1812: The Navy's War

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When war broke out between Britain and the United States in 1812, America’s prospects looked dismal. British naval aggression made it clear that the ocean would be the war’s primary battlefield—but America’s navy, only twenty ships strong, faced a practiced British fleet of more than a thousand men-of-war. Still, through a combination of nautical deftness and sheer bravado, a handful of heroic captains and their stalwart crews managed to turn the tide of the war, besting the haughty skippers of the mighty Royal ...

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1812: The Navy's War

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When war broke out between Britain and the United States in 1812, America’s prospects looked dismal. British naval aggression made it clear that the ocean would be the war’s primary battlefield—but America’s navy, only twenty ships strong, faced a practiced British fleet of more than a thousand men-of-war. Still, through a combination of nautical deftness and sheer bravado, a handful of heroic captains and their stalwart crews managed to turn the tide of the war, besting the haughty skippers of the mighty Royal Navy and cementing America’s newly won independence. In 1812: The Navy’s War, award-winning naval historian George C. Daughan draws on a wealth of archival research to tell the amazing story of this tiny, battletested team of Americans and their improbable yet pivotal victories. Daughan thrillingly details the pitched naval battles that shaped the war, and shows how these clashes proved the navy’s vital role in preserving the nation’s interests and independence. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Edward L. Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World
“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.”

Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
“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.”

Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense
“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.”

Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty!: The American Revolution
“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.”

Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789
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.”

Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University
“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!”

Publishers Weekly
“A solidly researched, well-crafted account of U.S. sea power in the War of 1812.... Daughan’s achievement is contextualizing the effect of [the U.S. Navy’s] victories.... What kept the peace, Daughan argues provocatively, was America’s post-war commitment to ‘a strong navy, an adequate professional army, and the financial reforms necessary to support them’—in other words, an effective deterrent.”
Kirkus Reviews
“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.”

Military History
“[A] finely researched volume.... 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.”

San Francisco Book Review
“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.”

Charleston Post and Courier
“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.”

Library Journal
“[A] compelling sequel to his award-winning If By Sea.... Daughan offers a rousing retelling of the war, strongly recommended for general readers, high school students, and lower classmen.”

Boston Globe
“[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.... 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.”

The Washington Independent Review of Books
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.”

Tucson Citizen
“[Daughan] 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.”

The Weekly Standard
“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 Providence Journal
“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 Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“[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.”

Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, Washington Times
“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 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.”

American Spirit
“The fledgling U.S. Navy had advantages that would surprise, infuriate and ultimately impress the British, as renowned naval military historian George C. Daughan wonderfully illustrates in his new work, 1812: The Navy’s War.... Daughan’s love of the sea and naval history is infectious.... 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.”

Roanoke Times
“[1812] should become a standard text for the serious history student.... This book will do well to remind us, in times of danger and uncertainty, of how welcome a bulwark is a powerful navy.”

The Wall Street Journal
“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.... 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.”

San Antonio Express-News
“A masterful, spellbinding account of maritime battles that pitted a fledgling republic’s 20-ship Navy against an experienced British fleet of more than 1,000 men-of-war.... [Daughan] expertly walks his readers through the build-up for war and its ensuing battles, keeping the action flowing with vivid descriptions of events that capture the imagination.... 1812: The Navy’s War is a mesmerizing tale.”

Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books
“Daughan does a good job recounting the battles on land, but he comes into his own in describing the battles that took place on water. His accounts of the single-ship duels in which the Americans prevailed—the Constitution versus the Guerriere, the Wasp versus the Frolic, the United States versus the Macedonian, and so on—are especially exciting.”

American Heritage
“[Daughan] deftly situates the naval story within the broader contours of the war, exploring diplomacy, the dustup over impressment, the Napoleonic wars, and the ill-fated Canadian campaigns. Much of the book’s originality lies in its conclusion. Historians have long recognized the overmatched Navy’s exploits against the British colossus—a David-versus-Goliath contest—but they have tended to denigrate its strategic importance. Daughan argues that the naval captains’ bravery helped bring about a decisive change in European attitudes toward the United States.”

“This gripping history details how a 20-ship American Navy upset the goals of Imperial Britain, which commanded the seas with a fleet of more than a thousand men-of-war.”

Publishers Weekly
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. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In a compelling sequel to his award-winning If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy—from the Revolution to the War of 1812, Daughan narrates the story of the War of 1812, focusing on the tiny, 20-ship U.S. Navy. In doing so, from the poorly conducted chase of HMS Belvidera by Commodore John Rogers in June 1812 to the capture of HMS Penguin by USS Hornet in March 1815, Daughan also traces the development of the U.S. Navy. He concludes with a brief discussion of Commodore Stephen Decatur's successful ventures against the Barbary pirates in late 1815. Daughan also analyzes the land war, from the fiasco of the invasion of Canada and the embarrassment of the burning of Washington, DC, to the final victory at New Orleans a couple of weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. VERDICT Albeit with nothing new to present, Daughan offers a rousing retelling of the war, strongly recommended for general readers, high school students, and lower classmen.—David Lee Poremba, Windermere, FL
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Maritime disputes over impressments and free trade forced a reluctant Madison to ask Congress to declare war in 1812 against Great Britain. Presumptions on both sides—that the U.S. could easily invade and conquer Canada and that the Royal Navy would vanquish America's woefully inadequate navy—proved erroneous. The antagonists signed a treaty three years later, quietly dropping the disagreements over sailors' rights and sea-going commerce. Daughan (If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy—From the Revolution to the War of 1812, 2008) follows up his award-winning debut about the U.S. Navy's birth with this story of its maturation. If the U.S. Navy, along with considerable assistance from privateers, didn't win the War of 1812, it probably kept the nation from losing. The Great Lakes, coastal and blue-water exploits of outstanding officers like Isaac Hull, David Porter, Stephen Decatur and Oliver Hazard Perry earned new respect for America's fleet; victories by theEssex,theHornet and theConstitution(dubbed "Old Ironsides" after its triumph over theGuerriere) set off national celebrations. Daughan supplies just enough of the big picture—the dismal struggles of both armies, Napoleon's off-stage machinations that determined so much of the war's progress, the outcome of domestic political squabbles upon which the navy's survival depended—to place the navy's role in context, but he focuses on the personalities, ships and battles that prevented the British from suffocating the infant nation's maritime ambitions. With each success, the navy demonstrated its value, shaming the politicians reluctant to fund it. After the war, writes the author, the navy became an integral part of the nation's new defense strategy.

A smart salute to a defining moment in the history of the U.S. Navy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465085996
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 267,851
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

George C. Daughan holds a Ph.D. in American history and government from Harvard University and won the 2008 Samuel Eliot Morison Award for his previous book, If By Sea. He resides in Portland, Maine.

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Table of Contents

1. Road to War
2. Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights
3. Jefferson’s Embargo and the Slide Toward War
4. Madison’s Strategy
5. The United States Declares War
6. Blue-Water Victories
7. The Constitution and the Guerriere
8. Ripe Apples and Bitter Fruit: The Canadian Invasion
9. Canadian Disasters Accumulate
10. More Blue-Water Victories
11. The Constitution and the Java
12. A Sea Change
13. Napoleon and Alexander
14. The Canadian Invasion Resumes
15. The Chesapeake and the Shannon
16. Raids in Chesapeake Bay
17. Oliver Hazard Perry
18. Attack on Montreal
19. The War at Sea in 1813
20. The Allies and Napoleon
21. British and American War Plans
22. The British Blockade
23. The Essex
24. Burning Washington
25. The War at Sea Continues in 1814
26. Negotiations Begin at Ghent
27. Baltimore
28. Plattsburgh
29. A Peace Treaty
30. The Hartford Convention
31. New Orleans
32. An Amazing Change
33. A New Era
34. From Temporary Armistice to Lasting Peace: The Importance of the War

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    Good read about the war with a focus on the navy

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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