Weird History Reasons the War of 1812 Was the Biggest Mess of a War in American History  

Amanda Sedlak-Hevener
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In the history of American wars, the War of 1812 is largely forgotten. And that's a shame, because it was a doozy. The War of 1812 started in June of 1812 and ran until January of 1815. You read that right: a war named after a single year ran for almost three. That's just one of many crazy War of 1812 facts.

What was this whole mess about? The United States started the war in response to trade issues, and to protest naval impressment – a policy under which the British essentially kidnapped American citizens and put them to work in the Royal Navy. The conflict was a land grab, too; the U.S. wanted Canada.

None of that worked out as planned, and the War of 1812 became one of the most overlooked American armed conflicts. It was a messy tangle that led to insane war stories, relating how the soldiers lacked uniforms and training, how a battle was fought after the war officially ended, and how nothing was really won when the dust had settled.

The U.S. Finally Won A Land Battle – After The War Ended

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Photo: G. Thompson/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Two of the largest U.S. victories in the War of 1812 were the Battle of Baltimore and the Battle of New Orleans. In terms of glory, the Battle of Baltimore takes the cake. It was fought on both land and sea, but primarily won on the water. The battle inspired Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner"; the soon-to-be national anthem referred to the flag raised over For McHenry after the British withdrew.

Throughout the war, American troops didn't fare very well on land against British or Canadian forces. The Battle of New Orleans, however was a land battle that the U.S. military actually won – after the war was over. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, effectively ending the war. However, word didn't travel fast enough to prevent the Battle of New Orleans from taking place a few weeks later. The American victory didn't really matter.

The White House Was Set On Fire

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Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Pubic Domain

The White House is synonymous with America, but the current building technically isn't the first. The original structure was finished in 1801, and Thomas Jefferson was the first president to live in it. The last was James Madison, who was still living there when British troops set it on fire on August 24, 1814.

President Madison and his wife Dolley had already fled. Reportedly, the redcoats ate leftovers in the White House before raiding the interior and setting the building ablaze. Dolley's quick thinking had saved some of the most valuable items, however, including a famous portrait of George Washington.

There Weren't Enough Uniforms For The Soldiers

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Photo: John Archibald Woodside/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The newly forged United States was totally unprepared for the War of 1812 – to the point of not having enough cloth to make uniforms for the soldiers. With a lack of standard blue fabric, manufacturers had to substitute in gray, brown, black, and olive green cloth for various regiments. The resulting outfits were colorful, but it made it difficult to tell who was on each side.

The War Was Paid For By Private Citizens

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Photo: Engraved by William Charles after drawing by Samuel Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

By 1812, the United States didn't have the proper tax base in place to pay for a war. There wasn't even a Bank of the United States anymore, as it was shut down in 1811. And wars are expensive; consider the costs of weapons, uniforms, ships, soldiers, and sailors, among other things.

One year into the war, the leaders of the country finally had a tax system and a set of treasury bonds in place, but they were still short by $16 million (in 1813 money). So, they borrowed money to keep the war going. The cash was ponied up by private citizens John Jacob Astor, David Parish, and Stephen Girard.