Book Review: New York’s War of 1812: Politics, Society, and Combat

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by Richard V. Barbuto

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2021. Pp. x, 350. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0806190825

The Empire State at War
 
New York’s War of 1812 does much to expose the key role of the state of New York in the war between the United States and Britain in 1812-1814. The most important thing the book does is to bring out the leadership role that New York’s Governor, Daniel D. Tompkins played in mobilizing and organizing the resources of New York to support the Federal war effort. In addition, seven regular U.S. regiments were raised from New York, the most populous state in the Union. Four thousand one hundred New Yorkers volunteered to serve in the U.S. military during the war. All this would not have been possible without the leadership of Gov. Tompkins, who was in many ways much more proactive in advancing the war effort than the Federal government. Ultimately the state of N.Y. would spend more than $12 million on the war, and Tompkins would contribute a substantial sum from his own pockets for the war effort.

New York represented the second largest contingent of soldiers (19% of the total contribution by term of service to the war) contributed to the conflict, largely from the New York militia. From that militia were organized the armies which fought along the Northern border of the U.S. with Canada, between Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Barbuto breaks up his work into chapters dealing with the several important campaigns of the war that involved the state of New York.

A particularly interesting chapter is on the physical defenses of New York harbor which had been much strengthened by Gov. Tompkins since the American Revolution. Because of the strength of the forts around New York City, the Royal Navy did not dare to attempt an attack there as they had done during the American Revolutionary War.

The fighting on New York’s northern border is the center of the book. Barbuto covers this well, and picks out the reasons why the U.S. forces, despite outnumbering the British and Canadian defenders, proved unable to seize any territory in Canada. On the other hand, the British were blocked from making any gains in northern New York, which might have complicated negotiations to end the war on favorable terms to the United States.

As for the reasons for the difficulties faced by the American armies in the North, the long distances and difficult logistics were clearly a factor. Political infighting in the New York legislature between Governor Tompkins and his rivals undermined the war effort, though not fatally. Coordinating forces on multiple fronts proved difficult, and the militia troops proved to be a mixed bag, often lacking discipline when faced with British regulars, though they improved as time went on. Disease proved to be a major problem, as was typical for the period, being the largest contribution to casualties suffered in the war. Tompkins still did a more than credible job of organizing New York’s contribution to the war. A particular success was the Naval vessels that were built on the lakes of New York under his supervision, which were responsible for winning the Battle of Lake Champlain and blocking a British invasion of northern N.Y. in the final months of the war

Along the way, New York’s War of 1812 puts the major battles fought on or near New York soil, from Sackett’s Harbor to Lundy’s Lane, in a larger context of the strategy that Gov. Tompkins and the Federal government tried to forge to defend America’s Northern frontier against the British, and to possibly conquer Canada. That they were not able to do the latter does not detract from the great work which Gov. Tompkins and his subordinates did to prepare for and then fight the War of 1812. Readers of New York’s War of 1812 will come away with an expanded understanding of the organization and logistics which were necessary to fight the War of 1812, and the contribution of New York in particular.

 

 

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Note: New York’s War of 1812is also available in paperback, audio, & e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org

Reviewer: Alexander Stavropoulos   


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