British military historian Latimer (Burma: The Forgotten War, 2004, etc.) provides a blow-by-blow study of this still vaguely understood conflict.
Known primarily for inspiring Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner,” the War of 1812 was a hugely convoluted affair. The hostility between England and the United States, both still smarting from the War for Independence, was exacerbated by the British perception that the Jefferson and Madison administrations were pro-French, by American land lust and by such maritime grievances as the Royal Navy’s impressment of U.S. sailors. Latimer takes the English point of view that America’s goal was to overrun Canada. Markets were depressed from 1808 to 1812, and trade was of first importance to the fledgling U.S. government. Jefferson believed the conquest of Canada “a mere matter of marching,” first to Montreal and from there to take control of the Great Lakes. With England preoccupied by Bonaparte’s conquests in Europe, Canada was left to raise its own means of defense under Colonel Isaac Brock and governor-in-chief George Prevost. The British enlisted the help of Indian leaders such as Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh, while Brock successfully resisted the American invasion at the Battle of Queenston Heights. American privateers took to sea and wreaked havoc on Royal Navy vessels, as Latimer demonstrates in one dizzying chapter. He explores in painstaking detail the campaigns on the lakes and the frontier, the raids and blockades; he looks carefully at the defining battles of Plattsburgh and New Orleans, as well as the burning and ransacking of Washington by the British in 1814. In the end, no one was quite sure what it was all about, but the net result was to strengthen Canadian nationalism.
An exhaustive reassessment of a war neither side really won.