By MARK BELCHER
The War of 1812 was many things, brutal, drawn out and bloody, to name a few. But one renowned historian claims the war was also civil.
OBSERVER Photo by Mark Belcher
Pictured from left: James O'Brien, president of the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize winning lecturer, Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County Historian and Dave Briska of the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum stand together, celebrating a successful collaboration in putting together a well attended lecture.
Alan Taylor, a professor of history at University of California, Davis, was in town Saturday for a lecture on the war at the Dunkirk Lighthouse.
Taylor, a Pulitzer prize winner, taught people about the details of his most recent book, titled "The Civil War of 1812."
"It worked out beautifully for us," Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County Historian, said. "He seemed like such a high caliber speaker we normally couldn't make arrangements with."
The event, sponsored by the County Historian's Office, the Chautauqua County Historical Society and Dunkirk Lighthouse, drew a surprising crowd of over 100 people.
He said the crowd at Dunkirk's historical lighthouse dwarfs some crowds he's drawn in the past, even in Philadelphia.
But that wasn't the only surprise the area had in store for him. The Portland, Maine native said it was his first time in the area, and he loved it.
Dave Briska of the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum said it couldn't be a better location for the historical talk, and that's why they offered the location up for the event.
"The First shots of the war were fired right here in Dunkirk," he pointed. "The americans fired shots at a British ship just off the coast of Point Gratiot."
Taylor claims instead of a war simply between two nations, the close-to-home war was also a Civil war, pitting brother against brother, much like the American Civil war.
He started his claims by giving the background of the conflict, explaining the capture and recapture of American and British seamen off American vessels worsened ties between the two nations.
When war did break out, American forces rushed into British-held Canada. The attack into Canada proved Taylor's first point.
Many American settlers moved to Canada to settle the farmland there. When Americans attacked, the British forced the 'Canadian' farmers to help defend.
"Once they defined the Americans as 'them', they themselves were no longer Americans," he said of the issue.
The war bolstered nationalistic feelings on both sides, giving the Canadians an identity, he said, but it was still a case of previous Americans fighting against their previous countrymen.
The Americans were badly defeated in many early battles. The early defeats also proved many of Taylor's theories.
The British captured prisoners, many of whom were Irish immigrants. To immigrants from the British empire, of whom the British still regarded as subjects, being captured meant joining the army, or being hanged.
Most picked the army, but Taylor said the American government threatened to hang British officers if Irish soldiers were killed, a threat which ultimately kept both the Irish captives safe, and gave American-Irish an incentive to enlist.
He made his second point. The capture and reenlistment of Irish soldiers meant Irish were fighting Irish, which he said is the definition of a civil war.
Taylor continued, saying more groups were at civil war.
He said governments jockeyed for control of Native American forces to fight for their sides, which also pitted neighboring tribes against one another.
He said the eeriest connection to a civil war was the comparison a British officer wrote in his journal after visiting an American fort for a prisoner transfer. The soldier wrote about Americans using the same names for household items, similar styles of clothing and even similar last name.
"How uncomfortably like a civil war," he wrote.
Taylor said the war was an unfortunate case of similar people and nations with a radically different visions on what North America should look like.
"It is a common belief the war lacked consequences because it was called a draw," he said in closing. "But for some, it had the greatest consequences of them all."