Leet man shares War of 1812 knowledge

Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Two hundred years of peace between the United States, Canada and Great Britain — that's how Leet resident Gary Augustine, 75, describes what life has been like for the three countries since the War of 1812.

Augustine spoke last month to the Senior Men's Club group, which meets regularly at the Sewickley Valley YMCA, about the war; its effect on relations between the United States and Canada; and how residents of each country view the war, which officially ended in early 1815.

Retired from PNC and IBM, Augustine said he has enjoyed “American history since I've been able to read.”

“In my professional career, I had one foot in the future, and my hobby is one foot in the past,” he said.

Quoting Canadian historian Donald Graves, with whom Augustine said he has toured War of 1812 battlefields, Augustine said of the war:

“Americans think of it primarily as a naval war in which the pride of the Mistress of the Seas was humbled. Canadians think of it equally pridefully as a war of defense in which their brave fathers, side by side, turned back the massed might of the United States and saved the country from conquest. And the English are the happiest of all, because they don't even know it happened.”

In June 1812, the United States declared war on what today is central and eastern Canada, then known as Great Britain's British North American colonies. Over the course of the next three years, battles waged on across the United States and Canada — on land and in water.

“There was a perception — maybe not real, but there was a perception that the British were aiding the Indians to attack the American settlers,” Augustine said.

At the time, the United States' population was around 7.3 million, and the country had grown from 13 colonies to 18 states. The United States was 14 times the size of Canada, Augustine said.

The British fought with established armies.

“What about the American military in 1812? What did it look like?” Augustine said. “You couldn't find it. It basically didn't exist. After the Revolutionary War, the Americans disbanded the continental Army and kept one artillery company. That was it.”

Augustine's presentation focused mostly on battles at Fort Erie in Ontario and discussed battles in New Orleans and Baltimore, but closer to home, Erie played a major role in the War of 1812. It was the construction site for the fleet of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who eventually won the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, off the shore of Ohio's South Bass Island.

Perry's famous battle-flag phrase was “Don't Give Up the Ship” — paying homage to his friend, Capt. James Lawrence, who spoke those words as he died in combat during the war.

Augustine said control of the Great Lakes was a critical issue in the war.

By the end of the war, the United States and Britain “realized neither was going to win the war, so why not settle it?” Augustine said.

A treaty ending the war was signed in February 1815.

“The Americans failed in their attempt to capture Canada,” Augustine said.

He said the war has been viewed differently in each country.

“It's very interesting to see how Canadians treat this war vs. how Americans treat it,” he said. “It's completely different. In American history, except for ‘The Star Spangled Banner' and maybe the Battle of New Orleans, Americans really know very little of the war.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-324-1408or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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