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1812 by George C. Daughan


The Navy's War

by George C. Daughan

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-465-02046-1
Publisher: Basic

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.

Maritime disputes over impressments and free trade forced a reluctant Madison to ask Congress to declare war in 1812 against Great Britain. Presumptions on both sides—that the U.S. could easily invade and conquer Canada and that the Royal Navy would vanquish America’s woefully inadequate navy—proved erroneous. The antagonists signed a treaty three years later, quietly dropping the disagreements over sailors’ rights and sea-going commerce. Daughan (If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy—From the Revolution to the War of 1812, 2008) follows up his award-winning debut about the U.S. Navy’s birth with this story of its maturation. If the U.S. Navy, along with considerable assistance from privateers, didn’t win the War of 1812, it probably kept the nation from losing. The Great Lakes, coastal and blue-water exploits of outstanding officers like Isaac Hull, David Porter, Stephen Decatur and Oliver Hazard Perry earned new respect for America’s fleet; victories by the Essex, the Hornet and the Constitution (dubbed “Old Ironsides” after its triumph over the Guerriere) set off national celebrations. Daughan supplies just enough of the big picture—the dismal struggles of both armies, Napoleon’s off-stage machinations that determined so much of the war’s progress, the outcome of domestic political squabbles upon which the navy’s survival depended—to place the navy’s role in context, but he focuses on the personalities, ships and battles that prevented the British from suffocating the infant nation’s maritime ambitions. With each success, the navy demonstrated its value, shaming the politicians reluctant to fund it. After the war, writes the author, the navy became an integral part of the nation’s new defense strategy.

A smart salute to a defining moment in the history of the U.S. Navy.