The War of 1812 is often thought of as "The Forgotten War." In February 1813, soon after war was declared by the United States, the British brought war into the Chesapeake Bay region by establishing a blockade of the Bay. With no American navy to speak of in the Bay, the Royal Navy operated nearly at will. The first major raids took place at the head of the Bay in the spring of 1813 followed by attacks at the mouth of the bay in June. Plantations and towns along the Bay's many rivers also suffered. But the worst was yet to come in the summer and fall of 1814. The British invaded the United States, landing forces on the shores of the Patuxent River. They defeated the American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg, allowing the British to occupy the capital of the United States and burn several public buildings, including the Capitol and the White House. After this success, the confident British forces attacked Baltimore. But instead of victory, they met defeat at the hands of determined American defender.
There are several American symbols that were defined by the War of 1812. Isn't it ironic that this forgotten war breathed life into American icons that we have come to know, love and respect? Icons such as the national anthem, lyrics inspired by a lawyer after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore; the frigate USS Constitution earning her nickname "Old Ironsides" when enemy cannonballs bounced off her timbered hull; and "Don't Give Up the Ship," that naval motto of perseverance, the final encouragement to the crew of the USS Chesapeake by the dying Captain James Lawrence.
The War of 1812 should not be forgotten; for it left a lasting legacy. The United States survived its first major test as a nation. After the war the people of the United States, although split by dissension and opposition to the war, achieved a new sense of confidence, nationhood and patriotism. Symbolically, the United States transformed from eighteen individual states—"the United States are"—into a single nation—"the United States is."
And the United States Navy matured, earning fame and glory from the exploits of its ships, officers, and crews. The War of 1812 made it clear that the nation needed a strong Navy to protect American interests throughout the world wherever ships and sailors would venture. Commerce protection, diplomatic relations, and exploration became the peacetime missions of the United States Navy.
Although no land or sea battles were fought in the Annapolis environs, there are many local points of interest pertaining to the War of 1812. Most visibly, Annapolis is home to the United States Naval Academy, where the legacy of the War of 1812 endures today in the daily training and education of the Brigade of Midshipmen. The Naval Academy was founded in 1845 on the site of Fort Severn which was garrisoned to protect the Annapolis harbor during the War. Also of interest, Francis Scott Key spent much time living and studying in Annapolis.
The self-guided walking tour will acquaint you with many of those points and will direct you to a major exhibit on the War of 1812 at the U.S. Naval Academy—Seas, Lakes & Bay: The Naval War of 1812. In this exhibit, you will see and learn that the War of 1812 had a tremendous impact on our country and in the development of the United States Navy. It is this legacy that we, the United States Naval Academy, celebrate with you on this bicentennial of the War.