War of 1812

The War of 1812

 USS Constitution vs Guerriere

            The War of 1812 is one of those strange events in history that time has dimmed into relative obscurity.  Despite the vast consequences this war had on America generally, and American trade specifically, it is only ever considered one of the minor wars in the nation’s history.  Similar to the French and Indian war 50 years earlier, the War of 1812 was a direct by product of the political and military events going on in Europe at the time.  The War of 1812 is just another example of how America is inextricably linked, both historically and culturally, to Europe.

The Napoleonic wars were in full swing on the European continent in the first decade of the 19th century.  The French and English were fighting tooth and claw, straining both of their economies and armed forces.  It was this conflict that created one of the main causes, and the only stated cause, for the War of 1812, between Great Britain and America.  This cause was the infringement by both these European powers on American maritime trade.  America, in it’s position as a neutral country, was conducting trade with both the British and the French, and neither the British nor the French were satisfied with the opposing power receiving the benefits of this commerce.  Both nations tried to influence American trade by setting restrictions on it.  America, in turn tried unsuccessfully, through political pressure, in the form of the Embargo Act and other legislation, to create a more favorable trading environment in Europe.

In addition to the restrictions placed on trade by Great Britain and France, the British Navy continued to outrage Americans by their belligerent and disdainful treatment of American shipping.  It was a common practice of the Royal Navy, stretched thin because of the fight with France, and in need of manpower, to board American vessels and press hands into His Majesty’s service.  This clear disregard for American sovereignty and international law was an act of war (Snow & Drew, 2010).

The issue of British naval harassment of American shipping was the stated cause for the War of 1812, but there were other deep-rooted mistrusts of the British that were also considerations.  Primary among these was the common belief that the British were stirring up the Indians against American settlers in the west and making westward expansion difficult.  This is partially why much of the support for the war was concentrated on the western frontier of the nation.  Support for the invasion of Canada, with the goal of unseating British power on the North American continent, also came from the West and South (Snow & Drew, 2010).

Militarily, America had what could be called mixed results at best.  All three of the prongs of the invasion of Canada failed to achieve their objectives.  General Hull’s entire command was surrendered after an ignominious retreat back to Detroit, followed by General Brock, the British commander, who, with the aid of Indian chief Techumseh, was able to convince him that he was outmatched.  American Naval victories on Lake Erie and individual ship actions off the eastern seaboard slightly brightened an otherwise bleak picture.  General Harrison was able to recapture Detroit and then engage the British in Canada, with moderate success.  While this was happening however, the British gained the victory over Bonaparte in Europe and freed many assets, which could be used against the Americans.  This new influx of soldiery and naval support enabled the British to engage in such operations as the raids in the Chesapeake Bay and the burning of Washington D.C.  After deciding that operations against Fort McHenry and Baltimore to be impracticable, they withdrew from the bay and proceeded south to prepare for their campaign against New Orleans.  As these preparations were proceeding, peace talks were already underway at Ghent.  These concluded on December 24, 1814 and the treaty of Ghent was later to be ratified by the United States on January 8, 1815.

This peace treaty concluded the war and left the two nations in relatively the same positions that they started in. However, it was during the period that immediately followed the peace that the mutual benefit of harmony between the two nations was truly recognized.  American trade with England blossomed.  American commerce was a growing and successful part of the economy.  America’s national sovereignty also came to be recognized during this post war period.  Ironically, the Royal Navy came to be one of the main protectors of American commerce worldwide as America was still without a navy to speak of.  While the performance by the American armed forces was by all standards poor, and the war generally could not be considered a military victory, the peace that followed it was a time of growth and development for the fledgling nation.

While the War of 1812 was really a conflict that dealt with American sovereignty and its relative position to the European states, its main causes can be directly traced to the political and military events of those same European nations.  The influence this conflict had on America’s international status and its implications for American trade were significant and greatly affected the growth and development of the nation.  But despite these facts, it still remains a conflict that is obscure.  Perhaps this is due to America’s poor overall performance, or perhaps it is because no significant changes in the visible sense took place.  Whatever the case, the War of 1812 was a defining event in American history.

Wyatt Fairlead

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Certainty in What?

In the last week, the world situation has grown significantly darker.  The Middle East has been smoldering for a long time, and now the hot wind of mistrust and violence is blowing over the glowing coals.  One cannot help but wonder when the flames will begin to rise.  I am not trying to be pessimistic, but when I look out at the current events, the question springs unbidden into my subconscious mind, “What does all this mean for me?”  There are many things in the current global arena that are cause for concern, and also many events that are closer to home.  I have long been under the conviction that the future will prove this time period to be pivotal in the history of the world.

Life is uncertain right now.  While we are not necessarily in peril of our lives, the affects of the turmoil can and will be felt around the world.  On the other hand, the U.S. may default on its loans and Chinese will become a useful language over here.  (That would be one of the unexpected repercussions of global events that would greatly affect me.)  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think doomsday is around the corner.  I have simply been looking at the possibilities and thinking to myself that there are a lot of things in play at the moment.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Thanks for the heads up, but life was tough enough without you highlighting all the potential disasters that might threaten civilization.”  I know that what I have said above is not particularly encouraging, but I am getting to what I actually wanted to say. We, as humans, seem to always look for a stabilizing force in what we do; we are always trying to find equilibrium.  If it is hot around us, we seek the cool.  If it is cold, we seek warmth.  The same goes with our non-physical surroundings.  When times are uncertain, we naturally want to turn to something that is certain.

So what is certain in this life?  I can’t say what that is for others.  I know some that would say relationships, others family.  I know some that would say God.  Others, who are perhaps of a more practical mindset, that only death is certain.  (There I go again being really encouraging.) For me, the only certain thing in this world is the God of the Bible.  There is never anything that is more certain than God.

That may seem somewhat contradictory to the skeptic.  How can something that cannot be proven to exist be certain?  If a God exists, He would be outside the realm of the physical world and consequently, can hardly be considered a certainty to be depended upon.  The only real response to this argument is that experiential evidence tells me that my faith in God is not a leap into the darkness, as it would possibly seem to someone without that evidence.  I cannot prove that God exists.  But God can prove to me that he exists.  There is another way to look at the certainty of God.  Perhaps it is a good thing that God is not of this physical world.  The physical world is the thing is so uncertain.  If God were of this world, what would make Him more certain than everything else?  George Whitefield brought all this thought into line for me when I read this quote.

“We are immortal till our work is done.”

This quote is interesting to me because it describes in so few words God’s sovereignty over the world’s events.  Now I am not about to get into a theological discussion, but I just think it is neat to consider all the implications of that statement.  Nothing that happens to the Christian, be it good or bad, is outside God’s knowledge.  Nothing will happen to the Christian that will thwart Gods plan.  In that knowledge the Christian can feel a certainty that no one else can.

Earlier in this post I said that “for me” the only certain thing is God.  I believe that God is the only certain thing.  The only difference is whether you are grounding your certainty on him.  To those who are not yet able to ground that certainty on God, I would just say, that He is there.  When everything else is uncertain, He is still there.  The decision is yours:  On what are you placing your certainty?

Wyatt Fairlead

July the Third

Today is one of the most important days of American history.  But July the third is not only one of the most important days of American history in general; the actions that took place on this date in the past had the profoundest impact on the organization of what we now call the United States.  But before you all get the idea that this has anything to do with Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence, it does not.  The event I am referring to happened 87 years later.  I am referring to the last day in the battle of Gettysburg.  Today, 149 years ago, the Confederacy made its high water mark on Cemetery Ridge, in what became known as Picket’s Charge.  It was on this day that the Union almost broke.  The fate of the southern states depended on the outcome of this day.  Much of this is in hindsight; but even General Lee knew then that had he won the battle of Gettysburg, the path to Washington would be cleared and President Davis would be giving President Lincoln the South’s terms for peace.  The rest is History.  The Union line held against an assault of more than 15,000 Confederate soldiers across a plain 1 ½ miles wide and forced Lee’s retreat back to Virginia.  It was today that proved America could not overcome itself.  This is a story in Lee’s biography, which was written by A. L. Long, told by a union soldier.

            “I was at the battle of Gettysburg myself . . . I had been the most bitter anti-South man, and fought and cursed the Confederates desperately.  I could see nothing good in any of them.  The last day of the fighting I was badly wounded.  A ball shattered my left leg.  I lay on the ground not far from Cemetery Ridge, and as General Lee ordered his retreat he and his officers rode near me.

As they came, I recognized him and, though faint from exposure and loss of blood, I raised up my hands, looked Lee in the face, and shouted as loud as I could, “Hurrah for the Union!”

The General heard me, looked, stopped his horse, dismounted, and came toward me.  I confess that at first I thought he meant to kill me.  But as he came up, he looked down at me with such a sad expression on his face that all fear left me, and I wondered what he was about.  He extended his hand to me, and grasping mine firmly and looking right into my eyes, said, “My son, I hope you will soon be well.”

If I live to be a thousand years I shall never forget he expression on General Lee’s face.  There he was, defeated, retiring from a field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, yet he stopped to say words like those to a wounded soldier of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by.  As soon as the General had left I cried myself to sleep there upon the bloody ground.”

            Today is one of the days that made the United States of America what it is, and we so often forget it.  They were regular men, Union or Confederates, Americans all, fighting for a cause, and changing the course of history with them.

Wyatt Fairlead

The Old Dominion State

Four hundred and five years ago today, three small ships sailed into Chesapeake Bay.  From that beginning we have the founding of the first colony to survive in the New World.  I must say that I am biased towards my home state, but I have lived in a few states out west and traveled all over the country in a car and I can tell you quite honestly that Virginia is by far my preferred place in which to stake my claim.  Here are several things I love about Virginia.

 

1: I love the land.  Virginia is a nice combination of many different landscapes, but where I live, we have gently rolling hills.  The land has character.  There are slopes and valleys, little gorges and hilltops, and perhaps the most important factor, small creeks and miniature rivers all over the place.  I also only live a short ways from the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail.

 

2: Here in Virginia, we have seasons, and these seasons are not marked by words on a calendar and a slight variation in the thermometer reading.  Usually we have a very distinct summer, fall and winter.  Our springs tend to be warm, but this year has blessed us with wonderful weather.

 

3: I love the history, and Virginia is overflowing with history.  It has been the homeland of such illustrious names as George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, “Light Horse Harry” Lee, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson…and the list can continue.  Virginia is also the home of numerous historical sites.  I live less than 30 minutes from where General Lee surrendered to General Grant ending the Civil War. There is also Williamsburg, the states original capitol, both Monticello and Poplar Forest (Thomas Jefferson’s two homes), Mount Vernon, Red Hill, Norfolk Navy Yard, Yorktown, and of course, Jamestown.  It’s a great place for those who love history.

 

4: Virginia is very wooded state.  I tell my relatives in California, where there aren’t trees there were trees, and where there aren’t trees there will be trees unless you do something about it.  I love woods and the country area.  Where I live, we have trees and fields with an occasional house for a couple miles in every direction.

 

5: Virginia is filled with wildlife.  I guess most states can say that, but Virginia is the kind of state where wildlife seems to just flourish.  We have deer, bear, the stray elk in the western parts of the state, turkey, bobcats, beaver, doves, quail, and much more.  We also, unfortunately, have coyote, and I think cougars, though the state claims we don’t.

 

There are many other things that I could mention about Virginia, but I am sure that you are probably tired of hearing me praise a state that you may not have any interest in at all.  Suffice it to say, I am happy right here and can only imagine a few places that would be better.  (And you’re not allowed to live in those places anyway.) 🙂

Wyatt Fairlead

The Importance of History

“Not to know what took place before you were born, is to forever remain a child.”

                                    – Cicero

I have always enjoyed history. I have often wondered why history is not a very popular subject among most people today.  I think it has a great deal to do with the way people view history.  History is generally deemed as irrelevant and not meaningful for today.  Henry Ford reportedly said, “History is bunk.” and when asked to define history Ambrose Bierce said, “An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, most of which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”  I am afraid this is probably the kind of definition that most people would come up with if they sat down and thought about how to represent their thought on the topic.  And though I am somewhat abashed to admit it, there is a lot of truth to what is being said.  However there is also a lot being left out.

So why do I think history is so important?  I feel that I must clarify before continuing.  Just in case you hadn’t thought about it, it is always helpful to realize that history does not end an a rolling time frame 100 years before the current year.  It does not even end the moment you were born.  What you just read is now history. (And so is that)       So, once again, why is history so important?  It gives people identity.  Try to describe why you are who you are today without history.  If you find that you can do it, please let me know.  Post a comment or something because I have yet to think of a way in which to describe why I am the way I am without going back in history.  You are not just who you are.  You are the product of a very specific sequence of events.  Why are you one nationality and not another?  Why do you speak the language you do and not another?  Why do you live where you live?  Why is your hair brown?  (Or blond or black or rainbow for that matter.)  Is it not because of what happened in the past?  Without history we would not know who we are, or why we are the way we are.

At this point many of you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute.  Nobody believes that their own past isn’t important to them.  What we don’t see as relevant is the really old stuff.  I mean how could feudalism in the middle ages possibly affect my life today?”  (Just an example)  It is a fair question.  I still think however that the principle I have already propounded holds true.  In fact I find it even more interesting.  Now it is a puzzle.  How did feudalism affect who we are today?  I believe that if we look hard enough at most things we can find the deep ramifications of what happens in history and how it has brought us to where we are today.

Another reason why history is so important is that it affects the future.  Obviously, if something happened in the past than the future would be different than if that had not happened.  If I had not started a blog in the past than I would not be typing this right now.  Consequently, if we do not understand the past we will have a harder time understanding what is going on.  For example, if we did not know that a health care reform bill was passed in he United States than we would not understand why there are Supreme Court hearings going on right now about the constitutionality of such a piece of legislation.  Or better yet, if we didn’t know that in 1787 the United States Constitution was ratified, we would not understand what the people are talking about when they say they are suing the government for passing a law that is unconstitutional. (Or that they argue is such.)  The past is not only the key to understanding the present, but it is also the key to the future.  Rupert Brooke said, “History repeats itself, historians repeat each other.”  If we know what has happened in the past than we can see where certain actions often lead to, both good and bad.  With a proper understanding of the past we can change the future, or predict the future and prepare for it.

Finally, and most importantly history affects the way we view the world.  Why do you understand what you are reading right now?  Or more specifically, why is the letter “A” the letter “A” and not  “Q”?  When it comes down to it, “A” is “A” because in history someone decided that the symbol “A” was “A” and not “Q”.  You understand what you are reading because when you were a small child, you were taught that “A” was “A”.  Now, draw that principal out.  What if, when you were small, you and all the other children in school were taught that the earth was flat.  Would you not believe the earth was flat?  It is hard to think in that way because we know the earth is not flat, but consider the implications.  If no one you knew believed the earth was round, and you had no way of finding out the earth was in fact round, and you had been told since you were very small that the earth was flat, you would respond to the earth as if it were flat.  But we have in the past had people who have discovered and proved that the earth is round and so now we respond to the earth as it is; round.  What I am trying to say is, the way we understand the past affects the way we live.  If you do not have a correct understanding of the past you will have an incorrect view of the world in the present.

In conclusion, I am not trying to say that everyone should just love studying history.  I am merely trying to point out that history is much more important than our culture has taught us to believe it is.  So now that this post is history for you all, you get to decide how this history will affect your future view of the past.

Wyatt Fairlead