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For Honour's Sake: The War of 1812 and the Brokering of an Uneasy Peace [Paperback]

Mark Zuehlke

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Book Description

Oct. 9 2007
In the tradition of Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 comes a new consideration of Canada’s most famous war and the Treaty of Ghent that unsatisfactorily concluded it, from one of this country’s premier military historians.

In the Canadian imagination, the War of 1812 looms large. It was a war in which British and Indian troops prevailed in almost all of the battles, in which the Americans were unable to hold any of the land they fought for, in which a young woman named Laura Secord raced over the Niagara peninsula to warn of American plans for attack (though how she knew has never been discovered), and in which Canadian troops burned down the White House. Competing American claims insist to this day that, in fact, it was they who were triumphant.

But where does the truth lie? Somewhere in the middle, as is revealed in this major new reconsideration from one of Canada’s master historians. Drawing on never-before-seen archival material, Zuehlke paints a vibrant picture of the war’s major battles, vividly re-creating life in the trenches, the horrifying day-to-day manoeuvring on land and sea, and the dramatic negotiations in the Flemish city of Ghent that brought the war to an unsatisfactory end for both sides. By focusing on the fraught dispute in which British and American diplomats quarrelled as much amongst themselves as with their adversaries, Zuehlke conjures the compromises and backroom deals that yielded conventions resonating in relations between the United States and Canada to this very day.

From the Hardcover edition.

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“A more thrilling and erudite introduction to this chapter of Canadian history is hard to imagine.”
Calgary Herald

“Zuehlke . . . presents a clear, thorough account of both the conflict and the peace negotiations that influenced and warped its outcome, and does so without bias. You couldn’t ask for a clearer account of events.”
The Vancouver Sun

“Zuehlke’s extensive research and detail will not only appeal to academics, but his readable style and the well-paced flow will also intrigue lay historians with an interest in early nineteenth century Canada.”
Winnipeg Free Press

Praise for the writing of Mark Zuehlke:

“Holding Juno is a meticulous, gripping story. . . . The scenes recounted here sometimes make the film The Longest Day seem tame by comparison . . . an eloquent accounting.”
The Globe and Mail

“Mark Zuehlke’s grindingly researched book Ortona is a heart-stopping, intimate look at all the brutal excesses of war.” –Toronto Star

About the Author

Mark Zuehlke is the author of many books about military history and the influence of the nation’s war experiences on Canadian society including Juno Beach, Holding Juno and The Gothic Line, a much-lauded trilogy tracing Canada’s role in the World War II Italian campaign; and The Canadian Military Atlas. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! History as it ought to be written! Oct. 23 2009
By L. King - Published on
Mark Zuelke writes a fast moving detailed blow by blow account of the War of 1812 and the subsequent negotiated peace treaty at Ghent, swiftly describing personalities, relationships and strategies and misteps on both sides. The account of the battles for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario kept me on the edge of my seat as did the failed campaign on Montreal and the battle for the Niagara Peninsula. The story of Laura Secord alas is not quite verifiable. (Secord's warning on Tanglefoot's album Captured Alive (IMPORT) and other of their albums is a personal favorite.)

Oddly enough the War was only an echo of the Napoleonic Wars and the Americans are shown to have greater reason to grieve against the French, yet they decided to side against and attack the British.

My only complaint is that the constant change of viewpoints and the sheer number of people referenced in the space of a few paragraphs made the narrative confusing and might be boring for the younger reader but the book had no problem holding my attention.

There are also incredible parallels for our own time - the Raisin River massacre where the British left a group of natives to guard American prisoners; the fascinating account of how the Americans due to the advocacy of men like Henry Clay pushed the country into war that they were not prepared to fight and their mistaken notion that the Canadians would welcome their advance. There is also the lesson of a military advantage not used is no advantage at all when held by overly cautious officers such as the British Prevost and the American General Henry "Granny" Dearborn. A similar example is related when American ships which have superior canon to the British are held back by a sandbar on Lake Erie. And even though the focus of the book is on the military campaign it also records the political pressures of external concerns such as taxes and elections on the outcome of negotiations.

The coverage of the peace negotiations at Ghent was a treat. I was astounded and impressed to discover that one of the primary British demands in was the formation and recognition of an Indian buffer nation in Ohio and Michigan, not only to contain American expansion and protect Upper Canada but also in respect of native support and native claims. The primary British negotiator Ghoulburn had strong feelings on that point, only to be undermined by lack of interest or obligation of its importance by Wellington who wanted the matter wrapped up as quickly as possible. North America was just a side show and wrapping up the Concert of Europe after Napoleon was the main event. Indeed Wellington's historical lustre drops by the revelation of his sending a letter to the American lead negotiator Albert Gallatin the content of which would be considered no less than treason.

Canadian children learn a short version about the War in middle school, though I remember learning more than my children were exposed to. American children seem to know nothing at all. This book is too old for them. I'd certainly recommend it to history teachers, upper year college students, history buffs or those with an interest in military strategy. Be warned though - this is not a skimmable book - each paragraph is loaded with six or eight people and rapidly changing points of view so it can be hard to follow but Zuehlke ties it all together.

Fascinating and Recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “War! huh yeah. What is it good for?" Nov. 10 2013
By D. C. Stolk - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The title of this review is based on lyrics of one of the most famous anti-Vietnam War protest songs, “War” from 1969 by Edwin Starr. While the question “War, what is it good for?” could, arguably, be used on most wars ever fought, this seemed to me to be particularly apt for the War of 1812. For, after several years of bitter conflict, what were after all the results: A status quo ante bellum (a Latin phrase meaning: "the state existing before the war") with no boundary changes.

“For honour’s sake” is an exceptional account of this conflict written by Mark Zuehlke, one of Canada’s premier military historians and the author of a popular series on the role Canadians played in World War II, which has garnered critical praise. Now he turns his consummate writing skills to a “forgotten war”: The War of 1812, fought between the British Empire and the upstart young nation that had fought successfully for independence from the Empire in the years 1775–1783.
Although called “the War of 1812” (also called “the Second War of Independence" by some American historians) this clash was actually a 32-month military conflict (June 18, 1812 – February 18, 1815) between the United States and the British Empire, its North American colonies and its Indian allies.

The United States declared war in 1812 for several reasons, the major points being trade restrictions brought about by Britain's continuing war with Napoleonic France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy and British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion.
For Britain, the so-called War of 1812 was never more than a sideshow, as the British Empire was involved in a struggle with the French military juggernaut of Napoleon between the years 1793-1815 and could ill afford sending (major) forces overseas.
The war was fought in three principal theatres. Firstly, at sea; secondly, both land and naval battles were fought on the American–Canadian frontier and on the Great Lakes; and thirdly, the American South and Gulf Coast.
In fact, as Zuehlke shows in this magnificent history, the war was more of a struggle to answer the question: who would dominate North America?

Although written without bias, it is refreshing to have an Canadian author like Zuehlke give just a slightly different slant to the story of the War of 1812 than usually found in those histories written by Americans, no matter how conscientiously neutral they try to write.

Drawing on never-before-seen archival material, Zuehlke has written a clear, thorough account of the conflict. He uses eye-witness accounts to paint a vibrant picture of the war’s major battles from all sides. He also - different from other histories of this conflict, where the diplomatic shenanigans are usually tacked on as an afterthought - gives throughout the narrative equal weight to the protracted negotiations that took place in the Flemish city of Ghent.

Through their own words, we get intimately close to the negotiators, titans of American history, by the use of their letters and diaries: Henry Clay, one of the greatest orators of his time, who turned from war-mongering to peace-envoy. The irascible John Quincy Adam, later to be president like his father John Adams before him, and, so far, the only president later elected to the United States House of Representatives. And last but not least, Albert Gallatin, the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury and also the diplomat that brought the negotiations, through his patience and skill in dealing not only with the British but also with his (often in conflict with each other) fellow members of the American commission, to an successful end.
The negotiations, that ultimately brought the war to an unsatisfactory end for both sides but “honour of both sides was preserved.”

For those wishing to read more about this conflict, I recommend: “The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies” by Alan Taylor. For those wishing to read more about the conflict to which the War of !812 was but a sideshow, I recommend: “The Savage Storm: Britain on the Brink in the Age of Napoleon” by David Andress and “Britain Against Napoleon: The Organisation of Victory, 1793-1815” by Roger Knight.

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