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.
Daughan follows his award -wining If by Sea, about the American navy in the Revolutionary War, with a solidly researched, well-crafted account of U.S. sea power in the War of 1812. There is little new information on the U.S. Navy proper, because despite some notable ship-to-ship victories, the fleet was so small and so quickly driven from the seas. Daughan's achievement is contextualizing the effect of those victories on three levels. The navy's performance convinced critics that a strong navy was indispensable to its protection and did not threaten the Constitution. Second, the performances of individual warships generated increasing British respect, both in the Royal Navy and in the administration, for American abilities at sea. Over the previous century, British warships had come to assume superiority in single-ship actions. Such fights as Constitution versus Guerriere impelled rethinking the subject. Finally, the successes of American privateers against British shipping drove costs higher than the business community was willing to accept without protest. The treaty ending the war provided numerous unresolved grounds for renewed conflict. What kept the peace, Daughan argues provocatively, was America's postwar commitment to "a strong navy, an adequate professional army, and the financial reforms necessary to support them" in other words, an effective deterrent. 20 b&w illus.