5 Things You Didn't Know About The War of 1812

On this day in 1812, President James Madison declared war against Great Britain—and the War of 1812 began. Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about the War of 1812...


The War of 1812 Went on for 32 Months Calling it the War of 1812 can be confusing since it went on for 32 months after the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812.  The War of 1812 lasted longer than the Spanish-American War and the Mexican-American-War. It even lasted longer than America’s involvement in World War I.

Our National Anthem Was Written During the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner” while at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. In the poem, he mentiones “bombs bursting in air” and “the rocket’s red glare,” which wasn’t exactly poetic license. The rockets were British missiles called Congreves and looked a bit like giant bottle rockets. The “bombs bursting in air” were 200 pound cannonballs, designed to explode above their target. The British fired about 1500 bombs and rockets at Fort McHenry from ships in Baltimore Harbor.  A few weeks later, the lyrics were printed along with music by John Stafford Smith and our national anthem was born.


Uncle Sam Came From the War Effort The Star-Spangled Banner isn’t the only patriotic icon that dates to the War of 1812. It’s believed that “Uncle Sam” does, too. In Troy, New York, a military supplier named Sam Wilson packed meat rations in barrels labeled U.S. According to local lore, a soldier was told the initials stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson, who was feeding the army. The name endured as shorthand for the U.S. government. However, the image of Uncle Sam as a white-bearded recruiter didn’t appear for another century, during World War I.

The War of 1812 Had Its Own "Paul Revere" Character. You probably know Paul Revere as the guy who rode a horse across a stretch of central Massachusetts to warn American militiamen of oncoming British troops. Well, the War of 1812 had a similar character, albeit on the other side of the battle. Laura Secord was a Massachusetts-born wife to a wounded Canadian Loyalist. She caught wind of an impending ambush by American troops on a British outpost and hiked 20 miles through forests and swamps to warn the  British that the Americans were coming. Because of her early warning, the Americans lost the Battle of Beaver Dams in their attempt to capture the British outpost.

A Violent Storm Saved Washington, D.C. On August 24, 1814, British troops entered Washington, D.C. and set the U.S. Capitol, White House, and other buildings ablaze, which continued on through the next day. A thunderstorm rolled in and drenched the area for about two hours, which put the flames out and even spawned a tornado that ripped off roofs and lifted several cannons up from the ground. The National Weather Service reported that the debris from the tornado killed more of the British soldiers than the American’s guns did during that incursion.