1812: The Navy's War
Basic Books, October 2011
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, America's prospects looked dismal. It was clear that the primary battlefield would be the open ocean - but America's war fleet, only twenty ships strong, faced a practiced British navy of more than a thousand men-of-war. Still, through a combination of nautical deftness and sheer bravado, the American navy managed to take the fight to the British and turn the tide of the war: on the Great Lakes, in the Atlantic, and even in the eastern Pacific.
In 1812: The Navy's War, prizewinning historian George C. Daughan tells the thrilling story of how a handful of heroic captains and their stalwart crews overcame spectacular odds to lead the country to victory against the world's greatest imperial power. A stunning contribution to military and national history, 1812: The Navy's War is the first complete account in more than a century of how the U.S. Navy rescued the fledgling nation and secured America's future.
"[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. The reader who is curious as to just what the coming bicentennial commemorates will find that curiosity thoroughly satisfied. 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...
"With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 soon upon us, a plethora of books on the subject are in the market. Some treat individual actions or single theaters. Some deal with politics, and some deal with diplomacy, but 1812: The Navy's War deals with it all. The full panoply is described in detail with charts, diagrams and references enough to please the most demanding scholar, yet it is pleasantly readable to amateur and professional alike. In the end, the reader will know full well why some scholars call the War of 1812, "America's Second War of Independence"....Mr. Daughan sums it up nicely in the book's Chapter 34: 'America's newfound unity and her commitment to a strong military forced Europe to take her more seriously. She was an incipient power that Britain and other European imperialists could no longer treat lightly'....Other authors in the recent past have covered various aspects of the War of 1812, but George C. Daughan has put it all together in one well-written and most interesting volume. It's a book hard to put down and is most highly recommended as a good read. Its coverage of an important time in the history of the United States will make it a worthy reference for years to come."
Vice Adm. Robert F. Dunn, The Washington Times
"[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 Baton Rouge Advocate
"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."
The Weekly Standard
"This finely researched volume...unravels the story of a nation that, without allies, sundered by the partisan politics and sporting a military establishment that barely qualified as third-rate, managed to hold its own against the greatest power of the day....Complementing the well-written and exciting narratives of naval action are concise analyses of the Americans' abortive land campaigns along the Canadian border (necessary toward a full understanding of hte conflict along the Great Lakes), the burning of Washington and the final redemption of the U.S. military at New Orleans....Readers are unlikely to find a more engaging or stirring recounting of the conflict and its place in the rebirth of the U.S. Navy."
This vivid edition carries un back to the era of Madison when our nation quibbled over whether or not having a navy was a waste of money. Daughan depicts the political climate influenced by the Napoleonic wars, British impressment, and impreialistic ambitions for Canada's porous borders which blended into the tinder box that ignited our second war with England....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."
San Francisco Book Review
"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!"
Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University
"In 1812: The Navy's War, George C. Daughan does a terrific job of explaining [the war's] origins in the British policy of boarding United States merchant ships and impressing sailors, and in its general treatment of America as an upstart challenging its supremacy on the high seas... With painstaking attention to detail and the ability to make complex naval confrontations understandable, even gripping, Daughan pursues the war north to the St. Lawrence River, east to the British coast where American privateers harassed British shipping, and south to New Orleans."
The Providence Journal
"Based on 15-plus years of archival research of the era, [1812: The Navy's War] incorporates political, diplomatic, economic, and military history to examine ways that the War of 1812 changed the shape of the world. Daughan examines how the War of 1812 - dubbed our "Second War of Independence" - led to the development of a strong military, renewed America's confidence as a unified nation, and forced Europe to recognize the country as a strong power."
"Daughan, author of several previous books including "If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy - From the Revolution to the War of 1812," 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 breathe life into this defining moment of our national history."
"Scores of books on the American Revolution, the Civil War, the two World Wars, and the Vietnam War cross our desk each year. But a history of the War of 1812 is a rarity, yet as author George C. Daughan writes, it 'changed the shape of the world.' Given that its bicentennial is next year, expect to hear a great deal more about this war that, unlike most of the others, concentrated on naval forces much more than infantry. In fact, Daughan argues, the War of 1812 was not only waged -- but won -- on the high seas and caused Britain to develop newfound respect for the United States. Few if any would give odds to America at the beginning of the war, with its puny 20 ships against Britain's fleet of more than 1,000 men-of-war. The author credits America's victory to a mixture of "keen strategizing, nautical deftness, and sheer bravado...."
"In his new book, George Daughan provides vivid and detailed recreations of the U.S. navy's significant battles during the War of 1812. In an era when the British Navy supposedly ruled the world, the U.S. navy successfully challenged British supremacy....1812: The Navy's War is an important, well-researched and timely book... next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812... which scholars and lay persons alike will enjoy for its descriptions of the battles and Daughan's analysis of the domestic and international dimensions of the war....
At first blush, the War of 1812 looked like a waste of blood and treasure. However, Daughan convincingly argues that the navy's performance, a bipartisan belief that the U.S. needed a permanent defense capability, and British Foreign Secretary Castlereagh's realpolitik calculations led to a lasting peace between the United States and Great Britain. Castlereagh realized that the United States could no longer be pushed around, and the impressments and free trade disputes quietly disappeared.
Colorful descriptions of the battles, the American sailors such as Captain Stephen Decatur and Commodores William Bainbridge and Oliver Perry who waged them, as well as the famous ships they commanded such as the U.S. Constitution, dominate this book. The glossary of naval terms that Daughan included at the end of the book - I finally know what a jib and a mizzenmast really are - helped a landlubber like me understand their tactics and really brought long-ago battles, in particular the Constitution versus the H.M.S. Java, to life. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in (re)learning about the 'Second War for American Independence.'"
Washington Independent Review of Books
"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...
Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
"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."
Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty!: The American Revolution
"In this vitally important and extraordinarily well researched work, award-winning historian George Daughan demonstrates the often overlooked impact of the 20 ship U.S. Navy's performance against the 1,000 ship British Navy in the War of 1812. Daughan makes a compelling case that the Navy's performance in the war forced Europe to take the U.S. more seriously, initiated a fundamental change in the British-American relationship, and enabled us to maintain a robust Navy even in peacetime...
Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense
"Awarded the Samuel Eliot Morrison Award in 2008 for his previous book, If By Sea, 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."
Charleston Post and Courier
"In a compelling sequel to his award-winning If By Sea...Daughan offers a rousing retelling of the war, strongly recommended for general readers..."
"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...
"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...
Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
"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."
Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
"George Daughan's new "1812: The Navy's War"... is much more than the title suggests. 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. The virtues of the war for America, Mr. Daughan suggests, were actually more civic than strategic. Madison assiduously conducted the war within the confines of the Constitution, guided by the strict republican principles that he championed. He immeasurably strengthened American democracy by avoiding any increase in presidential power and resisting the temptation to crush his opponents through the use of sedition laws. The president's policy of depending on militia forces raised locally would lead, in the postwar period, to a relaxation of property qualifications for voters, thus expanding the electorate.
Although the U.S. Navy could not match the British, it emerged from the war having won widespread respect for what it did achieve. Mr. Daughan argues that America's naval victories led to a changed British attitude toward the United States after 1815. In the wake of the war, he writes, 'the new unity and strength of the republic freed her for a century from European entanglements and allowed her people to prosper in spite of the vicissitudes that would continue to challenge her.'
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. Perhaps we can conclude that it really was a war in which all sides gained something significant."
John B. Hattendorf, The Wall Street Journal
"[T]hrilling... A tiny team of battle-tested American commanders, seamen, and privateers took on the greatest Naval power of the day, and won time and again epic sea battles that still stir the imagination. This is a book not to be missed!"
" should become a standard text for the serious history student... The soldiers who stood firm against the British squadron bombarding Fort McHenry..., the sailors who whipped formidable adversaries on Lake Champlain and Lake Erie... gave us a mark to measure all future actions by. And this book will do well to remind us, in times of danger and uncertainty, of how welcome a bulwark is a powerful navy."
"Daughan's love of the sea and naval history is infectious. The book's glossary helps readers understand nautical terms, but the detail and clarity of his writing allow readers to get the gist of the action without having to understand all the nuances of sailing ships. 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."
"Daughan is a master of evocative set-pieces (no history buff will want to miss his account of the Constitution v.s the Java, which actually manages to out-do the fictional version in Patrick O'Brian's The Fortunes of War), thrilling battle-narratives, and pithy exposition, but he's also adept at the broader scene-setting so many accounts of the this war either lack or overdo. This volume supercedes all other accounts of the War of 1812, even, I'm melancholy to observe, Pierre Berton's great two-volume work from a few decades ago, and it's the single best work of history I read all year."
Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly