian heroine Laura Secord helped save the life of her wounded husband who fought for the British in the War of 1812. She later warned the British of an American attack, helping to secure a British victory at the Battle of Beaver Dams. Her restored home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, is now a museum.

The Battle of Beaver Dams (1813) is commemorated with a simple, stone monument in a park in Thorold, Ontario, but this is not the actual site of the battle. Most of the battlefield was destroyed when the Welland Canal was constructed.

Inspired by the sight of Old Glory as the British Navy bombed Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, lawyer/poet Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics to what is now the U.S. national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” His poem was set to the tune of an English drinking song (“To Anacreon in Heaven,” 1780).

Tchaikovsky’s cannon-blasting 1812 Overture (officially “The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major Op. 49”) does not commemorate the North American War of 1812, but Russia's defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s army in the Battle of Borodino in 1812.

In the decisive “Battle of New Orleans,” future president Andrew Jackson defeated the British in January, 1815, unaware that the treaty ending the war had been agreed upon the previous month. (Ah, how cell phones would have changed history!)

WAR OF 1812 US Regulars 02

The U.S. Army ran out of blue cloth, so grey uniforms were delivered to Brigadier General Winfield Scott (also known as "Old Fuss and Feathers") in Buffalo, N.Y. Scott’s (recently) well-trained regulars were key to American victories at Fort Erie and Chippawa. In the latter battle, the British apparently mistook the soldiers in grey for unprepared militia, anticipating an easy fight. A popular legend purports that the Corps of Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point adopted grey parade uniforms in honor of Scott’s troops.

An estimated 20,000 soldiers, militiamen and Native warriors died in the war, but nearly three-quarters succumbed to something other than a battle wound. Learn more about military medicine during the War of 1812.

It took two-and-a-half years to fight the War of 1812, but seven years to develop, write and produce the film. Learn more about the filmmakers’ techniques and the important role of re-enactors.

“The War of 1812” was produced by WNED Buffalo/Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc., in association with WETA Washington, D.C.

During the bicentennial observance of the War of 1812, all are invited to recall and re-imagine this dramatic conflict by visiting historic sites and attending events on both sides of the (now) peaceful U.S.-Canadian border.

So what was all this fighting about anyway? And who won the War of 1812? Tune in to the film to find out! Once you do, write a review! Did you learn something? What do you remember most?

1 comment:

  1. An interesting portrayal of an important war that most know little about.