From the Publisher
“A more thrilling and erudite introduction to this chapter of Canadian history is hard to imagine.”
“Zuehlke . . . presents a clear, thorough account of both the conflict and the peace negotiations that influenced and warped its outcome, and does so without bias. You couldn’t ask for a clearer account of events.”
–The Vancouver Sun
“Zuehlke’s extensive research and detail will not only appeal to academics, but his readable style and the well-paced flow will also intrigue lay historians with an interest in early nineteenth century Canada.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
Praise for the writing of Mark Zuehlke:
“Holding Juno is a meticulous, gripping story. . . . The scenes recounted here sometimes make the film The Longest Day seem tame by comparison . . . an eloquent accounting.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Mark Zuehlke’s grindingly researched book Ortona is a heart-stopping, intimate look at all the brutal excesses of war.” –Toronto Star
Read an Excerpt
To Meet with Frankness and Conciliation
In August 1814, eight men travelled to the ancient Flemish city of Ghent to negotiate the end of a war being fought on a faraway continent. They numbered three Britons and five Americans, for these were the two belligerent nations. The conflict had started on June 18, 1812, when President James Madison signed a war proclamation against Great Britain. Two years later, neither side could claim that the war went well.
The British had never wanted this war. Early summer of 1812 had been a period of great crisis for the nation, and war with America only worsened matters. Since 1805 Britain had been locked in a titanic struggle of empires for mastery of Europe. So far it had been unable to stop France’s Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte from turning most of the continent into his personal fiefdom. For the past four years Viscount Wellington’s army had been engaged in a bloody campaign to prevent France’s conquest of the entire Iberian Peninsula. In June of 1812, as the United States sent troops marching toward Canada, the British finally prevailed in Portugal. Pushing into the heart of Spain, they drove the French before them.
That, however, was about the only good news Lord Liverpool’s government could savour, for France’s setbacks could be attributed directly to Napoleon’s failure to reinforce his Iberian army. While Wellington besieged one French bastion after another in Spain, Napoleon assembled the 530,000-strong Grande Armée, eyes turned east toward Russia. Once the French boot heel rested on Russia, the little Corsican would wheel about and send Wellington, a general he considered timidly cautious, reeling right off the continent. British spies had reported the existence of Napoleon’s massive juggernaut and its purpose. Odds that Tsar Alexander’s antiquated army could stave off the French were considered poor. If Russia fell, Britain would face Napoleon alone.
The grinding war had reduced Britain’s economy to a shambles. Loss of European trade and the war’s ever-escalating costs had plunged the nation into a depression and imposed severe food shortages. Starvation had threatened during the past winter, and there was unrest in the streets. Ireland remained a festering sore – conditions there were worse than elsewhere in the British Isles. The cost of sustaining Wellington’s Peninsular Army placed enormous strain on the government’s coffers. At the same time, the Admiralty was demanding more resources to ensure the world’s largest fleet continued to master the seas that not only were so essential to retaining the empire but also served as Britain’s lifeline for food and other vital imports.
On May 11, an added crisis had arisen when Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated. On June 8, a reluctant Lord Liverpool, then secretary for war and the colonies, accepted the Prince Regent’s pleas to lead the government. The Prince had become de facto sovereign on February 5, 1811, when his father, King George III, was declared unfit to rule because of insanity. Faced with a glut of foreign and domestic crises and frantically trying to ensure a stable government to effectively deal with them, Liverpool had focused for the rest of the month on forming a workable cabinet. Most pressing were matters foreign, and to address these Liverpool decided not only to retain Viscount Castlereagh as foreign secretary but also to make him leader of the House of Commons, a position that Perceval had previously held. Believing it imperative that this wartime government have the support of the country and not just of the House of Commons, Liverpool announced that he would dissolve Parliament at the end of September and hold a general election. With all these events swirling about Liverpool and his cabinet, Britain’s government needed nothing less in the summer of 1812 than another war, on the other side of the Atlantic. But they had also been so distracted by matters domestic and European that attempts to head off such a war were half-hearted and badly bungled.
Britain had defended British North America during that summer and fall with sufficient zeal to thwart America’s attempts at conquest. Somewhat to the surprise of British colonial officials there and to the consternation of the Americans, almost all Canadians remained loyal to the Crown. In both Upper and Lower Canada the militia stepped forward to strengthen the thin ranks of the British redcoats. Local knowledge of battlegrounds and the ability of these farmers, fur traders, small businessmen, and shopkeepers turned soldiers to wage irregular war gave the defenders of British North America a much-needed edge over the numerically superior American forces.
The Americans had assumed that the colonists would welcome the chance to throw off the British yoke – particularly the French-Canadian majority in Lower Canada, themselves conquered by Britain less than forty-five years previously. In Upper Canada they had thought the many recent immigrants from the United States would welcome the opportunity to raise the American flag over their new homeland. But neither French Canadians nor American immigrants had heeded their calls to rise against the British. That refusal ultimately doomed all the attempted invasions.
Not only Canadian loyalty to the Crown dashed the American dream of an easy conquest of British North America. Most Indian nations, too, cast their lot in with Britain. Led by the charismatic warrior chief Tecumseh, the leaders of the powerful Indian confederacy on the western frontiers believed the best way to preserve their nations, their lands, and their way of life from the avarice of American settlers determined to expand the boundaries of the United States ever westward was through military alliance with Britain.
By the summer of 1814, the darkest days of the North American war appeared to have passed for British North America. Although supremacy on the Great Lakes had been forfeited, Britain’s armies in Canada had moved from defence to the offence – taking the war for the first time in strength onto American soil. Along the U.S. coastline, amphibious forces carried out major landings, and the naval blockade of the ports had crippled America’s economy.
From the Hardcover edition.