IF BY SEA
Basic Books, 2008
The American Revolution-and thus the history of the United States-began not on land but on the sea. Paul Revere began his famous midnight ride not by jumping on a horse, but by scrambling into a skiff with two other brave patriots to cross Boston Harbor to Charlestown. Revere and his companions rowed with muffled oars to avoid capture by the British warships closely guarding the harbor. As they paddled silently, Revere's neighbor was flashing two lanterns from the belfry of Old North Church, signaling patriots in Charlestown that the redcoats were crossing the Charles River in longboats. In every major Revolutionary battle thereafter the sea would play a vital, if historically neglected, role. When the American colonies took up arms against Great Britain, they were confronting the greatest sea-power of the age. And it was during the War of Independence that the American Navy was born. But following the British naval model proved crushingly expensive, and the Founding Fathers fought viciously for decades over whether or not the fledgling republic truly needed a deep-water fleet. The debate ended only when the Federal Navy proved indispensable during the War of 1812.
Drawing on decades of prodigious research, historian George C. Daughan chronicles the embattled origins of the U.S. Navy. From the bloody and gunpowder-drenched battles fought by American sailors on lakes and high seas to the fierce rhetorical combat waged by the Founders in Congress, If By Sea charts the course by which the Navy became a vital and celebrated American institution.
"If By Sea... is a well-crafted military history of the American Revolution... with a special emphasis on the role played by naval forces... The book has many strengths. Daughan is entirely successful in providing requisite background and context for events and issues. His history of the Revolutionary War is so thorough that a novice would have no trouble following both the events and the subsequent policy arguments. In addition to providing a vivid narrative of the sea actions, Daughan outlines land campaigns to show how naval forces might have played a role. Moreover, this context includes insightful assessments of both American and British political and military decision makers. Another strength is the prose itself, which is lively, even gripping at times. Daughan's thoughtful introductions to the major historical characters quickly involve the reader in the narrative. Nor does Daughan limit himself to the usual suspects... Thoughtful and engrossing."
Craig L. Symonds (U.S. Naval Academy & bestselling author of Lincoln's Admirals), reviewing in The Journal of Southern History
"Not just a rigorous, steady-going chronological history, but also a cogent analysis of the genesis of a defense strategy."
"Daughan brings a long academic career and solid command of his sources to this provocative history of the origins of the U.S. Navy."
"This stout tome will probably stand for some time as the best single-volume history of the roots of the U.S. Navy."
"If By Sea by George C. Daughan covers the Navy's first forty years with authority, clarity, and detail. He puts the famous names--John Paul Jones, Oliver Hazard Perry--in context, while bringing others--including dozens of Revolutionary War figures, hitherto unknown to me--to light. He shows how the military, like any other large organization, lurches and learns over time, from blunders, missed opportunities and general snafu, until those moments when the right men are at headquarters and in the field, and everything gloriously clicks."
"This is a book for those who like their history braced by serious thinking--and spiced by action. George Daughan makes us realize just how complicated it was for Americans to acquire a navy--and keep one--for the first three decades of our national existence. Simultaneously he grips us with vivid narratives of what these mostly forgotten sailors accomplished."