FLAMES ACROSS THE BORDER: The Canadian-American Tragedy, 1813-1814 by Pierre Berton
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FLAMES ACROSS THE BORDER: The Canadian-American Tragedy, 1813-1814

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the author of The Invasion of Canada 1812-1813: another spanking history of the ""bloody little war"" that Americans associate with heroics--and Canadians, with nationhood. As the story resumes in April 1813, American hopes of swiftly annexing Canada have collapsed. William Henry Harrison is awaiting a chance to retake Detroit--opposed by British General Proctor and Harrison's old foe from Tippecanoe, Tecumseh. (But: ""without a battle to fight, without glory and excitement, without the prospect of loot, scalps, or prisoners to ransom, the Indians will drift away to their villages. . .""). On the Niagara frontier, a raid against York (Toronto) yields the Americans naval guns and stores intended for the British squadron on Lake Erie. (It also turns dour, self-righteous minister John Strachan into one of Canada's ""mythical"" saviors.) And on Lake Erie, Matthew Hazard Perry is constructing a fleet at Presque Isle (Erie). He will get his ships over the shallow bar into the open lake, flush out the reluctant British squadron, and win the total victory that he marks with a laconic note to Harrison: ""We have met the enemy and they are ours."" Still to come: the death of Tecumseh (last seen ""murmuring encouragement in his own language"" to the British officers); incendiary war along the Niagara border; the crucial intervention of Winfield Scott; foreign sorties to pick up diplomatic threads; the fight for Michilimackinac Island, key to the Northwest; the burning of Washington; the peace negotiations. Berton's is, as he notes, a ""social history"" of the border war--mostly recounted in the present tense, from the viewpoint of participants. And, character by character, it reads like a serio-comic novel. But the book is also strongly driven by Berton's points of view--that the Indians were the all-round losers (denied, in the peace treaty, the buffer state promised them by their British allies), that the fate of Canada ""was in the hands of human beings,"" that the war turned Canada irrevocably toward ""the British colonial way."" The combination of vivid storytelling and historical depth is unusual and invigorating.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1982
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown