PERILOUS FIGHT: AMERICA’S INTREPID WAR WITH BRITAIN ON THE HIGH SEAS, 1812-1815
By Stephen BudianskyAlfred A. Knopf, $35, 368 pages, illustrated
The bicentennial of the War of 1812 will soon be upon us. Celebrations, observances and re-creations of all sorts will take place from Boston to New Orleans and from the Chesapeake Bay to Washington and Baltimore and on to Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes. “Perilous Fight” is an outstanding introduction to these celebrations of a war in which, as one scholar has noted, “Everyone thinks they won.”
The Americans scored tremendous frigate-versus-frigate victories that cheered even Americans who were against the war and established standards and traditions for the U.S. Navy that have lasted to this day. The British burned the American capital and, after the first year, bottled up those bothersome American frigates and choked down on American commerce with a close blockade of Atlantic ports.
The British Canadians repelled several American invasion attempts by land and preserved their territory pretty much as we know it today. All three sides were indeed successful, in their own way.
Stephen Budiansky doesn’t cover the whole war. As his subtitle declares, he concentrates on events on the high seas, but of particular interest to readers, he also includes the Chesapeake Campaign waged by Rear Adm. Sir George Cockburn of the Royal Navy, a campaign that terrorized settlements from below Tangier Island to Havre de Grace, Md., and led to the burning of Washington and the bombardment of Baltimore.
As the story unfolds, the reader is almost mesmerized by the awesome detail and clear prose. This book is a joy to read for the interested reader of history, the amateur historian, and at the same time a worthy reference for scholars. continue reading . . .
2) "The War of 1812 was a no-win war. American invasions of Canada collapsed, British invasions of the United States foundered, and brilliant victories by single American frigates could not offset the punishing effects of the British blockade. The withering defeat Andrew Jackson inflicted upon veteran British troops trying to capture New Orleans occurred weeks after the signing of a peace treaty and so in a way was irrelevant, though it did ensure Jackson’s later bid for the presidency.
"In “Perilous Fight,” Stephen Budiansky covers the entire war, including its preludes and causes, but concentrates on the naval aspects. His title comes, of course, from America’s national anthem, composed during that war. continue reading . . .