How much did you learn about the War of 1812 in your school days? Probably not much beyond the date and that we were at it again with the British. If you are reading this however, you are also probably one of those people who just were not satisfied with what you learned and are seeking for more. Reaching into history, especially the history of our own ancestors brings something indescribable to our understanding of how this country was created and gives us a new perspective on the things we enjoy in our day.
Once you’ve found your ancestor in the War of 1812 pensions online at fold3.com, you find what unit your soldier may have fought in and maybe even a bit about their wounds if they received any. It leaves you wanting more. To really get as close as we can to the realities of the war our ancestors survived, let us suggest journals and memoirs written by soldiers from the war. At the Library of Congress online, we find a sample of the kinds of books from their First American West collection.
In 1854 Elias Darnell wrote, A Journal Containing An Accurate and Interesting Account …of Those Heroic Kentucky Volunteers and Regulars…1812-13, (available online from the Library of Congress) and he states from the beginning, “The author of this Journal wrote it for his own satisfaction.”
Darnell describes some of the day-to-day hardships, relationships between soldiers, battles, biases, friendly fire accidents, and even wonders he sees as he passed through lands he’d never been. If your ancestor was in Winchester’s Campaign, he may be noted in this memoir. The soldiers were not always happy with their leadership, for Darnell describes the feelings of the men when General Harrison resigned and his replacement came to take over the troops, Gen. Winchester, being a stranger, and having the appearance of a supercilious officer, he was generally disliked. His assuming the command almost occasioned a mutiny in camp; this was prevented by the solicitations of some of the officers to go on.
Darnell’s ninety-nine page book is engaging and easy to read (okay, if you skip the parts where he quotes Army regulations). He includes recollections of other soldiers as well, including Davenport’s and Mallary’s descriptions of being adopted into Indian families while he recovering from their wounds. These stories, even if embellished here or there, open one’s eyes to the messiness and confusion of war and the depredations our ancestors endured for Liberty’s sake. Darnell ends his account with the following:
“Language fails to express the emotions I felt on arriving safely at home, to enjoy the caresses and society of dear friends, after having endured so much fatigue, and having been so often exposed to imminent danger; and having so frequently expected death…”
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