- Eyes On
A local history buff shared the story of the War of 1812, including its ties to Auglaize County this weekend with members of the local genealogical society.
Often referred to as America’s second war for independence and the forgotten war, St. Marys attorney Bill Huber began studying the war while researching family names for his son.
“I began researching and never stopped,” Huber said of the war that celebrates its bicentennial. “I was surprised with the information that is out there.”
Huber started his research in 1997, when he learned of two direct descendents that served in the War of 1812 had become eligible for the Society of the War of 1812, a society he joined. Attending state meetings he learned even more about the war itself and the events surrounding it.
He hoped the people who attended Saturday’s Auglaize County Geneological Society meeting learned of the causes of the war, main engagements, was a realization as to how the war affected future events in history.
Huber said it was about more than Britain stealing some American soldiers and the historical accounts which indicate that neither side won and everyone moved on are not quite accurate.
“Simply put, it was a military conflict between the U.S. and Britain that ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, but the Americans didn’t know it until 1815,” Huber said, explaining of a time when communications were not the best.
There were multiple reasons for the conflict, including Britain putting trade restrictions on the United States because of trade with France, while they were battling Napoleon Bonaparte. At the same time, Britains were joining the American Merchant Marines instead of the British Navy which paid poorly and had long tours, so the British started taking some of these soldiers, not all of whom were Britains as the soldiers didn’t carry forms of identification.
Britians also were arming the American Indians and encouraging them to raid against settlers and prompted Tecumseh to form a confederation of tribes to prevent western expansion.
While the British prime minister was assassinated and some of the actions causing the war repealed by Britain‘s parliament, again communication was poor and the Americans never knew before the war started.
In a young country still experiencing growing pains, not everyone was united in their opinion of the war. One of the big problems was funding it, with no federal currency. The largest banks, located in New England, didn’t want to help and in return Britian left them alone.
Congress allowed for the increase from 12,000 to 35,000 men in the U.S. Army, but militias were poorly trained, pay was low and they didn’t like to fight outside of their home states.
“Britain had thought they would easily invade,” Huber said of what began largely as a defensive war for the United States, which used pirates to its aid. Of course Britain did the same and at the beginning the losses were almost equal.
“America thought they could walk into Canada and be greeted with open arms, but that didn’t happen,” Huber said as Canada was populated with colonial loyalists and a large French population.
There also was fear that the United States would spread Protestantism.
The first two battles in the summer of 1812 started and ended with just one shot fired, giving the Britains confidence to try and take the Great Lakes, and they succeeded for a while, until U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory at Lake Erie turned things around.
“Those who lived in Ohio believed that if Britain was able to defeat Perry, they would invade Ohio,” Huber said. “They had started moving south toward the Ohio River. His victory saved the day.”
After that, Tecumseh was killed and the Indian confederacy began to fall apart as Britain lost their allies and control of the Great Lakes, still Britain considered the war a minor skirmish until they were able to defeat Napoleon.
Negotiations for the treaty to end the war began in August and were signed in December, but battles continued, including the burning of the White House, which was put out by a massive rain storm, possibly a tornado or hurricane, which caused British forces to retreat.
“The most important event of the War of 1812 was the Battle of Baltimore,” Huber said.
After a sniper killed the British commander, the army fell into disarray and troops withdrew.
“Americans never fired a shot,” Huber said.
The city had blacked out and hunkered down preventing the British from seeing their targets.
At the end of the war, both sides were weary and couldn’t afford to fight any longer,” Huber said.
The treaty restored boundries and allowed Americans to fish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It cost both sides $105 million. Britain also was required to pay $1.2 million in reparations for freeing slaves.
“The Americans thought they won. The Canadians thought they won. The Britains didn’t care because they beat Napoleon,” Huber said. “It was the Native Americans who lost.”
He said the war succeeded in securing American honor and essentially won them their second Revolutionary War, as they had been treated as second-class citizens by Britain. It also demonstrated the need for a strong U.S. Navy.
There was little political discourse left in the country and it began an era of good feeling.
The war also had served as the backdrop for Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner to the tune of a British drinking song, although it didn’t become the national anthem until 1931.
“All four verses tell the story, not only of the Battle of Baltimore, but the history of the War of 1812,” Huber said.
One of Huber’s ancestors spent time under William Henry Harrison at Fort Barbee, a string of forts along the St. Marys River, which has been occupied by downtown St. Marys since. The fort was where Harrison started his movement to Detroit.
Fort Amanda, also in Auglaize County, was used for boat building.
“We have an Auglaize County connection,” Huber said.
With Indian raids ending, the government began giving land away at little to no cost in areas such as Auglaize County, to encourage settlement and expansion.
“It’s why many of our settlers may have settled here,” Huber said. “The land was free.”
As a member of the state society, in 2009, Huber helped mark the grave of an Auglaize County veteran of the War of 1812 buried at the Hudson Cemetery on private property in Washington Township.
“It is an amazing hobby, but I have always believed that if you want to know who you are, you have to know where you came from,” Huber said of his genealogical research. “Genealogy or family history is putting the meat on the bones. When you look at a tombstone, you see a dash between the year of birth and the year of death — we fill in the dash between.”
Since his research began, he’s written two books about his family history which are shelved in Wapakoneta and St. Marys libraries locally, as well as other libraries around the country and the Library of Congress. He’s also had numerous articles published in genealogical magazines.
“Lawyering is my hobby, finding history is my profession,” Huber said.
Huber said researching family history takes patience, as one must learn the tools and techniques, network (as there is someone out there who is researching or has researched the family) by joining genealogical societies, reading local histories, attending seminars, and being prepared to spend a good deal of time in libraries and cemeteries.