Monday, September 03, 2012

Book Review: "1812: War with America"

Jon Latimer's 1812: War with America (Harvard University Press, 2007), described as "the first complete history of the War ... written from a British perspective," does much to contextualize the conflict within the larger framework of the Napoleonic wars, although I confess I expected a bit more on the internal British government debates over war policy and strategies, and there is very little here on the British "home front" at all. Certainly Latimer relies more on British and Canadian sources than most histories of the War have done, though, and that alone would make the book worth reading.

Most of the book is a traditional military history of the conflict, focusing on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region where so much of the back-and-forth occurred and on the Atlantic naval battles; scattered chapters branch off to discuss the war in other regions (Jackson's Creek wars, the raids on Washington and Baltimore, and the Battle of New Orleans). A final chapter covers the peace negotiations at Ghent, and here Latimer really makes clear the ways in which the British government was trying to simply get the somewhat pesky American conflict out of the way so they could deal with the wider European peace.

Filled with sometimes mind-boggling detail of the numbers of guns on each ship in a battle, the particular regiments involved in a campaign, &c., the book is a bit of a slog at times, and Latimer's willingness to take British claims at face value while dismissing American arguments gets to be a bit much after a while. On the other hand, it's also incredibly thorough and engaging, and I'm sure I'll look to it again.

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