If you missed the PBS documentary on the War of 1812, buy this book! (Or I suppose you could watch it on line as PBS has made it available here. But the book is worth having, regardless.) At any rate, John Grant and Ray Jones have done a wonderful job in assembling this Guide to Battlefields and Historic Sites. While ostensibly a “companion” to the PBS film, it stands on its own, with beautiful photography throughout and digestible historical snippets. While much of the imagery appears in the film, there is a lot that does not.
The book starts out with an overview of the war and, like the film, contrasts the differing views held by the British, the Canadians and the Americans of today. For both the Americans and the British, the war is little more than a footnote in history. The British were focused on defeating Napoleon and think of 1812 as the year Bonaparte marched on Moscow. For Americans, if they have any recollection at all, it is of Fort McHenry and the writing of the national anthem. However, The War of 1812 is much more of a defining event for Canadians. For them, it was an important milestone in formulating the Canadian identity. They successfully rebuffed multiple invasions by the U.S. Canadian patriotism took shape and provided Canada with a proud history.
The book is divided into seven chapters, covering the different theaters of the war.
Each chapter covers notable battles, characters, and anecdotes about the war. For instance, chapter two begins:
According to an often repeated legend, a group of American officers from Fort Niagara were having dinner with a group of British soldiers at Fort George in Canada when word arrived that the United States had declared war on Great Britain.
It is said that both the dinner guests and their Canadian hosts received the news with remarkable calm and grace. Everyone shook hands and wished one another well in the approaching conflict. The Americans then walked down to the water, climbed into a boat, and rowed back across the Niagara River toward a future that must have seemed to them very uncertain. No doubt, their acquaintances in Canada were equally uncertain of what the coming days would bring.
The book is illustrated with a combination of still photography derived from the documentary and contemporary paintings and illustrations. Additionally, not in the film, are photographs of the places as they appear today. In this respect the book could provide the basis for an interesting vacation centered around visiting historical sites. For those living in or near the various theaters of the war, it might be interesting to make a series of day trips to some of these sites.
Authors Grant and Jones are to be commended for putting together a great overview of The War of 1812. This book could also be used with good effect in classrooms. Toward that end, PBS has put together a number of lesson plans for the film and book:
ELEMENTARY LEVEL LESSONS
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL LESSONS
COMMENCEMENT LEVEL LESSONS
Whether you’re a history buff, a teacher, or planning a vacation in one of the war’s theaters of action, this book is to be recommended, as is the collection of ancillary materials available on the PBS website.