WAR OF 1812
Again...you'll see history repeat itself. Had it not been for the Black Soldier, the battle would have been lost. But, as you'll see again amnesia again sets in on their accomplishments once order and control was restored.
African American soldiers and sailors played a tremendous role in helping America defeat the British during the Revolutionary War. Most northern states were so grateful for the contributions of Black soldiers that they abolished slavery shortly after the war. Even Virginia passed a law freeing all slaves who had participated in the Revolutionary War. However, peacetime produced a total amnesia to the contributions of Blacks in the military and a request for their participation was not made again until the War of 1812 (June 18, 1812-December 24, 1814).
After the Revolutionary War, southerners were determined to never again allow African Americans, neither free nor slave, to “gain dignity and prestige by fighting for the United States.” They were instrumental in the passage by Congress of the Military Act (May 8, 1792), which called for the enrollment of “each and every able-bodied White male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45.” When the Marine Corps was established by a congressional act on July 11, 1798, Secretary of War Henry Knox issued a directive that “No Negro, mulatto, or Indian is to be enlisted,” and this directive was followed for the next 150 years. Only World War II manpower shortages forced the Marine Corps to change its 150-year policy and recruit African Americans. Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert followed the lead of the Army and Marine Corps and instructed his recruiters in August 1798 “…no Negroes, mulattos, or Indians.”
During the early 1800s, the British had the most powerful Navy in the world, especially after defeating France’s Napoleonic Navy. Still at war with Napoleon, a British naval blockade from Maine to Georgia was used to prevent American trading with French merchants. Moreover, because of a tremendous shortage of sailors, the British not only boarded and searched merchant vessels on the high seas but would frequently claim that American sailors were British deserters and force them to work on British ships (called impressment).
The impressment of three African American sailors from the American frigate “Chesapeake” on June 22, 1807 is called the first major incident leading to the War of 1812, and is frequently compared to the killing of Crispus Attucks which was called the first major incident leading to the Revolutionary War.
A group of expansionist congressmen called “War Hawks” convinced President James Madison to sign a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. In addition to conquering the British on the high seas, they hoped to expel the British from Canada, since most British troops were still fighting Napoleon. However, extreme racism left America ill prepared for this unpopular war. Not only did White men fail to enlist, but New England Whites also started a separatist movement and held a convention in Hartford, Connecticut in December 1814 to further solidify their demands. Moreover, the Canadian invasion was a total failure, and the British continued to defeat American Whites until they occupied Detroit and most of Ohio. JA Rogers states that the British practically wiped out American sea-borne trade and captured Florida and much of the South with Black volunteers whom they promised freedom. On August 24, 1814 the British Army captured Washington DC and burned many public buildings to the ground including the White House and Capital. The Encyclopedia Britannica says America was thoroughly defeated in this war while gaining none of the avowed aims and that only legend has converted defeat into the illusion of victory. Military historian Gary Donaldson states that only after the United States was brought to the edge of losing its independence were African Americans allowed in the military.
The White residents of both Pennsylvania and New York now welcomed Blacks into the military to defend their cities from the advancing enemy and even promised slaves freedom after three years of service. General Andrew Jackson begged Blacks in New Orleans to fight the British and promised them equal pay with Whites, 160 acres of land, and participation in all Black battalions led by Black officers to avoid White prejudices. Jackson said: “Through a mistake in policy, you have heretofore been deprived of participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged. This no longer shall exist. As Americans, your country looks with confidence to her adopted children for a valorous support.”
On March 3, 1813 the Navy officially authorized the recruitment of Blacks because of the severe manpower shortage, thus reversing their official exclusion since the congressional act of 1798. Experienced Black sailors who had previously worked on whaling boats and as merchant marines flocked to the Navy and were credited with much of America’s success in defeating the British Navy in the Great Lakes region. Commodore Thomas McDonough said the accuracy of his Black gunners was responsible for his victory on Lake Champlain. Commodore Isaac Chancey said he had fifty Black crewmembers that were among his very best.
On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie after a savage three hour battle and acknowledged the contributions and individual bravery of his 100 Black seamen in his Battle Report and also noted: “They seemed to be absolutely insensitive to danger.” Military historian Michael Lanning states: “The American naval victories in which Black sailors played such a critical role, finally forced the war-weary British to agree to a peace treaty.” The “Treaty of Ghent” was signed on December 24, 1814 in Belgium restoring pre-war conditions.
Unaware that the war had ended, sixty British ships containing 12,000 men sailed up the Mississippi River on January 8, 1815 in an attempt to capture New Orleans. The men of the “Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color” were in the front line of American soldiers who dealt the British their worst defeat of the war, inflicting 4,000 casualties compared to only sixty of their own. After the battle, General Andrew Jackson praised the Black soldiers: “I was not ignorant that you possessed qualities most formidable to an invading enemy…the President of the United States shall hear how praise worthy was your conduct in the hour of danger.” Jackson kept his promises of $124 and 160 acres of land to both White and Black soldiers. However, glory faded quickly for the “Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color”; they were soon disbanded and again faced pre-war prejudices. In city celebrations of the “Battle of New Orleans” for the next 100 years, not a single Black person was allowed to participate in the festivities.
White America, again, quickly forgot the contributions of Blacks in the military. A War Department memorandum on March 3, 1815 discharged all Blacks from the military stating: “A Negro is deemed unfit to associate with the American soldier.” The Navy issued orders in 1839 restricting Black enlistments to less than 5% and only in positions of cooks, mess boys, and servants, and this was signed by the same Isaac Chauncey who had highly praised his Black sailors during the War of 1812. Peacetime again became the chief promoter of racial exclusion in America and as always, when African Americans were no longer needed, they were also no longer wanted.
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