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  • 1812: War with America
  • Richard V. Barbuto
1812: War with America. By Jon Latimer . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-674-02584-4. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Select bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 637. $35.00.

Latimer promises and delivers a comprehensive investigation of the War of 1812 from a British perspective. In addition, he attempts to deconstruct the twin American myths that the conflict was a second war of independence, and that it was an American triumph. Latimer notes that the peace treaty did not grant any of America's war aims. To the contrary, he awards Britain a marginal victory in [End Page 569] that the United States failed in its primary goal: the conquest of Canada. These issues will perhaps never be fully resolved. None of this, however, detracts from Latimer's notable successes.

What Latimer has provided is a densely detailed and balanced study. He examines the issues from the perspectives of all participants: Americans, Britons, Canadians, and Indians. His approach is broad, weaving political, diplomatic, financial, social, military, and naval activities into a coherent whole. His work is buttressed by the skillful use of the best scholarship and is further supported by extensive personal accounts of the participants which contribute to an already engaging style.

Latimer demonstrates a fairly well-developed operational sense. His combat narratives, with few exceptions, provide a readily understandable description of the flow of key battlefield events. He generally succeeds in weaving the results of engagements and battles into a satisfactory explanation of campaigns and their impact upon the strategic situation. The reader will find balanced, thorough coverage of all theaters of operations. The coverage of activities in the American Northwest and western Upper Canada offers a particularly satisfying analysis of leadership, logistics, and struggle in a forbidding environment. To his great credit as a non-American, Latimer takes on the Creek War squarely, although he ultimately finds it irrelevant to the main course of the Anglo-American conflict.

While Latimer's handling of battle on land is competent, his analysis of the naval war is superlative. His recountings of naval combat are vivid and indeed rousing; yet Latimer reminds the reader that the blockade of America's coast had a deeper impact upon the strategic condition than did the ship-on-ship duels. Still, he remarks that these ship-on-ship encounters persuaded Britain to take America seriously as a naval power, a singular honor.

There is little that is entirely new in Latimer's conclusions. While controversy endures as to the causation and ultimate meaning of this ill-remembered conflict, some findings are persuasive. The author's verdicts as to the incompetence of American high command are eminently supportable. Clearly, America's early failures gave ample evidence of general unpreparedness at all levels. America's resources were manifestly unequal to the military and political objectives set by Madison and the War Hawks. Brock receives justifiable praise. Latimer is sympathetic to Roger Hale Sheaffe, pilloried for the British defeat at York. He judges Governor General Sir George Prevost's attempts at field command "hopeless," yet Prevost's policies and decisions staved off Canada's overthrow, particularly during the first two seasons when defeat was one campaign away. In fact, Latimer concludes that the only lasting effect of the war was Canada's ultimate independence. [End Page 570]

There are other rock-solid general histories of the War of 1812 such as those by Donald R. Hickey and John K. Mahon and Donald E. Graves's updating of J. Mackay Hitsman's Incredible War of 1812. I suspect that Jon Latimer will join that noteworthy circle.

Richard V. Barbuto
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas


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pp. 569-571
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2010
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