Thursday, November 6, 2008

Toying With History

Toy soldier enthusiasts and Canadian chauvinists will enjoy this statue, currently on display in Toronto, as a reminder of the War of 1812. It depicts a British soldier from the War of 1812, triumphing over an American soldier. The war visited Toronto, then Fort York, in 1813.

The whole story can be found here. The article quotes a US museum curator as saying:

Connie Barrone, the site manager of the Sackets Harbor state historical park in northern New York, had in a previous interview with the National Post declared the American troops victorious. But Monday, she applauded Toronto for its "strong" monument.

In an e-mail, she wrote that "historical or aesthetic interpretation must be made by the viewer."

"Depending on one's point of historical interpretation, the figures could be reversed, for example representing the Battle of York, or the figures might both be standing eyeball to eyeball when interpreting the War of 1812," she wrote.

Tnis quote spurred a professor friend of mine to write:

Funny that the US 'historian' is curator at Sacketts Harbour. That's recorded there as another 'victory'.

"Executive summary: Drummond raided the place in 1813 with 800 militia. It was defended by 6000+ US militia and regulars. Aim was to burn the naval yards, and naval supplies. US militia fled at the first approach. While the US regulars defended earthworks against the Canadian skirmish line, a US militia officer (Cornelius Spunkmeyer -- I'm not making that up) fled through the town, shouting that all was lost. US Militia fired the town, including the building supplies, the dockyards, and the ships under construction. Drummond withdrew. US victory."

I suppose as a wargamer, my only criticism of the statue is that there isn't a big dice and a bag of Doritos beside the toy soldiers.


Robotom said...

I question wether we would so proudly sing of the war of 1812, if we had in fact lost. I propose that only winners could pen such elegant and historicaly acurrate prose.

oo come back proud canadians

before you had tv

no hockey night in canada

there was no cbc

in 1812 madison was mad

he was the president, you know

but he thought he tell the british where they ought to go

he thougth he'd invade canada

he thought that he was tough

instead he went to washington

and burned down all his stuff

and the whitehouse burned burned burned

and we're the ones that did it

it burned burned burned

while the president ran and cried

it burned burned burned

and things were very historical

and the americans ran and cried like a bunch of little babies

wa wa waaaa

in the war of 1812

now hillbillies from kentucky

dressed in green and red

left home to fight in canada

but they returned home dead

its only war the yankees lost

except for vietnam

and also the alamo

and the bay of... ham

the loser was america

the winner was ourselves

so join right in and gloat about

the war of 1812

and the whitehouse burned burned burned

and we're the ones that did it

it burned burned burned

while the president ran and cried

it burned burned burned

and things were very historical

and the americans ran and cried like a bunch of little babies

wa wa waaaa

in the war of 1812

in 1812 we were just sittin' around

mindin' our own business

puttin' crops into the ground

we heard the soldiers coming

and we didnt like that sound

so we took a boat to washington

and burned it to the ground

oh, oh...

we burned our guns

but the yankees kept on coming

there wasn't quite as many

as there was a while ago

we fired once more

and the yankees started runnin

down the mississippi to the gulf of mexico

they ran through the snow

and they ran through the forest

they ran throught the bushes where the beavers wouldn't go

they ran so fast that they forgot to take their culture

back to america, gulf, and texico

So, if you go to Washington, its buildings clean and nice,

Bring a pack of matches, and we’ll burn the White House twice!

and the whitehouse burned burned burned

but the americans won't admit it

it burned, burned, burned,

it burned and burned and burned

it burned, burned, burned,

now, i bet that made them mad

and the americans ran and cried like a bunch of little babies

waa waa waah!

in the war of 1812!

Gary said...


The comment from your professor friend is really very funny, but I suspect that many if not most of your readers will not appreciate just how funny it is. I assume that with the intension of being humorous he changed several facts of the battle.

Drummond was in Ireland at the time of this battle and did not arrive in North American until late1813. Prevost was in overall command and the troops were commanded by Colonel Edward Baynes.

There were not 800 Canadian militia in the attack, but I don't know the actual breakdown on the troops involved. The Americans had about 750 regulars, 700 worthless militia, and about 200 assorted marines, sailors, and construction workers. These figures are from Canadian author Robert Malcomson in his book Lords of the Lake. Most of the fighting took place between the US regulars and the British/Canada force, so the numbers were roughly similar.

Militia did run away but did not fire the town. A young midshipman was left in charge at the dock area with orders to fire the ships, docks, and the supplies in the buildings if they were in danger of capture. He heard a rumor that the British were about to capture the area so he did as told. Fortunately the ships were saved without any damage, but the supplies were largely destroyed.

Prevost decided to withdraw and he was criticized by some of the British who believed they were going to be successful if they just continued the fight.

The battle is generally considered a US victory despite the mistake by the young midshipman.


mad padre said...

Hi Gary:

Thanks for your insight on this battle. I freely confess I know little about the war of 1812 - I just find it interesting how it keeps bubbling up to the surface as part of the Canadian psyche as part of our national iconography. It's also interesting that our two militaries have grown much closer in the last decade, both operationally and culturally. Thanks for reading and visiting my blog, I hope you'll stick around!

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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