Stephen F. Austin State University

Christmas and the War of 1812 (December 2012)

Christmas and the War of 1812
By Deborah Burkett

Sitting down to write my December column, I toyed with several ideas. Needing a story related to Christmas yet steeped in Cherokee County history, I settled upon one with connections not only to my own genealogical backyard but to many in the county as well.

Often called the 'Second War of Independence', the War of 1812 was the second declared conflict between Great Britain and the United States. Reasons for the war included British trade restrictions and their support of Indian Tribes against American Expansion. Fought on three fronts--at sea, on the Canadian frontier and in the American South; this war raged over the course of three years. At the hands of the British along with Canadian and Native American troops, the United States suffered many costly defeats including the burning of the nation's capital, Washington DC, in August 1814.

In the South and Gulf Coast region the American forces defeated Britain's Indian allies and repulsed a British invasion force at New Orleans. American forces led by Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British who were intent in seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the US had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. Sam Houston served with distinction in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 and was severely wounded; later he would become the first President of the Republic of Texas.

Even as British troops were trying to occupy Washington, British and American diplomats were meeting in Ghent, Belgium, in an attempt to negotiate a peace. But as Christmas approached, war still raged in New Orleans, with casualties in the night battle of 23 December 1814. No Christmas merrymaking for these soldiers.

However one of the most significant Christmas parties during the War of 1812 occurred thousands of miles from North America. The Treaty of Ghent was signed Christmas Eve, 1814. Negotiators, which included future American president John Quincy Adams and future presidential contender Henry Clay, crafted an end to the war. The next day, representatives sat down to a Christmas dinner of beef and plum pudding brought especially from England. Toasts were drunk to the health of King George and President Madison, the orchestra played "God Save the King" and "Yankee Doodle."

Another song linked to the War of 1812 was penned by Frances Scott Key. Watching the defense of Baltimore's Ft. McHenry (a turning point in the war) he was inspired to write a poem which became the "Star Spangle Banner". By the end of the century, many American children had never heard of the War of 1812. By the 1960's, it was reduced to a folk song, "The Battle of New Orleans" recorded and made famous by Johnny Horton in 1959.

This Christmas, homage should be paid to those who served in the 'forgotten war'. As the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is marked, many in Cherokee County pause as they remember ancestors who fought. Mine, Benjamin Alexander Long, Bedford County Tennessee, fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the Battle of New Orleans. After his death due to wounds suffered in the war, his wife, Mary Moore Dickson, and their children migrated to Republic of Texas; she is buried in Smith Cemetery, Tyler.

Others in Cherokee County with ancestors who served include: