War of 1812 and its effects on America

#1
Just a quick sum up .........

After years of studying history from the Bronze age to the 17th Century I have to admit, I've neglected studying America (along with China), I knew the basics but I never delved too deep likely because of my love for Military history pre the gun powder era or at least till when guns became the dominant factor in war.

So recently I made the effort and it caught my interest, since then I have studied what I would consider all the major points of America's brief 300 yr or so history post the original settlers of the 1600's.

French & Indian War
War of Independence
1812
Civil War
Indian Wars
Mexico vs US
Western Frontier

I've come to appreciate a few things, I think I now understand America's obsession with guns, unlike other European nations, America has been birthed on firearms since its inception, from the Musket to Breech loaders and revolvers, from ball ammo to Rimfire rounds America has known nothing but firearms and unlike in England the majority of the American public from the colonials to the Western frontier actually needed guns for hunting and protection in territories were there was no structure of law.

One War in particular caught my eye and in that is my actual question, The War of 1812.

I didn't even know this even happened before I studied as part of my tour of American history and found it fascinating that the War of Independence was obviously not the last time American tangled with Imperial Britain.

So what did I conclude / question.

Before the end of 1814 AD it seems the last engagements of that war may have (I'm open to hearing from people who know more about this than I do) had a profound effect on America's standing in the world as a military power.

Its no secret that in the baggage of war even after the War of Independence which was won for other reasons than direct military dominance (if it was ever won by that) that the Americans were quite frankly "poor" in military strength compared to their European counter parts.
One of the reasons for this apart from the resources of Britain at the time was that America was not a hierarchy society and this bled into their military, Britain however with our nobles and aristocracy was.
Order and obedience was something drilled into soldiers as per demanded by their "betters", it was easier for a British officer to send an infantry line in exact formation and march into gunfire ......... the Americans being less disciplined and less structured always had trouble with this most European concept of winning a battlefield.

This changed however at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 AD when for the first time, a direct stand off in the open field between Americans and British resulted in 70 / 2,000 loss or incapacity ratio was won in favor of America.

The difference was that instead of meeting the Brits out on the field in typical European formations, the Americans built layers of trenches and ramparts, so as the British advanced they had to clear a trench, then another, then another, math's in hindsight could easily add up that this would be an issue that could lead to ruin of the opposing army.

As such this battle apparently only lasted 20mins, the Brits once unstoppable Red Coat march of death left their entire army out in the field as open targets to American canon artillery and gun fire, the Americans no longer standing in the open facing them down could withstand the British volleys with little to no casualties as they were under the cover of their trenches and ramparts as opposed to the British who were at the full mercy of American gun fire and could not deplete their forces in return.

I'm not sure if anyone know's of any other instances like this but it would appear this could be a major turning point in how an army waged war in the days of the musket, mainly because America didn't have another national war to prove this until firearm technology had changed completely.

Was this success against a field army repeated in Europe or anywhere else? I know trenches etc were used when protecting a fort or an actual encampment but at the time of Napoleon the traditional field formations were still being used.

Was America the first to use this type of "Fire from cover" in an open field engagement?
 
Last edited:

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#2
Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775, bears many similarities to New Orleans, especially in Americans fighting behind earthen ramparts. Casualties were also very one sided until the Americans ran out of ammo. George Washington said that American soldiers had no fear of head wounds but were terrified of leg wounds. Ask them to fight in the open and they'll run away, but give them a wall to stand behind and they'll fight all day. He was speaking figuratively about head wounds and leg wounds. He was making a point about the value walls. I don't think he cared for it, considering fighting behind walls a sign of weakness and poor discipline. He worked hard over the next several years to train his army to fight in the European manner.

There were earlier examples of trenches used in open field battles but they were usually exceptional rather than standard practice. Trenches took hours or even days to dig. Most battles were over before any trenches could be finished. Armies only dug trenches if they knew where a battle would be fought far enough in advance to complete the trenches before the enemy arrived.
 
#3
Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775, bears many similarities to New Orleans, especially in Americans fighting behind earthen ramparts. Casualties were also very one sided until the Americans ran out of ammo. George Washington said that American soldiers had no fear of head wounds but were terrified of leg wounds. Ask them to fight in the open and they'll run away, but give them a wall to stand behind and they'll fight all day. He was speaking figuratively about head wounds and leg wounds. He was making a point about the value walls. I don't think he cared for it, considering fighting behind walls a sign of weakness and poor discipline. He worked hard over the next several years to train his army to fight in the European manner.

There were earlier examples of trenches used in open field battles but they were usually exceptional rather than standard practice. Trenches took hours or even days to dig. Most battles were over before any trenches could be finished. Armies only dug trenches if they knew where a battle would be fought far enough in advance to complete the trenches before the enemy arrived.
Very good,

Yes it does from reading seem to have quite a few similarities, I would say only from description but it seems the New Orleans trenches and ramparts seem better prepared and better protected than the trench line at Bunker hill which may explain the bare faced victory and outcome of that engagement.

It just makes me wonder with the changes in attitude after 1812 that the American Union realised it needed a proper full time army along with its most successful field battles coming from this type of earthwork line engagement coupled with the militia guerrilla warfare and supply line disruption tactics, that the Americans would of been more dominant or at least "less on the back foot" regarding facing down a European army.

In fact this type of trench warfare became the norm throughout future warfare all the way through from 1814 AD - WWII, the American Civil war and WWI in particular had lots of trench or ditch earth works battles.

I'm wondering if this was adopted quicker in Europe due to the American successes or if was just a natural move towards it with more lethal firearm development.
I would of thought the reports of an entire British field army being taken apart via a handful of American losses would of been big news among the military leaders in Europe if not the media of the time.

Does anyone know when the Brits and France stopped using the line march formations?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#4
As far as the emergence of a professional military in the US, the first standing US Army unit was raised in the 1790s. A short time later a course of instruction in artillery and engineering began to occur at West Point, New York. This grew into the Military Academy by 1802. I believe it was already recognized during the War of 1812 that West Point graduates were making a positive difference.

Although there were earlier examples of European armies using open order tactics (like the Boer War), there were still a few isolated instances of battle lines being used in the opening phase of WW1. The machine guns quickly put a stop to that.

I don't think there was anything uniquely American about the development of trenches. They had appeared earlier in European warfare. The main factor was time. After the development of railroads armies got larger and battles became multi-day affairs so there was now time to dig trenches before the battle ended.
 
Feb 2016
3,972
Japan
#5
New Orleans is very over hyped.

It was a Frontal assault on a fortified position.
Something the British had done before at
Cuidad Rodrigo
Badajoz (3 times ... 2 failures)
San Sebastián.

And they usually took heavy casualties. Infact their first (only) attack at New Orleans was less of a cock up than most of their other attempted storms.

On their left flank they had completely routed the Americans (85th Light Infantry, Royal Marines and Sailors) and captured their objective.
In their first attack where everything had gone wrong... the 93rd blundered about in front of cannons, the 44th completely collapsed and forgot the ladders... despite of all this they were STILL able to get men inside. Which puts it at possibly one of their most successful attempted first wave attacks (At 3rd Badajoz they attacked 5 times before they could get in).
American losses were mainly on the left bank or at the point where the 21st had broken the defenses. Notably, 85th aside, most of the attacking force was very green and inexperienced. The peninsula veterans in the force being kept out of it...
Veteran British soldiers didn’t even consider New Orleans a big battle... a silly, badly planned skirmish... though understandably since the rest of the war had been a colossal failure for the US this was a much needed boost to her crushed ego...

US army did not come out of the war of 1812 with an enhanced reputation. In fact it’s performance was the source of much concern and ridicule in the US. The US Navy cane out looking all heroic and with boosted popularity.

The redcoats were not unstoppable. They had been beaten before in small skirmishes, by the US in the war, and had lost battles to the French and Spanish in the preceding 20 years of conflict.

Trenches were not new. The British used them in Spain, and Shakespeare used trencherman to mean a soldier. They are possibly older than that in seige warfare.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,433
Stockport Cheshire UK
#6
This changed however at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 AD when for the first time, a direct stand off in the open field between Americans and British resulted in 70 / 2,000 loss or incapacity ratio was won in favor of America.
It wasn't a direct stand off in an open field, the American forces were in fortified positions, which they never left during the battle
The difference was that instead of meeting the Brits out on the field in typical European formations, the Americans built layers of trenches and ramparts, so as the British advanced they had to clear a trench, then another, then another, math's in hindsight could easily add up that this would be an issue that could lead to ruin of the opposing army.

As such this battle apparently only lasted 20mins, the Brits once unstoppable Red Coat march of death left their entire army out in the field as open targets to American canon artillery and gun fire, the Americans no longer standing in the open facing them down could withstand the British volleys with little to no casualties as they were under the cover of their trenches and ramparts as opposed to the British who were at the full mercy of American gun fire and could not deplete their forces in return.

I'm not sure if anyone know's of any other instances like this but it would appear this could be a major turning point in how an army waged war in the days of the musket, mainly because America didn't have another national war to prove this until firearm technology had changed completely.

Was this success against a field army repeated in Europe or anywhere else? I know trenches etc were used when protecting a fort or an actual encampment but at the time of Napoleon the traditional field formations were still being used.

Was America the first to use this type of "Fire from cover" in an open field engagement?
How can it be an open field engagement if the Americans were behind fortified defences ?
There was nothing unusual about this battle, towns and cities were often fortified in this manner, and if an assault went wrong, casualties were always lob-sided in favour of the defenders
 
Feb 2016
3,972
Japan
#7
Linier tactics remained in use by all armies until the 1890s... but loose order became a standard feature from about the 1870s for western vs western armies, though pretty much all of them had used it in some form from at least the 1750s... (possibly before aswell)

Note the US kept using linier tactics themselves until the 1870s.

The war of 1812 had little to no impact on anyone bar those killed or maimed in it, those whose property was burned or looted. Though it probably impacted the Creek, Shawnee nations and more than anyone else... in global terms it mattered little. In military terms it was a small border skirmish.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,433
Stockport Cheshire UK
#8
L
The war of 1812 had little to no impact on anyone bar those killed or maimed in it, those whose property was burned or looted. Though it probably impacted the Creek, Shawnee nations and more than anyone else... in global terms it mattered little. In military terms it was a small border skirmish.
The British lost more men killed in combat in a single day at Waterloo than during the whole of the War of 1812.
 
Feb 2016
3,972
Japan
#9
The French held a similar position at Carillion (Ticonderoga) in 1758 with similar results against an Anglo-American force. (2000 British and American casualties).


Trenches...
the Maori always fortified their Pa with trenches.

The French had built extensive trench lines in the WSS. The allies built them around Stallhofen in the same war.

Romans dug them whenever they camped.
 
#10
It wasn't a direct stand off in an open field, the American forces were in fortified positions, which they never left during the battle
How can it be an open field engagement if the Americans were behind fortified defences ?
There was nothing unusual about this battle, towns and cities were often fortified in this manner, and if an assault went wrong, casualties were always lob-sided in favour of the defenders
It was an open field engagement.

The Americans were not in a fort, a town, a City .......... they were out in the open field with some self made earth work defences and cover.

That is not the same as a fixed walled construction that you have to siege, a ditch or trenches in a field is not a City and can be overrun by foot, a walled fort can't be, you'd need ladders and canon.

But essentially that is the point of the whole conversation, in not being disciplined or trained enough to match the British head to head the Americans created defences like you would enjoy from a fort to the open field so they could avoid having to go face to face.
 

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