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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The War of 1812

Francis F. Beirne

published by
E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
New York, 1949

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 1

 p11  Preface

The War of 1812 receives mention, of course, in all general histories of the United States. In recent years individual incidents or special phases have served as subjects for historical or fictional treatment. But, so far as the writer has been able to discover, not since Benson J. Lossing published his Field Book in 1868 has anyone presented a volume devoted exclusively to the war as a whole.

The present work was, therefore, undertaken with the purpose of filling the gap and bringing up to date events which happened long ago but which have an important bearing on the happenings of today. It is the belief of the writer that those who persevere until the end of the story will discover many things that they have forgotten, or never knew, and many that will surprise them. It is his hope that they will feel their effort has been worth while.

I am indebted to Mr. Philip M. Wagner, editor of the Baltimore Sun for first suggesting a book. He proposed a humorous approach. But as the work progressed it soon became apparent that, while the war frequently assumed the nature of opéra bouffe, there were heroic episodes and serious overtones that did not lend themselves to frivolous handling. In the end the plan adopted was to let the story tell itself.

In preparing the volume I have depended principally upon Lossing's Field Book and Henry Adams' History of the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Lossing cannot be classified as a scholar in the narrow sense of the term. But he was an enthusiast whose work gives evidence throughout of complete familiarity with the best authorities of his day. He visited all the important scenes of action, talked with many eyewitnesses and made delight­ful sketches to illustrate his book. Though his style is a trifle florid and his partisan­ship sometimes seems to influence his judgment he stands up well when checked against other writers. Only the captious would scorn his important contribution to the subject.

Henry Adams is the perfect antidote to Lossing's vergings toward the sentimental. No consideration of national patriotism or provincial pride discouraged him from describing individuals and events  p12 exactly as he saw them. His reputation as a historian needs no elaboration.

Other sources of material will be found in the bibliography. I should, however, like to express especial indebtedness to the late Mr. Edward M. Barrows for, among other things, the general description of sea battles and the account of the engagement between the President and the Little Belt, which appear in his life of Matthews Calbraith Perry; to Mr. Julius W. Pratt for the light thrown on the intrigues over the Floridas in his Expansionists of 1812; to Mr. Samuel Eliot Morison for the judicial evaluation of the Hartford Convention in his life of Harrison Gray Otis; to Mr. Marquis James for his scholar­ly handling of Andrew Jackson's operations in the Creek War and in the defense of New Orleans; and to Mr. Gerald W. Johnson for his vivid sketches of Jackson, John Randolph and Henry Clay in the titles under his name in the bibliography. Mr. Neil Swanson's The Perilous Fight represents by far the most thorough research on the battles of Bladensburg and Baltimore and is of inestimable value to anyone interested in those engagements.

I have used Henry Adams' version of the controversial episode of the Henry letters. In an article in the American Magazine in 1895, several years after the appearance of his history, Adams stated that he had re‑examined the evidence and found his account correct with the exception of one unimportant detail.

My profound gratitude is due Edith Rossiter Brown for reading the manuscript and making a number of first-rate suggestions, and to my wife, Rosamond Randall Beirne, for her assistance in collecting material, making the first drafts of the maps, and for innumerable personal sacrifices while work on the book was in progress.

Acknowledgment also is due Mrs. Gaylord Lee Clark for permission to use the letter from her collection of McHenry correspondence which appears at the end of Chapter XXIV, and to the staffs of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Maryland Historical Society for their courteous response to many requests and inquiries. Last but not least I wish to thank Mr. Frank Henry and Mr. Frank Jay Markey, of New York, for exceptional favors which cannot be specified here but whose nature they know well.

Francis F. Beirne

Ruxton, Maryland, May, 1948

Page updated: 14 Jun 13