Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27. The Muse has been working on a timeline of the War of 1812. There are many of them on the internet, and all are helpful, perhaps differing just a tad from one another, but no significantly. We are doing this because on the 30th we are speaking to whoever cares to hear about what the war must have looked like from the view of the Cape Codder of the time. And the time-line -- well, it is a list of battles, skirmishes and occasional massacres in places no one on Cape Cod could have heard of or would have known the location of. A "Battle" might have consisted of 20 or 30 people, with one or two casualties; a skirmish generally counted one or two injuries. Massacres had the highest body count, and certainly the militias of various territories were terrified of the Indians, with good reason.

The Muse grew up in Ohio, right at the site of the early part of the war where poor General Hull, an older gentleman who didn't want command, was ordered to pick up militia companies who were moving to various places to meet him, along with some regular army types. They assembled in Dayton and eventually made it to the rapids of the Maumee River (from which the Muse lived only two blocks away). Not having been notified that the war had started, Hull sent the wounded, his supplies, and a whole lot of paperwork ahead by schooner (since now there was enough water to sail.)

The British general, Isaac Brock, did know that the war had started, and captured the schooner, read the paperwork and, of course, then  knew all about Hull's plans to take the British Fort at Amherstburg, across the Detroit River from the Fort of the same name. Brock was an ideal soldier, steadfast and imaginative, daring and in many respects admirable. He never asked his soldiers to do something he wouldn't do with them (which resulted in his getting killed in battle), and he was able to work well with his Indian allies. Both soldiers and Indians followed his instructions, putting on coats of one color and marching around, then putting on soats of other colors, so the Americans though there were more of them than there were in actual fact, and the Indians did the same thing, appearing here, then there, then somewhere else in the woods, so that it seemed the woods was filled with them.

Hull, who had his daughter and grandson with him, was terrified that they would be captured and tortured by the Indians, and he didn't want that fate for any of his soldiers, either, so he surrendered Fort Detroit before he could lose the battle, thus putting himself, his family, and his men under the protection of the British. Of course, he got court-martialed, even sentenced to hang, though pardoned before that happened. Still, he was ruined -- an old man who was trying to protect those who depended on him.

The British have never been too astute when it comes to leadership (probably because the sons of the aristocracy were in command, whether they earned it or not) but in Hull's case, and others, too, the Americans showed in a particularly bad light, orders given to attack when no ammunition had been moved up, orders to move when no supplies had arrived, and a lot of fingerpointing when the troops, poorly trained and without discipline (they were militia, after all, and weren't impressed with the regular army) ran away or refused to obey, with defeat as a result.

So whether the Muse actually uses the timeline or not, it was instructive to put one together and get the sense of how disorganized and inadequate our leadership was. It led to the eventual establishment of a standing army (which the early American did NOT want, but which could be seen to be necessary when debacle after debacle revealed the need for one.) Meanwhile, we all must be thankful that the English weren't much better off, and that Brock was taken out. Otherwise, we might be singing "God save the Queen" when time for the national anthem comes around, part of the great British Commonwealth.

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