As a professor of history at the US Naval Academy, the director of its museum, and the Academy archivist, Hagan has had ample opportunity to examine the original documents that tell the story of the US Navy. Here, he demonstrates just how thoroughly he has taken advantage of his opportunities.
The US Navy began in 1775 when the Continental Congress voted to outfit a schooner and a sloop. But early successes on the seas soon induced Congress to expand the fleet--and inspired 11 of the 13 states to launch navies of their own. The early 19th century saw the development of "gunboat diplomacy," when the Navy was the instrument for advancing American nationalistic and commercial interests from the Barbary Coast to Sumatra. When he discusses the Civil War, Hagan is evenhanded: he praises the courageous David Farragut as well as the extraordinary Raphael Semmes, who rampaged from the Gulf of Mexico to the South China Sea, capturing 68 Union vessels. Before the turn of the century, the Navy had shifted its emphasis from hit-and-run tactics to battlefleets designed to control the seas through massive decisive engagements. By 1948, it had gained complete superiority over its rivals in Great Britain, Germany and Japan. Since the Vietnam War, however, Congress and the nation seem to have lost their interest in massive battlefleets; Hagan suggests that the Navy of the 21st century is likely to be scaled back to an almost solely defensive position, no longer advancing America's transoceanic interests. A solid, informative history for the nonspecialist.
Hagan is not a great stylist (he's no John Keegan), but he is clear and tells an interesting story.