Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

The War of 1812

The people in the West agreed with those along the seaboard, in 1812, that it was now time to prove to Great Britain that they would no longer submit patiently to insult and unfairness. So, after all means had been vainly tried to bring about an honorable peace, the "War Congress" directed Madison to begin fighting.

As this struggle began and ended while Madison was President, you will often hear it called "Mr. Madison's War;" and because its object was to win commercial freedom for our country, it is also known as the "Second War of Independence." When it began, three armies were sent out to invade Canada, and punish the British agents there, who had bribed the Indians to rebel. These three armies were to attack Canada at different points; but the first, under Governor Hull of Michigan, soon retreated to Detroit. There, instead of defending the place bravely, Hull surrendered without firing a shot. But this surrender made his soldiers so angry that he was never allowed to command again. It has since been said, however, that Hull yielded only because he fancied the British force larger, and feared lest the Indians with them would kill all their prisoners.

General Harrison, who took Hull's place, started to recover Detroit, but on the way thither part of his troops were conquered by a large force of British and Indians on the Raisin River. Here the Indians were allowed to kill and scalp their prisoners of, war. This act of cruelty so angered the Americans that the cry: "Remember the Raisin!" was ever after the signal for desperate fighting on their part. The British not only held Detroit, but, becoming masters of all Michigan, soon pushed on into northern Ohio. But there they met patriots who would not yield, and who managed to defend Forts Meigs and Stephenson against forces three times larger than their own.

In the meantime, the two other armies were just as unlucky; for while one was beaten at Queenstown, the other did not dare obey orders and venture across the frontier.

Still, while these mishaps were taking place on land, our little navy was doing wonders at sea. Fighting pirates in the Mediterranean had been good training for our sailors, and the vessels which the British seamen scornfully called "fir-built things with a bit of striped bunting at their masthead "were soon to show the enemy what they could do.

The most famous American frigate at that time was the Constitution, which came out safely from so many hard fights that she earned the nickname of "Old Ironsides." When war began, the Constitution  had just come home. In her first cruise she fell in with a British squadron, and as she could not face several ships at once she tried to get away.

Now, you know sailboats depend upon the wind, and when there is none, they remain almost in the same spot. The wind having suddenly gone down, the American frigate and British fleet lay close together. The American officer was Captain Isaac Hull, a nephew of the man who surrendered to the British at Detroit. He was a very clever seaman, and, hoping to save his ship, he launched her small boats and had her towed along by his sailors. The British could not at first discover how the Constitution  was handled, but as soon as they saw how it was done, they followed Hull's example. The pursuit went on so for about twenty-four hours; then a storm arose, and, taking advantage of it, the Constitution escaped.

A few months later, the Constitution  left Boston to go in search of the Guerriere, a British vessel whose captain had boasted that "a few broadsides from England's wooden walls would drive the paltry striped bunting from the ocean." After capturing several merchant ships, Hull met the Guerriere.

Constitution vs. Guerriere


His men were so eager to begin fighting that he had some trouble in keeping them quiet until they got very close to the enemy. Then Hull cried: "Now, boys, pour it into them! The men obeyed with such spirit that fifteen minutes later the Guerriere  was nearly disabled. But the Constitution  was by that time afire, for the British officer Dacres had been fighting with great courage, too.

The two ships tried to get close enough to board each other, but the sea was too rough to permit their doing so. Hull, having put out the fire on his ship, sent a cannon ball which broke the mainmast of the Guerriere  and left it quite helpless. He then sent one of his officers to the British frigate to ask if it was ready to surrender.

The American officer, addressing Captain Dacres, said: "Commodore Hull's compliments, and he wishes to know if you have struck your flag." The British officer, who hated to confess he was beaten, would not at first give a direct answer; but when the officer threatened to resume the battle, he slowly said: "Well, I don't know; our mizzenmast is gone, our mainmast is gone, so, upon the whole, you may say we have  struck our flag."

Not only was his ship helpless and riddled with cannon balls, but about seventy of his men were killed or wounded. The Americans took possession of the ship, and finding it was too much damaged to be of any use, they removed all their prisoners to the Constitution. Then the Guerriere  was set afire and blown up.

Captain Hull, who had won such a brilliant victory, was a very stout man. As was the fashion of the time, he wore a tight pair of breeches. We are told that in the excitement of the battle he made a quick motion, which split them from top to bottom. But, in spite of that uncomfortable accident, he staid on deck until the Guerriere  surrendered, before going below to change his garments.

The naval victory won by Hull made his name known throughout our whole country. It is because he was such a hero in the War of 1812 that his tomb in Laurel Hill Cemetery, in Philadelphia, is still often visited.

This same Captain Hull was a very generous man; he proved it by giving up the Constitution, so that his brother officers could have a chance to win honors with it too. Captain Bainbridge, who next commanded it, soon after won a great victory over the Java, another British frigate, which was also destroyed.

The Constitution  was in many a fight all through the War of 1812, and afterwards in the Mediterranean. It won so many victories that all Americans felt proud of it. Many poems have been written about it, and the most famous of all is by Oliver Wendell Holmes. He wrote it when our government first talked of taking the old and almost useless war ship to pieces. When the Americans read this poem, they all felt that it would be a shame to lay a finger upon the vessel, and made such an outcry that it was kept as a school-ship.