The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

War of 1812


America went to war against Great Britain to assert its rights as an independent, sovereign nation, and to attempt the conquest of Canada. The United States achieved few of its goals and the war ended in a stalemate. But the British bombardment of Ft. McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that later became the National Anthem. And Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British in New Orleans gave the country a new hero.

Facts / Statistics

Dates: 1812-1815
Troops: 286,730
Deaths: 2,260

Prelude

During the early part of the 19th century, the United States remained neutral in the Napoleonic Wars. They traded freely with both the British and the French. American ships seeking trade with Europe faced blockades by the British, who dominated the seas. In addition to preventing trade, the British claimed the right to take British sailors off the American ships upon which they served. Frequently, the British would also take Americans. This practice of impressment became a major grievance and spawned the American battle cry, “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights.”

In June 1812, the United States declared war and invaded Canada with no success. They tried again in 1813 with similar results. By 1814 the United States faced defeat. The British, having defeated Napoleon, began to transfer ships and troops to America. The British would use their sea power to attack the United States in New York to take the Hudson River, in New Orleans to block the Mississippi, and in the Chesapeake Bay to secure the capital of Washington, D.C.


Related Artifacts

Sailor’s Rights Ceramic Pitcher

Burning of Washington

Seeking to humiliate the United States, Britain attacked its capital in August 1814. With little resistance, the British seized Washington, D.C., and began to systematically burn the public buildings. Heroic actions by citizens, including First Lady Dolley Madison, saved many national treasures, including the Declaration of Independence.


Exhibition Graphics

British Burn the Capitol, 1814 by Allyn Cox

British Burn the Capitol, 1814 by Allyn Cox


Star-Spangled Banner

The following month, British forces attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. After twenty-five hours of bombarding the fort, they were unable to gain control. Watching the battle from a British ship where he was being detained, American lawyer Francis Scott Key watched the bombs bursting in air and penned a poem that, when set to music, eventually became the United States National Anthem.


Exhibition Graphics

Image of the Star-Spangled Banner as it appears today.

Image of the Star-Spangled Banner as it appears today.

A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, by J. Bower, 1816

A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, by J. Bower, 1816


Related Artifacts

Fragments of the Star Spangled Banner

Andrew Jackson

In the last major battle of the war, Britain brought a naval flotilla of some fifty ships filled with 10,000 troops to seize New Orleans. Buoyed by the burning of the capital, the British were sure a defeat was at hand. The citizens of southern Louisiana looked to Major General Andrew Jackson, known by the knickname “Old Hickory.” Jackson arrived in New Orleans in the late fall of 1814 and quickly prepared defenses along the city's many avenues of approach.

Never has a more diverse army fought under the Stars and Stripes. In addition to his regular U.S. Army units, Jackson counted on New Orleans militia, a sizable contingent of former slaves, Choctaw Indians, Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersmen, and a colorful band of Jean Lafitte's pirates. This hodgepodge of 4,000 soldiers was crammed behind narrow fortifications to fight an army more than twice that number. By carefully choosing his ground, Jackson forced the British to make futile attacks on well-fortified positions, and defeated the British in a lopsided victory.

Added to his fame as an Indian fighter, this brilliant action propelled him to national prominence and ultimately to election as president in 1828.


Exhibition Graphics

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812 by Michel Felice Corne. The USS Constitution was called “Old Ironsides” after shot was seen bouncing off its hull in battle with HMS Guerriere.

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812 by Michel Felice Corne. The USS Constitution was called “Old Ironsides” after shot was seen bouncing off its hull in battle with HMS Guerriere.

Andrew Jackson by Charles Severin

Andrew Jackson by Charles Severin


Related Artifacts

Andrew Jackson’s Uniform Coat with Epaulettes
Andrew Jackson’s Sword & Scabbard


Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits