And now for something completely different.
The tall ships were in Baltimore this month. It’s an annual event, but this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the young United States was unhappy with Great Britain’s maritime actions. British ships were seizing American ships and impressing American sailors into the British navy. The British also were restricting US trade with France and inciting Native American groups to resist US westward expansion.
Like most of Europe, Great Britain was at war with Napoleon at the time. In 1812 Napoleon was busy with another part of the world. Any Russians in the audience are familiar with that bit of history. (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was written to commemorate the Defense of Moscow against Napoleon, not for the American War of 1812, despite our appropriation of the piece for our Independence Day celebrations.)
For various reasons, Great Britain decided this was the time to return the upstart United States to colony status. Not surprisingly, the United States didn’t share this view and declared war. I can’t say the US army won the war. Before the peace treaty was ratified, it won no major battles. But the Merchant Marine was another story. Once fully armed and able to defend themselves, American ships taught the mighty British fleet a thing or two about naval warfare. Caught again fighting too many wars on too many fronts (as they were during the American Revolution), Great Britain was forced to back down and sign another peace treaty with the United States. That one has lasted—to both countries’ benefit.
Communications being what they were, news of the peace treaty was slow to reach Louisiana. And in January 1815, American ground forces finally won a decisive battle against the British in New Orleans. There was just one problem. The peace treaty had been ratified two weeks before. The war was already over. Oops. Oh well, it became a great bit of American history and launched the political career of one Andrew Jackson.
Today, most Americans know little about the war. It gets more coverage in Maryland (and Washington, DC) because much of the action took place here. The British did burn the White House, after all. And our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was written by Francis Scott Key as he watched the British ships fire on Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The troops at the fort held their ground. When dawn broke, the American flag still flew high.
(By the way, the Star Spangled Banner is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Despite what many tourists think, it is not “the Betsy Ross flag” from the American Revolution. Please don’t spread that myth to your children if you visit.)
Some of my ancestors served in the War of 1812. My great-great-great grandfather Allen McDowell was an army private. I doubt he saw much action. My great-great-great-great grandfather John Thomas was a Major General (and was at New Orleans). Had he not been ill, he would have commanded his troops from the field instead of giving orders to his adjutant from a hospital sick bed. Some years later, one of Allen’s sons would marry one of John’s granddaughters. Just a little personal background. 🙂
The ships in Baltimore were a great sight. Unfortunately, most of the American ships were over at Fort McHenry, and we were at the Inner Harbor. Most of the ships we saw were from Latin America. But they were still fun to visit. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos.
I love the juxtaposition of such a historic ship with the modern city
The Colombians handed out candy when you boarded and disembarked.
Stop snickering—not that kind!
Another contrast of traditional sailing vessel and a modern city
We couldn’t tour this one because it was closed for visiting dignitaries
The Guayas docked next to the National Aquarium