On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy

Overview

In On Seas of Glory, the U.S. Navy meets a storyteller worthy of its noble history. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman gives a sweeping narrative of the service's illustrious past, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, filled with the ships that dominated the seas, equally titanic personalities, and the battles that made history.
Lehman profiles naval greats from John Paul Jones to William "Bull" Halsey, as well as the lesser-known sailors who have made the U.S. ...
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Overview

In On Seas of Glory, the U.S. Navy meets a storyteller worthy of its noble history. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman gives a sweeping narrative of the service's illustrious past, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, filled with the ships that dominated the seas, equally titanic personalities, and the battles that made history.
Lehman profiles naval greats from John Paul Jones to William "Bull" Halsey, as well as the lesser-known sailors who have made the U.S. Navy the mightiest in the world, using diaries, memoirs, and letters to reveal naval combat as though firsthand. He also highlights the warships that have dominated the seas of their day and the battles in which they fought -- illustrated by detailed maps, woodcuts, paintings, and never-before-published photographs.
With this chronicle of selfless sacrifice and awesome courage on the war-swept seas around the world, Lehman reminds us that the legends chronicled in these pages were real men and women, that the navy they fought for still sails, and that today their heroism is needed more than ever.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Walter Cronkite A fascinating Book.

John McLaughlin Extraordinary.

Henry A. Kissinger Fascinating, informative, and moving.

George F. Will A masterful execution of an inspired idea -- rather like the Inchon landing and other operations ably examined in these pages.

Publishers Weekly
A former secretary of the navy, Lehman (Command of the Seas and Making War) presents the epic story of the American navy from its origins during the American Revolution to the present. Purists looking for new details and a fresh approach will be disappointed, but Lehman did not intend to craft a definitive history of the navy. Rather, he has gleaned a variety of interesting stories of men, ships and battles and has woven a once over lightly approach to this massive subject. This is, simply put, old-fashioned drums and trumpets military writing. Lehman knows his subject, and his folksy writing style is easy to read and comprehend. There aren't any footnotes to his no-nonsense criticism of mistakes by admirals and the strategic and tactical problems resulting from political shortsightedness in times of peace. Lehman provides concise and penetrating biographies of naval officers from well-known men like Ernest King and John Paul Jones to relative unknowns like the mid-19th century's Uriah Levy (the first Jewish naval officer to achieve prominence). In addition to brief descriptions of naval battles, Lehman includes the role of technology in the rise of American naval power. Novice readers especially will find this an appealing introduction to a rich subject. (Oct.) Forecast: Lehman's background in addition to his service, he is the founding partner of an eponymous New York banking firm, and the chairman of the Princess Grace and OpSail foundations should lend a hook for magazine coverage and even further credibility to this effort. Also look for short, respectful reviews in major newspapers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bombastic title aside, an engaging if quirky history of the US Navy. Former naval aviator Lehman (Making War, 1992), who went on to become Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, is clearly a history buff. From his early chapters on, he mixes general history with thumbnail biographies of naval figures (beginning with the Revolution), not necessarily the most important. He then adds descriptions of battles and other incidents that strike his interest, and doesn't hesitate to express personal opinions. Despite impressive engagements, the Colonies' navy exerted little influence on the Revolution's outcome. Privateering (really legalized piracy) was another matter, requiring much of the British fleet to devote itself to protecting commerce and stirring English merchants to call for peace. Lehman feels historians give privateering insufficient attention as a major weapon in warfare and suggests that our navy could put it to use today against, say, Iraq or Iran. He agonizes over government neglect of the navy after the war of 1812, delights in the fireworks of the Civil War, agonizes over the sea force's decline afterward, delights in its rebirth at the end of the 19th century, and grumbles as it shrinks after WWI. He perks up, however, with WWII, describing with enthusiasm the war's politics, strategy, and epic battles, and pausing for technical details and biographies of significant naval figures (as well as lesser ones, such as his father). As the cold war begins, Lehman reveals his conservative credentials, fuming at restraints on naval action in Korea and Vietnam and the refusal to unleash our power in the face of Soviet subversion. A happy ending comes with the election of Reagan, anavalanche of money for the Navy, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. On Seas of Glory delves no deeper than the History Channel would, but its digressions, anecdotes, and prejudices make for an entertaining read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684871776
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 836,073
  • Product dimensions: 1.01 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Lehman, shown here while an aviator in the naval reserve, was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Ronald Reagan. He is the founding partner of J. F. Lehman & Company, and the chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation. He lives in Manhattan and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

The grandeur of the American naval tradition is best found in its people, fighting sailors, technical innovators and inspiring leaders. In turn, the physical embodiment of that spirit is to be found in great warships, and the people and ships together have shaped history in epic sea battles from the Revolution through the Cold War.

My exposure to naval persons aloft and alow, from history, to hearing the stories of my father's service in World War II, to my own many years as a naval reserve aviator, to my six years as Secretary of the Navy, has convinced me that those who have made their profession upon great waters in ships of war are deeply changed by the experience, and some in every era deeply change the experience for all those who follow. This has been true of those who have served only a few years as well as those who have devoted their lives to naval service.

The sea is utterly unforgiving of inattention, negligence or ineptitude. Add to this perpetual conflict with the elements the dimension of mortal combat, and we have a unique crucible. Through American history the Navy has drawn men of all types. Then it has put those men together in close quarters in wooden — and now steel — containers and sent them off for years at a time to deal with ferocious storms and deadly enemies. Those who return are still individuals, but common patterns of temperament are discernible. These patterns have shaped the service, and through it, America.

In my view, naval personalities fall into three general categories. There are the daring warriors who live for glory and for battle: John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Jr., and William B. Cushing come immediately to mind. Such men, as once was said in a fitness report on General Patton, "are invaluable in war but a disruptive influence in peacetime." Then there are sailors who are equally courageous but more prudent — less dramatic leaders in both war and peace. John Barry, David Farragut and James Forrestal would fall in this category. The last and largest category is made up of reluctant warriors who leave their civilian professions to go to sea in time of war. They bravely — and often brilliantly — do their duty, then like Cincinnatus return to civilian life. Because they do not stick around to achieve high rank, they are rarely celebrated in conventional accounts. But these officers and seamen are the largest source of naval greatness. Fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech, at the height of the battle in Macedonian, spoke for them all: "To give way to gloom, or to show fear would do no good, and might brand us with the name of cowards, and ensure certain defeat. Our only true philosophy, therefore, was to make the best of our situation, by fighting bravely and cheerfully."

As the subtitle of this book implies, the narrative is divided among stories about men, ships, and battles. There are in the traditions of the Army and the Air Force great and classic weapons that are a part of service history: the M-1 rifle, the Sherman tank, the P-51 Mustang, and the F-86 Saberjet, for example. But there is nothing quite the same as the relationship between seamen and their ships.

Sailors live for months and years inside their weapons. And their weapons last a very long time. Three of the original six great superfrigates built before 1800 were still in active service when the Civil War began. The battleship Wisconsin was nearly fifty years old when it went into combat in Desert Storm, and remains in the reserve fleet at this writing. Not unlike automobiles, buildings and airplanes, some rare warships achieve a perfect balance of efficiency and combat effectiveness — and beauty. Included here are stories of some of the most significant and unusual American warships, like Joshua Humphreys' superfrigates and the Iowa-class battleships, both near-perfect instruments of naval warfare.

There is also in the sea service — far and away the most superstitious of professions — a deeply held belief that there are certain lucky ships just as there are unlucky ships. I have thus tried to tell stories of both types: the lucky, like Fair American and Constitution, and the distinctly unlucky, like Chesapeake and Porter.

Naval shipbuilding today continues to benefit from the tradition of the great ships that are described in this book. It is a design philosophy formed from the hard lessons of those ships and their battles. Quite the opposite of the criticism by some that the Navy has always been resistant to change, the tradition of American naval shipbuilding is one of innovation. From Fair American through the superfrigates, the Monitors, the Dreadnoughts and nuclear aircraft carriers, American naval ships have led the world in speed, survivability and firepower. In recent years smaller American combatants have been attacked with mines, cruise missiles and enormous suicide bombs and have survived every attack. The tradition continues.

The final strand of the book is made up of tales of the battles that defined the Navy. There are many books about the most important naval battles in our history, and my list of battles is not intended to be definitive. I chose battles that I find of particular interest because they illustrate the flexibility, adaptiveness and ferocity of the American naval culture. There are some that would be on all lists — like the battles of Virginia Capes, New Orleans and Midway — and others that are little known, like those of Valcour Island and Ironbottom Sound.

A word of warning to the reader. This book is not yet another survey history of the U.S. Navy. It is a selection of stories on people, ships and battles of the American Navy set in historical context. So while the reader can expect to find here a chronological history of American naval power from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War, the book is not a comprehensive canon. It is deliberately selective and subjective. The list of whom and what I find to be of significance leaves out much that would demand inclusion in an official history or biographical dictionary, and includes much that would never make it into the same.

My opinions also frequently differ from the opinions of many professional historians, and the historians of the Navy itself. Some of my judgments in the book, such as on the importance of privateers in winning American independence, or of gunboats to Union naval victory, or of lessons from the Vietnam War, are not shared by many authoritative texts.

It is hoped that these accounts of great people, in their ships, during their battles, set in the context of the flow of naval history, will give the reader an understanding of America's naval tradition. Thomas Jefferson disliked the Navy because he thought it was elitist. Through much of its history it was; punctilious courtesy, tailored uniforms and silver napkin rings have coexisted at times with bigotry like that suffered by the Jewish Commodore Uriah Philips Levy, and racial inequality that endured even into the 1970s. From its founding until 1900, only one percent of midshipmen at the Naval Academy were from working class families. But a tradition of elitism based on real merit is the true legacy of the story told here. The genuine color-blindness of the naval service today is more a part of naval tradition than the practice of discrimination that at one time the Navy shared with the rest of the nation.

There is another tradition: of aggressive forward strategy, and ferocious prosecution of war once started. It is what Alfred Thayer Mahan described in his writings as offensive defense. The greatest victories of this naval tradition have been not the wars recounted here but the wars that were never fought because American seapower was so strong that to challenge it would be foolhardy. If we let it, the strength of that tradition will continue to underwrite peace in our land.

Copyright © 2001 by John Lehman

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

CHAPTER I THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

Nicholas Biddle; H.M.S. Jersey; John Barry; John Paul Jones; Valcour Island; Francois de Grasse; Virginia Capes

CHAPTER II THE PRIVATEERS

The Revolution; Congress; Fair American; George Lehman; Dr. Drowne; Stephen Girard; The War of 1812; General Armstrong and Andrew Jackson; The Civil War

CHAPTER III WAR WITH THE BERBER PASHAS AND REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE

Joshua Humphreys; Horatio Nelson; Subscription Ships; Essex; Stephen Decatur Jr.

CHAPTER IV THE WAR OF 1812

Macedonian; Samuel Leech; Uriah Philips Levy; Joshua Barney; Charles Ball; Lake Erie; Lake Champlain and Thomas MacDonough

CHAPTER V THE CIVIL WAR

David Farragut; New Orleans; Mobile Bay; Commodore Class Gunboats; Joseph V. Kelly; William B. Cushing; Raphael Semmes and Confederate Raiders; Alabama

CHAPTER VI MANIFEST DESTINY: THE "NEW NAVY"

Alfred Thayer Mahan; Theodore Roosevelt; The Spanish-American War, Olympia and Manila Bay; Franklin Roosevelt; The First World War; War Plan Orange

CHAPTER VII WORLD WAR II

Pearl Harbor; The North Atlantic; Chester W. Nimitz; Ernest J. King; Midway; U.S.S. Yorktown; Guadalcanal; Alvin Kernan; Normandy; Andrew Jackson Higgins; Leyte Gulf; LCSs; John Lehman, Sr; U.S.S. William D. Porter; Okinawa; V-J Day

CHAPTER VIII THE COLD WAR

James V. Forrestal; Korea; Inchon; Hyman G. Rickover; Submariners; Grace Hopper; Vietnam; James Elliot Williams; Yankee Station

CHAPTER IX THE 600-SHIP NAVY AND COLD WAR VICTORY

James L. Holloway III; Nimitz Class; The Falklands War; John Lehman; Iowa Class Battleships; Beirut; Tripoli; Grenada; Tim Howard; The End of the Cold War

Epilogue

Bibliography

Acknowledgements

Index

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Introduction

Introduction

The grandeur of the American naval tradition is best found in its people, fighting sailors, technical innovators and inspiring leaders. In turn, the physical embodiment of that spirit is to be found in great warships, and the people and ships together have shaped history in epic sea battles from the Revolution through the Cold War.

My exposure to naval persons aloft and alow, from history, to hearing the stories of my father's service in World War II, to my own many years as a naval reserve aviator, to my six years as Secretary of the Navy, has convinced me that those who have made their profession upon great waters in ships of war are deeply changed by the experience, and some in every era deeply change the experience for all those who follow. This has been true of those who have served only a few years as well as those who have devoted their lives to naval service.

The sea is utterly unforgiving of inattention, negligence or ineptitude. Add to this perpetual conflict with the elements the dimension of mortal combat, and we have a unique crucible. Through American history the Navy has drawn men of all types. Then it has put those men together in close quarters in wooden -- and now steel -- containers and sent them off for years at a time to deal with ferocious storms and deadly enemies. Those who return are still individuals, but common patterns of temperament are discernible. These patterns have shaped the service, and through it, America.

In my view, naval personalities fall into three general categories. There are the daring warriors who live for glory and for battle: John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Jr., and William B. Cushing come immediately to mind. Such men, as once was said in a fitness report on General Patton, "are invaluable in war but a disruptive influence in peacetime." Then there are sailors who are equally courageous but more prudent -- less dramatic leaders in both war and peace. John Barry, David Farragut and James Forrestal would fall in this category. The last and largest category is made up of reluctant warriors who leave their civilian professions to go to sea in time of war. They bravely -- and often brilliantly -- do their duty, then like Cincinnatus return to civilian life. Because they do not stick around to achieve high rank, they are rarely celebrated in conventional accounts. But these officers and seamen are the largest source of naval greatness. Fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech, at the height of the battle in Macedonian, spoke for them all: "To give way to gloom, or to show fear would do no good, and might brand us with the name of cowards, and ensure certain defeat. Our only true philosophy, therefore, was to make the best of our situation, by fighting bravely and cheerfully."

As the subtitle of this book implies, the narrative is divided among stories about men, ships, and battles. There are in the traditions of the Army and the Air Force great and classic weapons that are a part of service history: the M-1 rifle, the Sherman tank, the P-51 Mustang, and the F-86 Saberjet, for example. But there is nothing quite the same as the relationship between seamen and their ships.

Sailors live for months and years inside their weapons. And their weapons last a very long time. Three of the original six great superfrigates built before 1800 were still in active service when the Civil War began. The battleship Wisconsin was nearly fifty years old when it went into combat in Desert Storm, and remains in the reserve fleet at this writing. Not unlike automobiles, buildings and airplanes, some rare warships achieve a perfect balance of efficiency and combat effectiveness -- and beauty. Included here are stories of some of the most significant and unusual American warships, like Joshua Humphreys' superfrigates and the Iowa-class battleships, both near-perfect instruments of naval warfare.

There is also in the sea service -- far and away the most superstitious of professions -- a deeply held belief that there are certain lucky ships just as there are unlucky ships. I have thus tried to tell stories of both types: the lucky, like Fair American and Constitution, and the distinctly unlucky, like Chesapeake and Porter.

Naval shipbuilding today continues to benefit from the tradition of the great ships that are described in this book. It is a design philosophy formed from the hard lessons of those ships and their battles. Quite the opposite of the criticism by some that the Navy has always been resistant to change, the tradition of American naval shipbuilding is one of innovation. From Fair American through the superfrigates, the Monitors, the Dreadnoughts and nuclear aircraft carriers, American naval ships have led the world in speed, survivability and firepower. In recent years smaller American combatants have been attacked with mines, cruise missiles and enormous suicide bombs and have survived every attack. The tradition continues.

The final strand of the book is made up of tales of the battles that defined the Navy. There are many books about the most important naval battles in our history, and my list of battles is not intended to be definitive. I chose battles that I find of particular interest because they illustrate the flexibility, adaptiveness and ferocity of the American naval culture. There are some that would be on all lists -- like the battles of Virginia Capes, New Orleans and Midway -- and others that are little known, like those of Valcour Island and Ironbottom Sound.

A word of warning to the reader. This book is not yet another survey history of the U.S. Navy. It is a selection of stories on people, ships and battles of the American Navy set in historical context. So while the reader can expect to find here a chronological history of American naval power from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War, the book is not a comprehensive canon. It is deliberately selective and subjective. The list of whom and what I find to be of significance leaves out much that would demand inclusion in an official history or biographical dictionary, and includes much that would never make it into the same.

My opinions also frequently differ from the opinions of many professional historians, and the historians of the Navy itself. Some of my judgments in the book, such as on the importance of privateers in winning American independence, or of gunboats to Union naval victory, or of lessons from the Vietnam War, are not shared by many authoritative texts.

It is hoped that these accounts of great people, in their ships, during their battles, set in the context of the flow of naval history, will give the reader an understanding of America's naval tradition. Thomas Jefferson disliked the Navy because he thought it was elitist. Through much of its history it was; punctilious courtesy, tailored uniforms and silver napkin rings have coexisted at times with bigotry like that suffered by the Jewish Commodore Uriah Philips Levy, and racial inequality that endured even into the 1970s. From its founding until 1900, only one percent of midshipmen at the Naval Academy were from working class families. But a tradition of elitism based on real merit is the true legacy of the story told here. The genuine color-blindness of the naval service today is more a part of naval tradition than the practice of discrimination that at one time the Navy shared with the rest of the nation.

There is another tradition: of aggressive forward strategy, and ferocious prosecution of war once started. It is what Alfred Thayer Mahan described in his writings as offensive defense. The greatest victories of this naval tradition have been not the wars recounted here but the wars that were never fought because American seapower was so strong that to challenge it would be foolhardy. If we let it, the strength of that tradition will continue to underwrite peace in our land.

Copyright © 2001 by John Lehman

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