Weird History

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

Amanda Sedlak-Hevener
3.5k views 11 items

In the history of American conflicts, 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 February of 1815. You read that right: a conflict named after a single year ran for almost three, and that's just one of many surprising facts about this ordeal.

The United States started the conflict in response to trade issues and to protest naval impressment - a policy under which the British essentially took American citizens without authorization and put them to work in the Royal Navy. The conflict was a land grab, too; the US wanted Canada.

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

The US Finally Won A Land Battle – After The Conflict Ended
The US Finally Won A Land Batt... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Reasons the War of 1812 Was the Biggest Mess of a War in American History
Photo: G. Thompson/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Two of the largest US 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 Fort McHenry after the British withdrew.

Throughout the war, American soldiers didn't fare very well on land against British or Canadian forces. The Battle of New Orleans, however, was a land battle that the US military actually won - after the war was over. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, effectively ending the conflict. 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, but it did make Andrew Jackson, the future president, a national star.

The White House Was Set On Fire
The White House Was Set On Fir... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Reasons the War of 1812 Was the Biggest Mess of a War in American History
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public 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 John Adams moved into the then-unfinished structure in 1800, being the first president to occupy it.

President Madison and his wife Dolley were living in the original White House during the War of 1812, and they had already fled when word got out that enemy soldiers were approaching. Reportedly, the Redcoats raided the interior and set 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
There Weren't Enough Unifo... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Reasons the War of 1812 Was the Biggest Mess of a War in American History
Photo: John Archibald Woodside/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The newly formed 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 Conflict Was Paid For By Private Citizens
The Conflict Was Paid For By P... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Reasons the War of 1812 Was the Biggest Mess of a War in American History
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 conflict. There wasn't even a Bank of the United States anymore, as it was shut down in 1811 and wouldn't be re-chartered until 1816. 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 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.