Sold – The War of 1812 From Inside the British Military Leadership

Unpublished correspondence on the burning of Washington, the inadequate military support from London, etc...

This document has been sold. Contact Us

In the dozen years from 1793-1805, as war raged in Europe between post-revolutionary France and its allies, and Great Britain and its allies, American ships were caught increasingly in the middle, as both of the belligerent sides seized ships and cargoes bound for each other’s ports.

In 1806 things got even worse,...

Read More

Sold – The War of 1812 From Inside the British Military Leadership

Unpublished correspondence on the burning of Washington, the inadequate military support from London, etc...

In the dozen years from 1793-1805, as war raged in Europe between post-revolutionary France and its allies, and Great Britain and its allies, American ships were caught increasingly in the middle, as both of the belligerent sides seized ships and cargoes bound for each other’s ports.

In 1806 things got even worse, when Napoleon excluded British goods from “Fortress Europe” and the British responded with a blockade of the continent. In addition to the some 1,000 ship seizures, the British adopted the policy of impressing American sailors, with their captains on the high seas taking over 10,000 to man their ships. Britain had also been fomenting Indian hostility to American settlements in the border areas of the west, impeding U.S. growth efforts. Clearly, the British were not taking the new American republic too seriously as a power to be reckoned with, and this attitude was reinforced by a residual contempt left over from the days of the Revolutionary War.

The Congress that met from 1811 to 1813 included a number of young and outspoken members who were foes of Britain and supporters of expansion by the United States. These War Hawks, most notably the new Speaker of the House, Henry Clay of Kentucky, called for war against Britain and eyed Canada as a possible target of annexation. The southern War Hawks, led by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, cast longing glances at British-influenced Texas and Florida. With these men in the lead, by 1812 many Americans were determined to make another attempt at eradicating the British presence in North America, and ending the Indian threat once and for all. The U.S. declared war in June 1812.

With the British completely preoccupied with their all-out war against Napoleon, and the Americans being led by men too young to remember the Revolution and with an inadequate appreciation of either the strength of the enemy or their own weakness, neither side had given sufficient attention to the risks inherent in this conflict. The Americans, taking on the world’s greatest power with virtually no preparation, risked undermining if not losing their independence; the British, with vast insufficiently-defended holdings in North America, risked having those snatched away while they were fighting elsewhere. Both sides somehow thought the war would be won easily.

The British started the war on a high note by taking Detroit and invading American territory. However, in 1813 they lost control of the Great Lakes to the U.S., a loss that culminated in the Battle of Lake Erie, where in October Captain Oliver H. Perry defeated a British naval attack. Three attempted American invasions of Canada that year failed, but more were planned and they had the Lakes from which to operate. Smarting from naval defeat on the Lakes and by the loss of several small men-ofwar to the powerful American frigates, the British were heartened when, after months of frustration waiting for American warships to leave Boston harbor, the HMSShannon utterly defeated the USSChesapeake in June 1813. The Chesapeake’s captain, James Lawrence, was mortally wounded by small arms fire and had to be taken below, giving his final order “Don’t give up the ship!”

In March 1814, U.S. forces overcame the British and their Indian allies at the Battle of Thames; later Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Indians in Mississippi. The British for their part planned a 3-prong invasion of the U.S. for 1814: targets were Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain, and the mouth of the Mississippi River at New Orleans. Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane was appointed to command the British effort in North America. He was a determined foe and wasted no time issuing a proclamation aimed largely at slaves, inviting Americans to join the British forces or opt to be relocated in Canada or the Caribbean. Americans accused Cochrane of trying to foment a slave revolt. Sir E. Thomas Troubridge saw service in Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory before being promoted to captain. He served in a leadership position in the War of 1812, commanding the Naval Brigade at the Battle of New Orleans. After the war he was a Member of Parliament and Lord of the Admiralty. In August 1810 he married Anne Cochrane, eldest daughter of the Admiral. So in Cochrane and his son-in-law Troubridge, we find the British commander-in-chief and his right-hand man in the war.

The British invasion plan for 1814 initially proved very successful, and on August 24-25, they took and burned Washington, D.C., and made the foe’s president, James Madison, flee the White House. Their advance was eventually turned back at Baltimore harbor. In September 1814, at the Battle of Plattsburgh (Lake Champlain), the U.S. scored a victory over a larger British force and secured its northern border. In December the assault on New Orleans began; it ended in an American victory in January 1815.

The British command is buoyed by the victory of the HMSShannon over the USS Chesapeake, but acknowledges that “the fate of Upper Canada…is very precarious. They have gained several advantages over us…” The Americans “are most cordially detested by the Indians,” who commit great “cruelties” on them.
Sir E. Thomas Troubridge, Autograph Letter Signed. Quebec, June 12, 1813, over four pages, to his wife Anne, Lady Troubridge. “All the people here are kept in great anxiety as to the fate of Upper Canada which at the moment is very precarious. They have gained several advantages over us and are in much greater force there. Reinforcements may alter the case but they are very late. I have been particularly gratified since I have been here in seeing a steam boat which goes up the river between there and Montreal…She goes with a fair wind 12 or 13 miles an hour and 6 against the wind and tide. It is done by a steam engine which turns two wheels in the water like water wheels. She is 140 feet long and will carry 400 men. You will easily believe what service she is of at this time in getting the troops conveyed so rapidly to Montreal which is about 180 miles…As we were sitting at dinner yesterday evening the news of the Shannon Capt. Broke having taken the Chesapeake arrived. Nothing could have given us more pleasure and the spell against us is now broke. I trust their [the yankees] career will soon be over. They are most cordially detested by the Indians and to give you some idea of the cruelties attendant upon this war, the Indians when they take any prisoners cut them open and thrust their heads and faces in their bodies besides many other tortures that they practice upon them…”

Troubridge says the Americans can come and go “any time they please as we have not ships enough to watch the extent of the ground.” He considers Canada “by no means…secure,” and finds British naval forces to be poorly distributed, but expects the truth to be covered up – “I think there will be a hush about it.” The war will continue, he opines: “These Yankee rascals are so elated by their success at sea and in Canada that we shall have no peace with them for some time…” He also astutely assesses Napoleon’s predicament on the continent.
Sir E. Thomas Troubridge, Autograph Letter Signed, on board HMSArmide, October 30-November 11, 1813, over four long pages, to his wife Anne, Lady Troubridge. “We have so many reports of the politics in the continent that it is impossible even to conjecture what the result might be…Buonaparte cannot afford to lose his marshals so rapidly as he has these last six months. We are in daily expectations of an arrival from Halifax as Sir John Warren’s arrival is announced in the Yankee papers on the 17th of September. I am sorry to say that Commodore Rogers has got into port again. He was chased in the latitude of 60 degrees North by a line of battle ships and frigates for 86 hours and I am much astonished by his escape from there…This does not say much for the distribution of our forces upon the coast. I think there will be a hush about it…I am sorry to say the Yankees have given us the slip -the day I mentioned the sudden gale wind coming, and when our boats went adrift, the Baltimore clippers [a name for fast sailing American schooners] took advantage of the NW gale and passed a frigate and brig that was up the Bay and then ran by us. I feel they will do any time they please as we have not ships enough to watch the extent of the ground they can pass in…I am sorry to say that the news from the lakes is bad and I by no means think Canada secure. These scoundrels are laughing at us as they attacked our watering party yesterday…In the middle of the night we saw 17 light schooners (clippers) crowding sail to pass us. Acteon and I cut our cables and chased them but I am sorry to say Armide did not sail well enough. I chased him 120 miles going 11 miles an hour. It was most provoking as he was only three miles from all the time and night coming. And I was not at liberty to chase farther from my station. Acteon was no more fortunate than myself…So much for the admirable arrangements of the squadron on this coast. Aflag of truce is now in sight from Norfolk by which I hope we shall hear some news. Never was anything so wretched as this place…The flag of truce has brought us some late English newspapers the contents of which are most satisfactory. What terrible battles are fighting on the continent. Buonaparte is now in a fair way. I cannot for a moment conceive that he can stand against the united efforts of Russia, Prussia, Austria &Sweden…Lord Wellington too has settled the business in Spain most effectively. All this I think must lead to a general peace. These Yankee rascals are so elated by their success at sea and in Canada that we shall have no peace with them for some time…”Peace was, in fact, over a year away.

The British commander gleefully relates to his daughter that he has burned Washington, and rendered the American land and sea forces impotent, thereby accomplishing his goals.
Between June and July, British naval forces overcame a small American flotilla in the Chesapeake commanded by Admiral Barney. Then, when Sir George Prevost asked Cochrane to raid U.S. coastal towns in retaliation for American depredations in Canada, the commander was quick to do so. After receiving some 5000 marines and veteran soldiers spared from the Duke of Wellington’s campaigns, Cochrane resolved to send 4500 of them on a quick dash to Washington under Major General Robert Ross. The raid was successful and resulted in August in the burning of the American capitol city. Cochrane next sent Ross on a similar expedition to Baltimore.

Sir Alexander Cochrane, Autograph Letter Signed, Patuxent River, September 4, 1814, two pages, to his daughter Anne, Lady Troubridge. “We have accomplished all I had in train and now about to verge towards Block Island. Barney’s flotilla is taken or destroyed, the American Army beat and dispersed, Washington taken, all their public buildings destroyed including the Capitol, President’s Palace, naval and military arsenals – a large frigate and sloop of war and many others…And they permitted our army to retreat 50 miles to the place of reembarcation without the least molestation…” When Ross was killed in the attack on Baltimore and Cochrane’s own bombardment of Fort McHenry failed, he retreated to prepare the attack against New Orleans.

The Prince Regent George and his subjects are “much pleased” with Cochrane’s successes in Washington and on the Chesapeake. Families of the men serving in America are receiving letters of congratulations.
Afriend or relative writes to Anne Troubridge that the news of British triumphs in America in August reached England by September, and that the British public was delighted with the results – no hesitancy or second thoughts about burning the foe’s capitol. Apartial Autograph Letter, October 4, 1814. “…The Iphyegenia returns to America in ten days. What a short passage she had from the Chesapeake. She was only 21 days from thence to the Admiralty. John Bull was much pleased with the good news, the Regent was likewise gratified. We have had numerous letters of congratulations on the subject…”

The British leadership underestimates the difficulties they will face trying to take New Orleans – “It will be an easy thing when once we get a footing ashore.” Troubridge also gives an eyewitness description of the battle to clear the river’s approaches of American gun-boats.
On December 8, Cochrane, in the Tonnant, with several other ships, arrived and anchored off the Chandeleur Islands. On the same day two American gunboats fired at the 38-gun frigate Armide under Captain Troubridge, while three other gun-boats were found cruising in the area. On the 10th-12th, the remainder of the British men of war and troop-ships arrived. Since it would be impossible to land British forces until these gun-boats were destroyed, to clear them, Cochrane sent 42 armed launches, along with about 1,000 seamen and marines, who pushed off from the Armide. The battle for naval supremacy was joined on the 14th and was severe, with the British losing many men. Yet they were successful in that they captured the American gunboats and removed the obstacle to their passage up through the lakes. The disembarkation of the British troops commenced; they subsequently advanced through Bayou Bienvenu to within seven miles of New Orleans by December 23.

Sir E. Thomas Troubridge, Autograph Letter Signed, near New Orleans, December 16, 1814, three long pages, to his wife Anne, Lady Troubridge. “I had a short passage from Port Royal to Pensacola where I found your good father in good health and spirits though I think somewhat thinner from anxiety. I was moved off the next day to join the Sea Horse and Sophie in the advance. 5 gunboats made their appearance and when the fleet arrived all the boats about 45 were sent to attack them under the command of Lockyer and Montessor with Roberts under him. They had fatiguing work for two days to race after them and at last caught them and after some very severe firing captured them all. Poor Lockyer is badly wounded in four places but he is in good spirits…We lost about 50 or so killed and wounded, among them several officers…The gun boats being taken will be of the most serious advantage to us in our future operations…The troops are all now going up in different boats, schooners, etc. and tomorrow the Admiral and General move up. Captains Gordon and D’aeth command the 1st Division to land the troops, your humble servant and Captain Money the 2nd and Captains Spencer and Sullivan the 3rd. It will be an easy thing when once we get a footing ashore. You cannot imagine what a fuss and bustle there is onboard here from daylight to sunset. I like the General much. McConachie I have sent up to the gun boats with a party of small armed men. The Admiral has appointed my mate Mr. Bramwell to the command of one of the gun boats. Colonel Nicolls was onboard here with the Indian chiefs and warriors yesterday. He has lost an eye but meditates his revenge at New Orleans. The chiefs are no doubt very useful to us but they are terrible beasts at a dinner table…”

One of his captains tells the British commander’s daughter “the failure of our most sanguine hopes is truly mortifying,” and relates that her father’s anxiety in the wake of the defeat was such that “not only mind but body gave way…”
On the 8th of January, 1815, an unsuccessful attack was made by the British troops under General Sir Edward Pakenham upon the strongly fortified position of the American general, Andrew Jackson. The British lost nearly 2000 men, including Pakenham. After this failure Cochrane withdrew with the rest of the British force.

Captain Charles D. Jermy, Autograph Letter Signed, Bermuda, January 27, 1815, three pages, to his friend Anne, Lady Troubridge. “Such my Lady has been the result of the first essay of our arms on this coast, & tho not the smallest tarnish can be attached to the British flag, yet the failure of our most sanguine hopes is truly mortifying. No one can account for it except (as reports say) from the inadventure or inattention (I will not call it by a harsher word) of the leader of the men employed to carry the fascines & ladders & whose presence was certainly most necessary. It is with sincere pleasure I assure you of the health of our patron [Sir Alexander Cochrane]. It is not requisite to picture to your Ladyship his anxiety or what our idea of his feelings must have been at our ill success and the loss of such worthy coadjutors, & your only astonishment must be that not only mind but body gave way to such complicated privations & disappointments; for many days he was indisposed, but good habit, wonderful exercise & we trust increasing hopes appear to have triumphed over everything…Sir Thomas after all his exertions is also well, commanding the brigade of seamen, but he was without rest for several nights…no inducement could move him to forsake the duties he had volunteered for, nor would he till his services were no longer necessary and the principal part of his brigade reimbarked, return to his ship. Charles who acted as his aide, notwithstanding the sharp fire he has been in, still retains his ardour for military renown. Since our return he is going to join Nymph which ship has been sent with 2 boats to make a diversion up the Mississippi. It is impossible to picture to your Ladyship a country apparently more obnoxious to health – ice, heat, rain, tremendous thunder & lightning rapidly succeed each other & the baleful vapours arising from stagnated swamps must be truly pernicious. For many miles from the sea coast you perceive nothing but lowland covered with high reeds, & where we landed eight miles from the mouth of the river, only a small spot of ground a few yards in extent was found to land the army and its material…”

This is a unique and apparently unpublished collection that enables us to see the war from inside the British leadership, providing a whole new perspective. Americans assessing the conflict tend to focus on their lack of preparation, their vulnerability (as evidenced by the near loss of the Western lands and the torching of Washington, D.C.), and the internal divisions over the war (which was opposed in much of New England). They see the strength of the British and how it might have been brought to bear in North America after the defeat of Napoleon, and often write off as impossible the purposes of the war that were not accomplished in the peace treaty (such as the taking of Canada). Here we see the view from the British side – their thin forces and poor use of them, the determined foe and chronic underestimation of him, the real jeopardy Canada was in, the frequent defeat of vaunted naval forces, the drain of resources. Suddenly the Treaty of Ghent makes sense from both sides.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services