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American military historians have identified a trend in the US Army to start wars unprepared and ultimately emerge victorious having improved along the way. The War of 1812 set the standard in showing up unprepared, learning in early defeat, and emerging with a valid claim of martial competence. Historians tend to focus on the popular wars such as the Civil War and the World Wars, and forget the War of 1812. This forgotten war took place in the midst of profound changes in western military affairs. As the wars in Europe and North America ended, warfare once again stood at the precipice of change. This thesis identifies the ways in which these concepts improved, why they improved, and how leaders made the changes. It uses the evidence available to show that the Army learned from its mistakes and implemented changes. Leaders at all levels identified failures and made changes without any senior leader taking full ownership of any of the mistakes, mostly blaming circumstances or other leaders. During the northern campaigns, from the Niagara to Lake Champlain between 1812 and 1814, the Madison administration made annual changes to the force leadership and logistics systems hoping to improve the fighting force.
This thesis investigates one significant battle each year from 1812-1814. It analyzes the preparation, the fight, and the aftermath with a focus on broader tactics and formations used from the beginning of each battle to its climax, while recognizing the impact of leadership. The focus is the specific identification of shortcomings on the part of the battle leadership, whether the changes had any tangible effects, or if the force just improved from experience verses actual changes in the conduct of the war. The thesis examines the conditions politically that led to the U.S. conducting this war with an unprepared Army, untrained volunteers, and a grand militia only on paper. It addresses training with regard to discipline and tactics to discuss clearly the way in which the United States Army prepared for and fought battles. Finally, it examines leader impact as the keystone that implements or inhibits change. It answers the question, "How did U.S. Army leaders change their tactics and training methods between 1812 and 1815, why did they change, and to what effect did those changes influence the fight?" To begin, one must understand how the U.S. Army and its governing administration entered into the fight in the first place.
How did the US Army train and fight at the beginning, middle, and end of the war in terms of preparation, employment, and execution in combat? What tactics and training were in use in each of the studied battles? What changes occurred, between battles, and were they institutional or leader driven? Did doctrine follow or lead these changes? What improvements if any, did leaders make? It shows that the U.S. Army and the War Department at all levels identified shortcomings in their efforts to raise, train, equip, and fight. They made adjustments, albeit rather slowly and ineffectively. Probably the most important change made was the selection process of the Army's leadership.