For both sides, the economic war was central to the struggle particularly given the relatively small and inconclusive nature of the military conflict and the almost ad hoc nature of many of the forces engaged in it.  Neither army was very impressive compared to their contemporaries engaged in conflicts elsewhere in the world. Neither could probably have dealt the other any kind of decisive blow on its own.


The American army had never recovered from what many judge to be the government's betrayal of the troops, particularly the officer corps that gave so much to win the War of Independence[1]. The offensive spearhead of the American forces assembled at Detroit for the invasion of Canada was far from inspiring as the fiasco of its first and only engagement displayed.  


In contrast to the French army which displayed a revolutionary ability to wage offensive warfare which was probably unequaled until Hitler's Blitzkrieg, the British army, with the exception of Wellington's forces fighting in Spain was neither particularly large nor well regarded.  A great deal of Britain's fighting was done by mercenaries such as the Hessians of the war of Independence, funded allies such as the Portuguese or by private sector forces such as the army of the East India Company which largely conquered and garrisoned the huge Indian Empire.


Whilst the French may have launched their armies furiously into the heartlands of their enemies and their victims, the British way was largely to stick to their boats and find other means to grind down their foes. It was through the aggressive use of these boats that Britain projected global military force and its relationship with the army is summed up by its frequently used name: "the Senior Service.”


Britain's navy saw a significant part of its role to deliver expeditionary armies, often in support of an ally's forces. In offensive terms, the British army had much in common with an amphibious marine unit best suited for large scale punitive commando raids.  The other, far more strategically relevant part of the British Navy’s role was to ensure the safe running of British trade to ensure a thriving tax base and to exert a suffocating stranglehold on enemy commerce.


All this was to be done in the face of the endless penny-pinching of the Treasury so in the ability of the British forces to buy up valuable supplies from American collaborators was a significant aid to their campaign.

The blockade

The weakness of America to coastal blockade was nothing new, even during the War if Independence Alexander Hamilton, at the time a Colonel and effectively George Washington’s chief of staff noted: “All that the English need to have done was to blockade our ports.”[2]


Due to the coastal blockade, “by the end of the year (1813) trade had dropped to 11% of what it had been in 1811” [3] and the coast was open to attacks by British navy and marines who “conducted surprise raids at will” [4]

[1] Military History Quarterly, June, 2008.

[2] Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, 2004, Penguin. P 112

[3] If by the sea, George C Daughan, 2008 Basic Books p 438

[4] If by the Sea, George C Daughan, 2008, Basic Books, p 438

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