Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2020

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Scott See

Second Committee Member

Jacques Ferland

Third Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Additional Committee Members

Kathryn Shively

James Campbell

Michael Robbins

Abstract

War of 1812 scholarship has focused primarily on classic military studies of decisive battles. Likewise, scholarship on the experience of war essentially concentrates on how killing and combat effected the human psyche. This dissertation pursues a broader perspective. It examines the impact of the environment on the health of soldiers and emphasizes everyday conditions and environmental suffering. Veterans’ accounts typically elevate suffering in camp over combat. A substantive study of soldiers’ responses to daily environmental conditions demonstrates the importance of health management to the outcome of the War of 1812. Through case studies of health measures related to frontier conditions, the use of alcohol to manage morale, the role of rations and food insecurity on the 1814 campaign, and close attention to two military units on either side of the conflict – the British 104th Regiment of Foot and the U.S. 21st Infantry Regiment – this dissertation argues that daily environmental management was far more important than victories in battle. The environment may have been the most significant factor in the War of 1812, but that did not reduce the importance of human agency. An exploration of illness demonstrates that the best commanders took proactive steps to protect the health of their soldiers. The British Army used veteran units in intensive combat areas and placed unfit and inexperienced soldiers in less threatened locations, such as the Maritime provinces of British North America; moreover, it reduced the size of its forces when the environment could not sustain large armies. The Americans, on the other hand, promoted officers with the most experience in frontier warfare and allowed leaders to move freely between militia and regular units to gain experience. For both sides the management of provisions was central to troop morale, patriotism, and health. This included generous alcohol rations to mediate harsh climatic conditions and the horrors of combat. The 1814 campaign in Niagara demonstrates that success on the battlefield was secondary to and dependent upon an effective logistical system that provided enough calories for each soldier.

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