Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two (count 'em) reviews in the Washington Times

Two nice reviews of Perilous Fight in the Washington Times:

1)  By Vice Adm. Robert F. Dunn
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 . . .

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review of PF in the Charleston Post and Courier

The Post and Courier logo

History of fledgling U.S. Navy enlightening

Sunday, March 13, 2011
PERILOUS FIGHT. By Stephen Budiansky. Knopf. 422 pages. $35.
The War of 1812 was an anomaly in American warfare. Unique is probably not too strong a word. Its aims and results fade in comparison with the struggles that happened in the half-centuries on either side of it.
Nonetheless, it is of much greater historical importance than simply being the source of our national anthem.
Stephen Budiansky, a military historian with a number of books to his credit, has captured this swashbuckling era to perfection. From the elegance of chivalry to the squalor of a sailor's life in the days of sail, he paints all of the pictures from the grand to the gruesome.
The corner of history he describes so completely lasted only three years, 1812-15, but some important milestones and precedences were set. It not only marked the birth of the U.S. Navy, but truly established the United States, for the first time, as an equal player on the world stage. It also was a good example of what we would now call "asymmetric warfare."
The war almost didn't happen. Half the country didn't want it. The Yankee Federalists wanted a navy, but because of more than $100 million in maritime trade, did not want to confront the British. The Jeffersonian Republicans were saber rattlers who railed against lost sovereignty but felt that the new nation couldn't afford the debt required for the establishment of a navy.
Some might consider this conflict to be the last throes of the Revolutionary War, but the Napoleonic Wars between France and England had a greater impact. The competing blockades, the seizing of enemy commerce and the scourge of privateers of all colors turned the Atlantic into a most inhospitable ocean.
It was the British practice of impressing American sailors to man their large fleet, however, that caused the most consternation. Although it had been going on since before the revolution, by the early 1800s, the British held thousands of American prisoners, including those in a prison ship anchored off Fort McHenry.
In 1809, Paul Hamilton of Charleston was appointed secretary of the Navy. Although he was completely inexperienced in affairs of the sea and, in fact, was eventually forced to resign in disgrace, he was one of the earliest proponents of employing our few frigates as lone raiders to harass both the naval and commercial vessels of Britain. It must be remembered that the British of this era considered the Americans on the whole to be an unsophisticated, even vulgar, rabble, and it was an unimaginable insult to lose frigate after frigate to the tiny American Navy.
Today, when we spend billions to maintain command and control of our forces, it is eye-opening to consider the autonomy these ship's captains had. They would go to sea for many months without ever having any connection to a command authority.
They had been provided with the broadest of guidance to hit and run and to avoid combat with clearly superior forces. One of them even wandered the Pacific seizing significant pieces of the British whaling fleet.
This is not a novel; it is a history, and an enlightening one at that. It would take only the smallest of embellishments to turn this into a novel, but it is a thoroughly entertaining read just as it is.
Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier, a retired engineer living in Hanahan

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 Evening Post Publishing Co..