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1812: The Navy's War Hardcover – October 4, 2011
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Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
“The War of 1812 was a difficult test for the United States, still wobbly on the world stage nearly two decades after formal independence. That Americans received a passing grade was due in no small part to the exceptional performance of the U.S. Navy, which humiliated the legendary British Navy time and time again. With verve and deep research, George Daughan has brought those gripping naval battles back to life. For military historians and general historians alike, 1812: The Navy's War restores an important missing chapter to our national narrative.”
“The War of 1812 was America's first great naval war, and George Daughan tells the story, from the coast of Brazil to the Great Lakes, from election campaigns to grand strategy to ship-to-ship combat. Sweeping, exciting and detailed.”
“At last, a history of the War of 1812 that Americans can read without wincing. By focusing on our small but incredibly courageous Navy, George Daughan has told a story of victories against awful odds that makes for a memorable book.”
“1812: The Navy’s War is a sparkling effort. It tells more than the naval history of the war, for there is much in it about the politics and diplomacy of the war years. The stories of ship-to-ship battles and of the officers and men who sailed and fought form the wonderful heart of the book. These accounts are told in a handsome prose that conveys the strategy, high feeling, and courage of both British and Americans. In every way this is a marvelous book.”
“Every American should read George C. Daughan’s riveting 1812: The Navy's War. Daughan masterfully breaks down complicated naval battles to tell how the U.S. thwarted the British armada on the Great Lakes and the high seas. Highly recommended!”
“A naval expert’s readable take on the U.S. Navy’s surprising performance in the war that finally reconciled the British to America’s independence…. A smart salute to a defining moment in the history of the U.S. Navy.”
“With a sailor’s heart, Daughan follows the action of blue water battles on the Great Lakes, deep water fusillades, besieged ports, the razing of our nation’s capitol, and the victory at New Orleans that forever earned international respect for American resolve. Expertly researched and illustrated, Daughan recounts the courage and skill of the men who gave birth to the United States Navy.”
“George C. Daughan again has penned a contributory history that is at once enjoyable to read and informative in its disclosures…. With considerable skill, the author has interwoven the political strife with the naval actions to form a coherent and well-written story of that important transitional time in American history.”
“[A] compelling sequel to his award-winning If By Sea....Daughan offers a rousing retelling of the war, strongly recommended for general readers, high school students, and lower classmen.”
“[A] richly detailed, well-documented, and compelling account....Daughan’s is a history that expands our understanding, debunking several popular myths…. In the end, this history of an oft-forgotten war holds value for all….Readers who have been eagerly awaiting the bicentennial will find in Daughan’s 1812 an account that confirms why the conflict merits remembrance—and celebration.”
“[Daughan] has written a concise, invaluable history of the War of 1812, placing it in context and making it accessible for modern readers. The War of 1812 was America’s first great naval war and Daughan’s crisp writing and extraordinary research helps breath life into this defining moment of our national history.”
The Weekly Standard
“Frequently [the War of 1812] is seen as a sequence of freestanding, intensely dramatic events rather than as the tightly intertwined series of battles, military campaigns, diplomacy, and domestic politics that it was. But if a compulsion to concentrate excessively on the more spectacular bits and pieces of the conflict has been an endemic problem among academics and writers, this volume is an antidote. Daughan not only thoroughly illuminates the emotion-triggering events of the conflict; he also adds the background that connects the highlights. That background includes, for example, the American and British domestic politics and diplomacy, which were continuously both cause and effect in the process.”
“[A] deep and detailed page-turner of a book. With crystal clear maps and unadorned prose, [Daughan] gives new life to the personalities, strategies and desperate struggles of the consequential, yet ultimately unproductive War of 1812…. Daughan narrates the story of the all-important naval war with a palpable sense of expectancy on nearly every page – with the clock ticking and the battle at hand.”
“The fledgling U.S. Navy had advantages that would surprise, infuriate and ultimately impress the British, as renowned naval military historian George C. Daughan wonderfully illustrates in his new work, 1812: The Navy’s War…. Daughan’s love of the sea and naval history is infectious…. Those who are familiar with C.S. Forester’s Hornblower tales or Patrick O’ Brian’s stories of Captain Jack Aubrey will enjoy this narrative of the American side of the Napoleonic wars and thrill to the progress of an underdog along the route to world power.”
“ should become a standard text for the serious history student…. This book will do well to remind us, in times of danger and uncertainty, of how welcome a bulwark is a powerful navy.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Daughan shows how the war at sea fitted into the American war effort and how the Navy – and the country – came out of the war better for the experience…. Mr. Daughan suggests that the War of 1812 was indeed a second war of independence, completing what had been started in 1775, strengthening the nation’s democratic principles, and establishing a new and positive relationship in which Britain recognized America’s place in the world.”
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
The author has provided the reader with great accounts of naval combat; ship-to-ship broadsides, boarding parties and frigates manoeuvring through shot and shell and stormy waters to gain the tactical advantage. Mr Daughan has not neglected the many combats on land along the Canadian-US border nor the many naval combats along the lakes and waterways in that area. He also covers the happenings in Napoleonic Europe as the Emperor of France marches into Russia and the subsequent campaigns to push his forces back into the borders of France.
The political manoeuvres in American, Europe and Britain and not neglected either, nor the fighting in other parts of America concluding with the disastrous battle of New Orleans. The book has fifteen maps covering every area of the conflict including Europe and a number of black & white diagrams and drawings. It would have been nice to have a few of the wonderful colour prints depicting the many naval combats mentioned included in the book but I dare say the expense negated that possibility.
The one thing that for me detracted from this enjoyable account was the author's numerous comments enforcing his view that the British were `bad' while Americans were `good'. This could have been left out or presented in a way so the reader could draw their own conclusions from the historical facts. However, having said that this is still a book that anyone interested in this period will enjoy and I recommend it for all that enjoy a good history book.
George Daughan has written a breathtaking description of the naval War of 1812. It is often stated that a handful of ships and stalwart crews overcame spectacular odds. It is true. They did. But a closer look reveals that England had set itself up for the embarrassment they suffered during these actions. Materially fewer in number, almost laughingly so, U.S. ships were vastly better in terms of armament, construction and speed, their crews were much better trained and their captains, for the most part, decidedly more audacious. While US forces generally performed poorly on land, Washington was burned, etc., it was at sea that our armed forces fortunes were brightest.
You will greatly enjoy this fine work. Fast paced, even riveting, Daughan details a conflict so one sided on a ship to ship basis, English histories ignore these conflicts and this war to this day. This was the war that truly united the United States.
Outnumbered, outgunned and outmanned, the naval conflict was consistently America's finest effort.
The Setting and Basis for Anglo-American Conflict
In 1812, Britain had been at war with France for most of the last twenty years. The US was not a formal participant prior to 1812, but had been at odds with both Britain and France throughout much of that period, especially during the Quasi Naval War with France in the late 1790s. The basis of these conflicts centered on the claimed right of the US as a neutral power to freely trade non-military goods with both Britain and France. Both European powers sought to restrict US trade with the other by declaring blockades and seizing US ships. In addition, the British regularly stopped US ships to search for and seize suspected deserters from the British Navy. The best these sailors could expect was impressment into the British Navy along with punishment for desertion.
The US had long insisted that Britain cease its interference with US trade and the impressment of sailors seized from US ships. By 1812, patience had worn thin; President Madison requested and congress declared war on Britain. Meanwhile, and yet unknown in Washington, the British government had agreed to respect the neutrality US ships but insisted on its right to search for, seize, and impress deserters.
Early Strategy and Goals
Madison's strategy appears to have been a combination of opportunism, bluff, and naiveté. He believed that Canada was ready to throw off British rule and, given only a gentle nudge, would gladly join US. The result would be the expulsion of Britain from North America and the expansion of US to entire continent.
In Madison's defense, he was correct in believing that Britain had committed all its considerable military might to the war against Napoleon and had little left to fight the US. However, the US was woefully unprepared for war. The Army was under manned, undersupplied, and commanded by generals and a secretary of war who were largely incompetent and appointed for political reasons. The Navy was small but competent and well led.
Britain's initial strategy was more realistic. It sought to defend Canada against any American invasion with the forces already in place which roughly equaled the American army in numbers and greatly exceeded it in competence and leadership. If there was a flaw in the British strategy is was to underestimate the capability of the US Navy.
The War of 1812 consisted of three distinct phases.
Phase 1: American Offensive
In the first phase of the war, Britain was fighting a holding action in North America while its main strength was dedicated to defeating Napoleon. The US made multiple attempts to invade Canada and botched them all, due primarily to incompetent leadership. The only bright spot for the US was the unexpected success of the Navy on Lake Erie, where it decisively defeated the British and established US control of the lake, and on the Atlantic where it defeated equally matched British war ships and significantly disrupted British commerce.
Phase 2: British Counter Offensive
After Napoleon abdicated in 1814, Britain transferred significant forces from Europe to North America and mounted an offensive in a second phase of the war. Britain's offensive and optimism peaked with the burning of Washington in August 1814. At this point, Britain had revised its strategy from a defensive holding action to a major offensive against the US with the goal of eliminating a potential rival. Britain's new goals included:
1. Expulsion of US from the territory of Louisiana Purchase and from East and West Florida
2. Control of Oregon territory
3. Control, or at least unfettered access to, the Mississippi River
4. Control of Great Lakes
5. Establishment of an Indian Reserve and buffer zone between the US and Canada in the area bounded by Great Lakes, the Ohio River, and the Mississippi River (the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin)
6. Separation of the anti-war New England states from US as an initial step to incorporating them into Canada
7. Termination of US rights to fish in the waters around Newfoundland which had been granted under the 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War.
If realized, these goals would have permanently reduced the US the original thirteen colonies, less New England, plus some territory south of the Ohio River (unless Spain seized it).
Phase 3: Both Sides Have Had Enough
Soon after the burning of Washington, British forces were unexpectedly defeated in major encounters at Baltimore and Plattsburg (on Lake Champlain) and a smaller battle at Fort Erie on the Niagara River between Lakes Erie and Ontario. These American victories were due in large part to Madison's belated recognition that he needed to appoint competent generals. However, the repeated defeats of his invasions of Canada had given Madison a more realistic view of his chances of victory. He was now desperate for peace with any semblance of honor, specifically without the loss of territory.
Meanwhile, (1) Britain's allies in the war against Napoleon (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) had fallen into bickering over how to redraw the map of Europe, (2) the restored French monarch, Louis XVIII, proved weak, unpopular, and likely to be overthrown, and (3) Britain (correctly) feared that Napoleon might be plotting an escape from Elba and return to power. This confluence of unexpected American victories and renewed European problems led to the third phase the war in which Britain recognized that it needed to extricate itself from the North American conflict and attend to problems closer to home.
What did the War Accomplish?
Peace discussions had been underway in Ghent (Belgium) for some time. Madison was determined to maintain the territorial integrity of the United States and refused to accept repeated British terms that violated this goal. Eventually, Britain's anxiety that its diplomatic situation in Europe was approaching a critical point led Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and Foreign Minister Castlereagh to accept Madison's terms. In a sense this was an American diplomatic victory since British forces occupied eastern Maine while the US controlled no British territory. However, the Treaty of Ghent did not address the American concerns that prompted the declaration of war: Trading rights of neutral powers and impressment. The terms were purely a return to the status quo ante.
In the diplomatic arena, the war changed Britain's perception of the US from a weak potential rival to a significant power that Britain needed to accommodate. This change came about from:
1. The strong performance of the US Navy against the world dominant naval power.
2. The victories of the US Army in the last months of the war and, especially, in the Battle of New Orleans which was fought after the Treaty was signed (but before the news crossed the Atlantic).
3. Realization that in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe, Britain had to reach an accommodation with the US in North America and on the seas.
Beyond the diplomatic arena, the war produced a major rethinking of US policies and priorities:
1. Contrary to Jeffersonian principles, Madison came to realize that a standing army and navy were essential to prevent or win future conflicts.
2. This military might required fiscal discipline, a steady stream of tax revenues, and a national bank (essentially Alexander Hamilton's financial system).
3. The semblance of victory led to the final collapse of Federalist Party and an unprecedented degree of national unity.
So, do I still think the war was a colossal mistake? In a word, yes; it was declared with entirely unrealistic goals and entirely inadequate preparation. However, it proved essential to establishing the US as a credible power and cleared the way for the expansion of the US westward by reaching an accommodation with Britain. I'm reminded of a quote in Walter Russell Mead's book, Special Providence, which he attributes to Otto Von Bismark: "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America." In the War of 1812, we were just plain dumb-lucky.
Note: There's plenty of material here to satisfy a real naval buff with descriptions of ships, sails, tactics, weapons, and battles. However, to us landlubbers who don't know a topgallant from a staysail, there is enough on the diplomacy and strategy of both sides to make the book worthwhile.