Western historian Borneman (Alaska, 2003, etc.) argues that the war of 1812, often dismissed as a sideshow to European events, had a profound impact on US history.
He begins by examining the conflict’s origins. The English practice of impressing seamen from American vessels was the most widely cited casus belli at the time (and the one most of us read about in high-school history class). Equally important was the outspoken desire of many Westerners, including Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, to annex more territory, including as much of Canada as the US could grab. Much of the war was fought on the Canadian front, including several key naval battles on the Great Lakes. When invading US troops burned the Canadian city of York (later renamed Toronto), the English—temporarily free from the threat of Napoleon—retaliated by burning Washington and bombarding Baltimore’s Fort McHenry before retiring. Borneman does a good job of showing how the American war was, in English eyes, a sideshow to the struggles taking place in Europe. Wellington was one of several English generals who declined the command of the armies sent to America, which by 1814 included veterans of the Napoleonic wars. James Madison, vastly unpopular in New England (which seriously considered seceding from the Union), sent his best diplomats to attempt to negotiate a truce; England was willing, but saw no urgency to give in on the issue of impressment. When a deal was finally struck, it arrived too late to prevent the war’s culminating Battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson defeated a crack British army. Borneman argues, perhaps a bit too glibly, that the war effectively cemented the American union in the eyes of its citizens.
A solid performance, though, placing key events in a larger perspective without playing down the vast stupidity of many of the participants.