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The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813 (1980)

de Pierre Berton

Séries: War of 1812 (1)

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How could a nation of eight million fail to subdue a struggling British colony of 300,000? In this remarkable account of the war's first year, Pierre Burton transforms history into an engrossing narrative that reads like a fast-paced novel. Drawing on memoirs, diaries, and official dispatches, the author gets inside the characters who fought the war--the common soldiers, the generals, the bureaucrats and the profiteers, the traitors, and the loyalists. This is a gripping account of a fascinatingly complex war that shaped the boundaries of America as we know them today.… (mais)
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This book recounts the events of the first year of the War of 1812, and the present tense puts the reader at the heart of the action. It was written in 1980, though, and I’m sure more recent scholarship can fill in the (acknowledged by Berton) gaps in history, notably events from the Indigenous perspective. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jul 8, 2023 |
My mom has been pestering me to read Pierre Berton's books for many years. I can see why he's a favorite among Canadians and history lovers in general. He strung together dozens of sources and put them in a narrative that reads fast, full of character and characters, ground-level perspective that allows for an intimate understanding of the underlying events behind the North American War of 1812, yet weaves in vocabulary lessons.

Unlike my American history classes (I grew up in the U.S.), I'll remember the stories within this book whether it's General Brock's gutsy strategy at Fort Detroit, the living conditions for the poorly prepared American soldiers, General Hull who surrendered to spare lives but was tried for treason because of it, or the named individuals who were captured by the Natives.

Much of the book follows the American perspective and all the blunders that came from enthusiasm and no discipline, no planning, and leadership based on popularity (generals reliving their revolutionary glory days) instead of skill. The most horrendous events that year were done to themselves.

The modern Canada exists thanks to the War of 1812. Before this conflict there was no effective border between Upper Canada and the United States. Most Canadians were also Americans, but lived in a more dispersed region. Most Canadians had no interest in war. Americans thought it would be easy to annex Canada and irk back the British for blocking trade with continental Europe. In her interest to be left alone to mostly farm instead of being the neutral battle ground for two powerful nations, Canada had the chance to look at herself and look at her two most associated countries: how was Canada different? What traits from either country did Canada matter? For a Canadian, what was loyalty and patriotism? In the first year of this ill-thought out war, one can see how Canadians always had a more peaceful mindset than their southern cousins, but also had the superior leadership of Isaac Brock (page 313):

"He came to represent Canadian order as opposed to American anarchy - 'peace, order and good government' rather than the more hedonistic 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' Had not Upper Canada been saved from the invader by appointed leaders who ruled autocratically? In America, the politicians became generals; in British North American, the opposite held true." ( )
  leah_markum | Oct 28, 2022 |
Impossible to keep track of characters and what side they are on. Fairly good at depicting the horrors of war. The men who signed up must have been drunk or stupid so it's difficult to feel sorry for them. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 7, 2018 |
The Americans thought Canada was theirs for the taking and we proved them wrong for we won. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Pierre Berton is the master of Canadian 'popular history' - non-fiction so smooth and engaging that it's easy to stop absorbing facts and just go along for the ride. He places emphasis on describing the lives of people who lived through the events, humanizing the story. That's not to say he neglects any of the events themselves, and there's always a wealth of information to be had from his carefully researched work. What I like most is his ability to always maintain a clear view of the big picture in pairing with the colourful personal stories. I've read many of his books now and I was caught up by this no less than by his others. One thing he does differently this time is relate the episodes in present tense. It lends a more immediate feel, and I think it's a style choice he reserved for this work and its sequel. I'd like to find an old interview explaining why he did that and how he felt it came off, since he never repeated it.

War is not always Berton's topic but he has a knack for writing gripping battle accounts (see his WW1 book, "Vimy"). These were the days of cannon and cavalry, tomahawks and scalping, muskets and grapeshot. Mr. Berton brings not just the play-by-play action to his chronological presentation, but also the atmosphere. Along the way he debunks or casts suspicion on a number of myths and legends, and doesn't shy away from revealing the flaws of even the most honoured figures. There's ample cited evidence provided to support his three point thesis on how Canada successfully resisted the American invasion: the British presence, America's lack of preparedness and experience, and the assistance rendered by alliances with indigineous peoples. This first volume covers only the war's initial six months, since it's all of a piece: bungling false starts by the Americans that were poorly planned and executed (sometimes comically so), of which the British and their allies took full advantage (sometimes horrifically so). It primarily covers events at Tippecanoe, Detroit, Niagara and the Frenchtown massacre. A number of familiar names cross the stage including Tecumseh, Sir Isaac Brock and William Henry Harrison. Ensure you have the second volume ready. ( )
  Cecrow | Oct 3, 2014 |
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"The conquest of Canada is in our power. I trust I shall not be deemed presumptive when I state that I verily believe that the militia of Kentucky are alone competent to place Montreal and Canada at your feet." - Henry Clay, to the United States Senate, February 22, 1810.
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Michilimackinac Island, Michigan Territory, U.S.A. The small hours of a soft July morning in 1812. The lake is silent, save for the whisper of waves lapping the shoreline.
The invasion of Canada, which began in the early summer of 1812 and petered out in the late fall of 1814, was part of a larger conflict that has come to be known in North America as the War of 1812.
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How could a nation of eight million fail to subdue a struggling British colony of 300,000? In this remarkable account of the war's first year, Pierre Burton transforms history into an engrossing narrative that reads like a fast-paced novel. Drawing on memoirs, diaries, and official dispatches, the author gets inside the characters who fought the war--the common soldiers, the generals, the bureaucrats and the profiteers, the traitors, and the loyalists. This is a gripping account of a fascinatingly complex war that shaped the boundaries of America as we know them today.

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