War of 1812 fun facts


Fort McHenry, a star-shaped fort which during the War of 1812 successfully defended Baltimore’s harbor from an attack by the British navy, was the original namesake of Francis Scott Key’s song: “Defence of Fort McHenry.” (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
June 8, 2012
Fun facts

●The War of 1812 lasted long after 1812. The final battle took place in January 1815.

●The British navy was the biggest in the world at the time, with more than 600 ships. How many did the U.S. Navy have? Only 18 sailable ships. It’s no wonder Britain didn’t take the war seriously at first.

●The saying “Don’t give up the ship!” comes from the War of 1812. Those were the dying words of Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake as his ship was captured by Britain’s HMS Shannon.

●Women, who often traveled with their husbands’ military units, sometimes acted as spies. Canadian Laura Secord walked 20 miles to inform the British of a planned attack on the Niagara Falls area. The British then launched a surprise attack on U.S. troops and kept control of the peninsula. Secord was later recognized as a hero by the Prince of Wales. Many Canadians now associate Secord with a chain of candy stores named in her honor.

●Francis Scott Key’s famous song about the Battle of Baltimore wasn’t originally called “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The initial name was “Defence of Fort McHenry.” (Not exactly a catchy title.) It didn’t become the official national anthem until 1931.


The first printed version of Francis Scott Key’s “Defence of Fort McHenry” from 1814. You probably know it as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Maryland Historical Society)

●The peace treaty to end the war — the Treaty of Ghent, named for a city in what is now Belgium — didn’t resolve what might have been the biggest cause of the war: The British wouldn’t agree to stop capturing American sailors and forcing them to serve in the British navy.

●The final battle of the war took place after the peace treaty was signed. News of the Treaty of Ghent, which was signed on Dec. 24, 1814, didn’t reach all of the United States for several weeks. So British and Americans battled in New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. The United States — led by General Andrew Jackson — defeated the much larger British force.

— Christina Barron

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