Family Soldiers in the War of 1812

| 10/17/2012 2:12:45 PM

Two hundred years ago this month, during a mostly forgotten U.S. war (the War of 1812), two of my ancestors became actively involved in the conflict.

On 18 June, 1812, the U.S. Congress passed a bill declaring war on Great Britain, and President Madison signed it the same day. The reasons given were the “…mad ambition, the lust of power, and commercial avarice of Great Britain…” in her quest for complete domination of the oceans.

William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, commanded what was then called the “Western Army,” responsible for the Indiana and Michigan Territories and the state of Ohio. Both sides in the war recognized the importance of Lakes Ontario and Erie so Harrison was ordered toward Detroit, then in British hands.

In 1812, the United States had a regular army of less than 12,000, with few trained officers. Each state had a militia and it was expected that these forces would be used to do the fighting. The war was unpopular in the east, especially in New England, and militia units from those states refused to serve, except to defend their own states from enemy attack. The British weren’t much better off, with most of their powerful army and navy busy fighting Napoleon in Europe.

President Madison was determined to invade Canada and, after the Americans suffered several defeats at various points along the border, he asked for volunteers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to join those from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, plus some newly recruited regulars, in Harrison’s Western Army for an attempt to retake Detroit and then a thrust into Canada.

After a lot of skirmishing with British troops and Indians, and a serious defeat at the Battle of Frenchtown (now Monroe, MI), part of Harrison’s army reached the Maumee River in northwestern Ohio. At this point two of my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family entered the story.