Book Review:
The Incredible War of 1812


By J. Mackay Hitsman, updated by Donald Graves.


The War of 1812 is one of those conflicts that were overshadowed by the greater war being fought in Europe at the time, although it resulted in part from the conflict between Britain and France.

The Incredible War of 1812 is a valuable guide to that conflict, explaining in great detail the why, when and how of the battles fought between the forces of Britain/Canada and the United States of America.

To understand the theatre of any war, it is necessary to examine the origins of the conflict, and Hitsman presents a very clear picture of the years of tension from the end of the American Revolution until 1811, the year before the conflict erupted.

The chapter on preparations for war in 1811-12 explains in great detail how both sides formed their armies and describes the abilities, or otherwise, of the senior officers who were to lead them.

We are presented with a description of the lower ranks that did the actual fighting, thus providing a balanced account of the men involved, both regular and militia. Indeed, it is this examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the men involved that helps the reader to understand the events as they unfold.

The actual conflict is examined in sections from the opening moves in June and July 1812, through the actions in the Northwest in 1812, the war around the Niagara later that year, and the problems with supplying the forces in the terrain of Upper Canada.

The importance of dominating the Great Lakes and rivers, so that supplies could be transported more readily, is discussed as this became an important feature of the war for Canada.

Sections on the victories and defeats experienced by both sides during 1813 and the British actions elsewhere in North America, such as Washington and New Orleans, complete the story.

The value of this book as an account of the War of 1812 is not the only reason why the student of American and Napoleonic history should consider this volume for their library.

Donald Graves (himself an acknowledged expert on the war) has updated the source material listed in Hitsman's original work. The list of references is one of the most extensive I have come across in any work, and is a valuable information source in itself.

Comprehensive appendices describe orders of battle of both regular and militia units; the naval forces in North America; British and Canadian military heritage of the War of 1812; and British and Canadian Battle Honours, medals and awards of the war of 1812. There are numerous maps to clarify each campaigning area. The 400 pages of The Incredible War of 1812 represent one of the most useful one-volume works on the conflict ever published.

The clarity of the narrative, the maps and the comprehensive source material make this a classic work and exceptional value for the modest price. It will certainly be a well-thumbed reference work in my library.

- Paul Chamberlain









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