The civil war of 1812 : American citizens, British subjects, Irish rebels, and Indian allies

by Alan Taylor

Hardcover, 2010




New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.


In this book, the author, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian tells the story of a war that redefined North America. During the early nineteenth century, Britons and Americans renewed their struggle over the legacy of the American Revolution. Soldiers, immigrants, settlers, and Indians fought in a northern borderland to determine the fate of a continent. Would revolutionary republicanism sweep the British from Canada? Or would the British empire contain, divide, and ruin the shaky American republic? In a world of double identities, slippery allegiances, and porous boundaries, the leaders of the republic and of the empire struggled to control their own diverse peoples. The border divided Americans, former Loyalists and Patriots, who fought on both sides in the new war, as did native peoples defending their homelands. Serving in both armies, Irish immigrants battled one another, reaping charges of rebellion and treason. And dissident Americans flirted with secession while aiding the British as smugglers and spies. During the war, both sides struggled to sustain armies in a northern land of immense forests, vast lakes, and stark seasonal swings in the weather. In that environment, many soldiers panicked as they fought their own vivid imaginations, which cast Indians as bloodthirsty savages. After fighting each other to a standstill, the Americans and the British concluded that they could safely share the continent along a border that favored the United States at the expense of Canadians and Indians. Both sides then celebrated victory by forgetting their losses and by betraying the native peoples. This narrative of an often brutal and sometimes comic war reveals much about the tangled origins of the United States and Canada.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
I had never known much about the War of 1812, so this book was an eye-opener. I hadn't realized how much unfinished business was left over from the Revolutionary War that needed to be resolved one way of another.
LibraryThing member Shrike58
This is an effort to strip away the nationalistic interpretations that arose after the War of 1812 in the United States and Canada, and whose supporters then tried to anachronistically locate in the American and Canadian populations of the prewar period. Taylor offers numerous little narratives to
Show More
suggest such was not the case, particularly in terms of life on either side of the border imposed by the Treaty of Ghent; at least until the Napoleonic experience hardened mentalities. While this may not be as much news as Taylor might suppose, I particularly enjoyed his examination of the social and political scene in British North America after the American Revolution.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rivkat
A chronicle of the War of 1812’s northern front, featuring plenty of ego and incompetence on both sides though the US comes off worse in planning/discipline respects while Britain wins on sheer arrogance and high-handedness. The conflict had its inception British insistence that subjecthood was
Show More
forever—one couldn’t avoid one’s obligations to the Crown by emigrating—while American citizenship wasn’t worthy of respect, particularly with respect to much-in-demand sailors impressed off of American ships. Mostly the people living in Canada just wanted to be left alone by both sides, which the Americans initially misread as sympathy for the US. One of the most notable parts from my perspective was the account of how a wealthy investor, who had many interests in a key area of the front, pressured the US government not to attack there, even though it was the only place that offered any realistic prospect of success in getting the British out of Canada. Meanwhile, he was lending a ton of money to the broke government, so it did what he wanted even as that made the military situation worse. Financiers: screwing things up since 1814! Taylor also discusses the terror generated in Americans by fear of Indians, often enough to make poorly trained troops break just from fear. The tribes were the biggest losers; Britain accepted a peace that involved abandoning their allies to US promises of fair treatment, easily broken. Basically a history of one blunder after another.
Show Less
LibraryThing member RobertP
Excellent review of war, from a series of interesting angles. First, not a battle book. Second, local politics, both sides, not so much national, although that is there too. Third, sociological. Fourth, good sense of the national groups involved, including the Irish, which was news to me. Fifth,
Show More
strong sense of Canadian history, most unusual in an American. A good read. I learned a lot, and in this the bicentennial year of the start of the war, a recommended read for Canadians.
Show Less


Cundill History Prize (Longlist — 2011)
George Washington Book Prize (Finalist — 2011)



Page: 0.4267 seconds