Editorial: Celebrating a defeat

Havre de Grace is getting a bit of a late start on planning for marking the 200th anniversary of the city's sacking during the War of 1812.

It's already 2012, which means the 200th anniversary of the murky start of the war is this year, and the anniversary of Havre de Grace's invasion by a British naval raiding party is coming up in just about nine months.

It's worth pointing out that the anniversary falls on one of the biggest weekends in the Havre de Grace social calendar year, that being Decoy Festival weekend.

In recent years, that weekend's events have grown to include a re-enactment of the raid on Havre de Grace, staged at the north end of town at the Susquehanna Lock House (which wouldn't have been built until the 1830s) rather than at the south end at Concord Point, the supposed scene of the battle.

The war whose bicentennial is observed this year is something of a footnote in U.S. history, comparable to the Mexican – American War of the mid-1840s or the Spanish American War of the early 1900s.

It is more well known in popular culture because it is the conflict that resulted in the writing of the "Star Spangled Banner," our national anthem, and in Maryland in particular because a fair amount of the action took place along the state's western shore of the Chesapeake Bay andWashington, D.C.

The war is regarded to some degree as a kind of brief re-fighting of the Revolution, and the U.S. ability to fend off the forces of the crown certainly erased any musings that the old colonial order would be restored.

The root cause, however, was a shortage of manpower in the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars. The shortage prompted the Royal Navy to press American merchant sailors into service, which was an insult to U.S. sovereignty. The war declaration, however, was a disaster.Washington, D.C.was raided and burned. The same thing was tried at Baltimore, though the defenses atFt. McHenryheld and gave rise to the national anthem.

The war drew to a close with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The U.S. peace treaty with the British was signed Christmas Eve of 1814. This was followed on Jan. 8, 1815 by the Battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson's forces crushed a British invasion force.

On Jan. 15, 1815, Congress ratified the peace treaty and it was probably a few weeks longer before all those involved in the peace treaty making and battle fighting of the season were aware of what had been going on. Still, the decisiveness of Jackson's victory is regarded by some as having eliminated any British designs on re-taking the United States and its recently-acquired Louisiana Territory.

In the midst of all these largely disconnected campaigns, on May 3, 1813, the British sacked and burned Havre de Grace.

This defeat will be cause for celebration in a few months. Given the other activities that are likely to remain on the calendar, to include the reenactment and the Decoy Festival, possibly the best course of action will be for event organizers to figure out a way to get a fireworks display to add to what's on the agenda and be done with it.

Fittingly, given the odd nature of the war, any additional celebrations on Decoy Festival weekend are likely to come across as something of an afterthought, which is perfectly OK.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad