Monthly Archives: January 2015

What Was the War of 1812 Really Like? Find an Eyewitness Account

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, 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.”

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A page from Darnell’s text.


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…”

You can be a part of preserving history now. Donate today to help us fund the digitization of the War of 1812 Pension files.

The Battle of New Orleans and America’s First Multicultural Military Force: Part One

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Battle of New Orleans. Image: Library of Congress

Most of us think we know something about The Battle of New Orleans and how Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British in the War of 1812; but, do we really? Most Americans even those immediately after the battle think that it was an unnecessary war. This article will be in two parts and it will explore certain aspects of the Battle, The Treaty of Ghent and how the terms of the treaty unknowingly played into the battle, and the composition of the forces under Major General Andrew Jackson. The first part will describe the Battle of New Orleans, and The Treaty of Ghent. The second part will examine the composition of the American force.


The Battle of New Orleans was a series of military engagements fought from 23 December 1814 to 18 January 1815 when all British forces withdrew from the area. The major battle was fought in the early morning hours of 8 January 1815 at the present site of Jean Lafitte Park, New Orleans. In those early morning hours British Commander General Edward Pakenham ordered his forces to attack the American redoubts (fortifications) in a two pronged attack. His forces consisted of some of the best in the British Army. Many of his regiments had just defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in Continental Europe. Others were elite West Indian regiments of African origin. In addition, he had the cream of the Royal Navy’s Marines at his disposal. In a little more than half an hour the attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties for the British including the deaths of General Pakenham and his second in command Major General Samuel Gibbs: 291 killed, 1,267 wounded, and 484 captured or missing1.  In contrast, the Americans suffered 13 dead, 39 wounded and 19 missing2.

A major factor contributing to the British casualties was the American tactic of targeting officers and senior enlisted men first. This resulted in the British regiments standing leaderless in the open neither advancing nor retreating until a surviving Senior British Officer ordered them to retreat. The consequence was a lethal combination of musket balls and grapeshot poured into the static red line of the British regiments.


In article one of the treaty it stated that ” … All territory, places and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war, which may be taken after the signing of this treaty, excepting only the islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored without delay, and without causing any destruction or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, or any slaves or other private property…”3

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Signatures from the Treaty of Ghent. Image: Library of Congress

What this meant was that if the British had captured New Orleans they would have had to return the city to the United States. How long that would have taken is a matter of debate. Early in the negotiations the British demanded that a British sponsored Indian state be established in the “Old Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin), and that the British would get transit rights to the Mississippi River. Both were rejected outright by the Americans. The Treaty was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, and not ratified until 30 December 1814 by the British Parliament and on 18 February 1815 by the US Senate. What might have happened if the British had captured New Orleans is a subject for “armchair” strategists to debate. It is well known fact in the military that having possession of a strategic piece of property is better than relying on the good nature of your previous opponent to return it.

It is the author’s opinion that the Battle of New Orleans was not in vain; but a vital component for the future peace of the United States and Great Britain. Just how important was New Orleans can be seen by the Union Army and Navy operation to capture it on 1 May 1862 during the American Civil War.



  1. Quimby, Robert S. (1997), The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: an operational and command study, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, ISBN 0-87013-441-8.
  2. James, William (1818), A full and correct account of the military occurrences of the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America; with an appendix, and plates. Volume II, London: Printed for the author and distributed by Black et al., ISBN 0-665-35743-5, OCLC 2226903.
  3. John Quincy Adams, et. al., “The Treaty of Ghent,” transcription, War of 1812-1814 ( : accessed 30 December 2014).

The Making of a War of 1812 US Dragoon Miniature – Part Four

During the first half of December several more steps were completed on your War of 1812 Dragoon. The darker blue is applied to the jacket and the saddle blanket of the horse. This is the final color of these respective pieces of equipment. But, don’t worry, these still need to be weathered and touched up for fading.

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It must be remembered that the uniforms were made from 100% wool, which proved to be extremely warm and uncomfitable during the summer. All the jackets were long-sleeved and had several rows of brass buttons. Image wearing that jacket during the summer campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi against the Creek Indians. Talk about sweat, WOW!

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I next applied a chocolate brown coat to parts of the saddle kit that sat in front of the rider.  This was in turn followed by the saddle itself which consisted of a mix of brown and light leather paint to represent the standard issue of the front-line dragoon in the War of 1812.

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As of right now I am on course to accomplish my goal of December to have the Dragoons ready for the finishing touches, such as weathering, eyes, hair, buttons, and final terrain affects.

Remember that you can pre-purchase one of these limited edition dragoons ahead of time. (Information on how to do that will be forthcoming). There will be a total of 8 Dragoons afoot ($100.00 donation each), and 10 Dragoons on horses ($200.00 donation each), and 3 Dragoons in a miniature diorama ($250.00 donation each). They will be available for RootsTech 2015. Stay tuned to this blog for the next article on the process of making a War of 1812 US Dragoon Miniatures.

This entire project will take me up to the FGS 2015 Conference for completion. There are many more steps to go before the final product is ready for your display case, thanks for your donation to the War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions. Please, stay tuned to this blog for further progress on your War of 1812 Dragoon.

~ Mike

Michael Jefferey Hall, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer,