Veteran Washington Post military reporter Vogel (The Pentagon, 2007), returns with a brisk chronicle of the critical closing months of the War of 1812—specifically, the British attacks on Washington and Baltimore.
The experienced author knows how to write about the military and its human and martial conflicts, so the battle and strategy scenes have a clarity that surpasses what even the several maps provide. He begins in the summer of 1814 with the British planning their attack. They were eager for payback after the American invasion of Canada two years earlier. Vogel focuses on Rear Adm. George Cockburn—a figure he revisits throughout—who was especially intent on capturing and torching Washington. Vogel follows a number of other principals, too, among them Francis Scott Key, James Madison and James Monroe, Dolley Madison, Mary Pickersgill (who made the Star Spangled Banner flag) and numerous others. Vogel hopscotches around the terrain, showing us snapshots of the Royal Navy, the American defenses, British commanders, civilians, politicians and so on, creating in the process a colorful (and rarely sanguinary) mosaic of the events. He shows us the burning of the capital, but we also see the ambivalence some of the British expressed as they destroyed what they recognized as beautiful works of public architecture. Vogel examines the scramble to ready Baltimore for the next assault; we go inside Fort William McHenry (over which the Star Spangled Banner would fly the morning following the fierce British assault). Periodically, the author takes us to Ghent, where negotiators (among them, John Quincy Adams) were working to end the war.
A swift, vibrant account of the accidents, intricacies and insanities of war.