Although the War of 1812 is often called “America’s forgotten war,” it is also one of the most memorialized.
A panel of historians and one archaeologist convened at Miami University Hamilton on Tuesday night to discuss the varying perspectives on “the second war for independence.”
“The War of 1812 is difficult to put sense to because Americans understand the war in different ways than the Canadians, which is very different from the way the British understand it which is very different from the way the Native Americans understand it,” said Larry Nelson, editor of the journal Northwest Ohio History.
G. Michael Pratt, dean of the Miami University regional campuses who has done archaeological explorations of many War of 1812 battlefields, likened the War of 1812 to the current situation in the Middle East, particularly in regard to the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.
“You have culturally different people who over the course of 60 years of conflict have had killed members of each other’s family,” he said. “This makes it a very personal war and you have generation after generation of people engaging in really nasty combat.
“It was the last time in the Eastern United States and the Northwest Territories that you had resistance from the native people,” he said.
“Historians disagree on just about every aspect of the war,” Nelson said, “who won certain battles or even who won the war.”
Each side wanted something different, the panelists said. Americans claimed to have won the war because they accomplished what they set out to do. Canadians see the War of 1812 as a unifying event where they protected their homeland from “rapacious invaders from the south.”
The only clear loser, they maintained, were the Native Americans, who had their villages burned down “three times over,” according to George Michael Ironstack, assistant director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University. The war led to the forced removal of the Native American population in the region.
“By 1810, the population ratio of Euro-Americans to Native Americans was 7-to-1,” said David Curtis Skaggs, professor emeritus of Bowling Green State University. “The advantage was dramatically in favor of the Euro-Americans and this was a last-ditch stand for the Native Americans.”
Yet, in spite of the differing opinions and interpretations, the War of 1812 is memorialized in place names, including two state capitols, to an even greater extent than the American Revolution or World War II.
“There are more places named after Monroe than Washington,” Nelson said.
Andrew Cayton, distinguished professor of history at Miami University, was the moderator for the discussion.