Presidents, chiefs and officers
The war was a clash between ambitious American and British officers, with Native American warriors caught in between
Future US presidents clashed with British officers and the “Wellington of the Indians”
“285 BRITISH SOLDIERS WERE KILLED COMPARED TO ONLY 13 AMERICANS, AND JACKSON SECURED HIS STATUS AS A NATIONAL HERO”
ANDREW JACKSON BREVET MAJOR GENERAL UNITED STATES 1767-1845 THE SEVENTH US PRESIDENT AND ANGLOPHOBIC VICTOR OF NEW ORLEANS
Jackson was arguably the most famous soldier of the war, and his service during the conflict helped to propel him to the presidency of the United States. Born on the western frontier of the Carolinas, Jackson served in the American War of Independence as a courier for rebel militias. Although he was only a child, Jackson was captured by the British and wounded by a British officer, who angrily slashed at him with a sabre. He almost died in captivity, and his mother and brother died of disease towards the end of the war. Jackson, who was physically scarred by his experiences, developed an intense hatred for the British, which asserted itself decades later.
When war was declared in 1812 Jackson was given a field command, and he soon defeated the British-allied Creek Native Americans at the Battle of Tohopeka. This battle established him as an American hero, and he went on to prepare the way for the US occupation of Spanish-held Florida. After occupying Pensacola, Jackson marched his army to New Orleans in December 1814 just as the British were landing in Louisiana.
Jackson declared martial law in New Orleans and ordered every able-bodied man to defend the city. 4,000 men volunteered, and a defence line of improvised breastworks was created and named ‘Line Jackson’. When the battle against the British began outside the city, Jackson commanded the majority of the troops. The British outnumbered the Americans, but in a two-hour battle the US defences held. Jackson’s men inflicted heavy fire on the enemy until the British withdrew. 285 British soldiers were killed compared to only 13 Americans, and Jackson secured his status as a national hero.
His victory was particularly celebrated because the battle happened after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war in a stalemate. New Orleans was a great boost to American morale. Jackson’s popularity remained undimmed for years, and the battle became the platform on which he became the seventh president in 1829.
TECUMSEH CHIEF, SHAWNEE 1768-1813 THE SHAWNEE CHIEF LIONISED BY THE BRITISH AS THE ‘WELLINGTON OF THE INDIANS’
Tecumseh was a Shawnee chief who was the leader of the First Nations Confederacy that was formed to resist American encroachment on
Native American lands. Born in Ohio, Tecumseh was exposed to warfare at an early age during the American War of Independence and Northwest Indian War. He spent decades organising the various tribes against US expansion north of Ohio, and his primary belief was that “the Great Spirit intended [the land] as the common property of all the tribes, nor can it be sold without the consent of all.”
In 1808, with war looming between Britain and the USA, Tecumseh travelled to Canada and reluctantly allied with the
British. When war broke out in 1812, his confederacy laid clever ambushes against the
Americans and helped the British capture Detroit.
Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the
Thames in October
1813, which was an incalculable loss to the First Nations.
SIR EDWARD PAKENHAM MAJOR GENERAL, GREAT BRITAIN 1778-1815 THE WELL-CONNECTED OFFICER WHO WAS KILLED AT NEW ORLEANS
Pakenham was born into privilege as an Angloirish aristocrat and purchased a commission in the British Army when he was 16 years old. Despite buying rather than earning his officer’s rank, Pakenham was a capable leader and became a highly experienced soldier who served with distinction in the West Indies and during the Peninsular War. He gained the reputation of a model gentleman soldier, which was cemented when Arthur Wellesley, the future duke of Wellington, married his sister in 1806.
By September 1814, Pakenham was a major general at the age of only 36 and replaced Robert Ross as commander of the British North American Army. He was actually opposed to the American war but dutifully accepted the command. The Battle of New Orleans was Pakenham’s first action in America, and instead of besieging the city he opted for an open battle.
The British underestimated the power of the US artillery, and Pakenham launched a general advance, where he was mortally wounded. His last words before he died were a message to his fellow general John Lambert: “Tell him… tell Lambert to send forward the reserves.” His orders were in vain and the British lost the battle.
ROBERT ROSS MAJOR GENERAL, GREAT BRITAIN 1766-1814 THE IRISH OFFICER WHO OVERSAW THE BURNING OF WASHINGTON, DC
Born in Ireland, Ross was educated at Trinity College,
Dublin, before joining the British Army as an ensign in 1789. He served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars and fought in many battles, including Alexandria, Corunna, Vitoria and Orthez.
In June 1814, Ross commanded a British expeditionary force of three battalions against the east coast of the USA in revenge for their attacks on Canada. He landed in Maryland, defeated the Americans at Bladensburg and unexpectedly entered Washington, DC on 24 August. Ross’s troops burned all the public buildings in the capital, as well as military installations.
The British left the following day, but Ross’s command at Washington was criticised, not just by the Americans but also in the House of Commons. Conversely, government ministers, including Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, also praised him. Ross was mortally wounded shortly after the burning of Washington while he was riding up front at the Battle of Baltimore on 12 September 1814.
OLIVER HAZARD PERRY CAPTAIN, UNITED STATES 1785-1819 THE AMERICAN NAVAL HERO OF THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE
Perry joined the US Navy as a midshipman, aged 14, in 1799. He fought against the French in the Mediterranean and against piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies before the War of 1812. He started the conflict as a master commandant and was sent to Lake Erie to complete the construction of a naval squadron to challenge British control of the Great Lakes.
With a newly constructed fleet, Perry engaged the British at the Battle of Lake Erie on 10 September 1813. The Americans had superior short-range firepower but not at long-range, and the British were able to disable the US flagship USS Lawrence. Perry quickly transferred to USS Niagara in a small boat and won the battle in 15 minutes by firing broadsides straight into the British line of ships. All of the British ships surrendered, and Perry was lauded for his leadership. He was promoted to captain, received the Thanks of Congress and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON BRIGADIER GENERAL, UNITED STATES 1773-1841 THE NINTH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE THAMES
Born in 1773, Harrison was the last US president to be born before the American War of Independence. His father Benjamin was a Founding Father and signatory to the Declaration of Independence, so public service was in Harrison’s blood. After studying medicine, Harrison joined the US Army as an ensign and rose through the ranks while fighting in the Northwest Indian War. He became a national hero when he defeated Tecumseh’s confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
During the War of 1812, Harrison commanded US forces in the northwest and trained his army into a disciplined fighting force. After the American naval victory at Lake Erie, he pursued the British and Native American forces and defeated them at the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed in this battle, and it was considered a great American victory, second only to New Orleans.
Despite his achievements, Harrison was then given a ‘backwater’ posting, and he resigned from the army in protest in 1814. He was eventually elected president of the USA in 1841.
“ROSS’S COMMAND AT WASHINGTON, DC WAS CRITICISED, NOT JUST BY THE AMERICANS BUT ALSO IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS”
Sir IsaacBrock wrote of Tecumseh to the British prime minister: “A more sagacious or more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist”
LEFT: A portrait of Andrew Jackson, which was painted in 1819 in New York. His friend Samuel Swartwout praised the likeness and wrote to Jackson, “I have just seen the Jarvis portrait of you. It is inimitable”
LEFT: Rear Admiral George Cockburn advised Ross on the attack at Washington, DC and wrote after his death, “Our country has lost in him one of our best and bravest soldiers”
Harrison died of pneumonia one month into his presidential term in April 1841, which made him the shortest serving president in American history
Wellington later eulogised his brotherin-law, saying, “We have but one consolation, that he fell as he lived, in the honourable discharge of his duty”
Perry wrote in his official report of the British surrender at Lake Erie, “We have met the enemy and they are ours”