Warship under Sail: The USS Decatur in the Pacific West

Overview

Ordered to join the Pacific Squadron in 1854, the sloop of war Decatur sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, through the Strait of Magellan to Valparaiso, Honolulu, and Puget Sound, then on to San Francisco, Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, while serving in the Pacific until 1859, the eve of the Civil War. Historian Lorraine McConaghy presents the ship, its officers, and its crew in a vigorous, keenly rendered case study that illuminates the forces shaping America's antebellum navy and foreign policy in the Pacific, ...

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Overview

Ordered to join the Pacific Squadron in 1854, the sloop of war Decatur sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, through the Strait of Magellan to Valparaiso, Honolulu, and Puget Sound, then on to San Francisco, Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, while serving in the Pacific until 1859, the eve of the Civil War. Historian Lorraine McConaghy presents the ship, its officers, and its crew in a vigorous, keenly rendered case study that illuminates the forces shaping America's antebellum navy and foreign policy in the Pacific, from Vancouver Island to Tierra del Fuego.

One of only five ships in the squadron, the Decatur participated in numerous imperial adventures in the Far West, enforcing treaties, fighting Indians, suppressing vigilantes, and protecting commerce. With its graceful lines and towering white canvas sails, the ship patrolled the sandy border between ocean and land.

Warship under Sail focuses on four episodes in the Decatur's Pacific Squadron mission: the harrowing journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan; a Seattle war story that contested American treaties and settlements; participation with other squadron ships on a U.S. State Department mission to Nicaragua; and more than a year spent anchored off Panama as a hospital ship. In a period of five years, more than 300 men lived aboard ship, leaving a rich record of logbooks, medical and punishment records, correspondence, personal journals, and drawings. Lorraine McConaghy has mined these records to offer a compelling social history of a warship under sail. Her research adds immeasurably to our understanding of the lives of ordinary men at sea and American expansionism in the antebellum Pacific West.

Listen to Lorraine McConaghy talk about the book:

http://www.spl.org/default.asp?pageID=collection_podcasts

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Northern Mariner

The U.S. Navy of the 1850s is a fascinating subject in itself, but it has never been so well integrated into the broader political, social, and cultural history of the antebellum United States.... Warship Under Sail illuminates the contradictions and interactions that characterize this period of American expansion. It should, therefore, be read not only by military and maritime historians, but also by scholars interested in the American West, antebellum culture, politics, and imperialism.

Sea History

… this bargain-priced book is simultaneously worthy of coffee tables, research desks, and library collections…. While not a pretty picture, it reveals life aboard a warship at the end of the era of sail.

The Lone Star Review

This is an excellent book for those who are interested in naval history and the Pacific Northwest in the 1850's.

Pacific Northwest Quarterly

She situates her study at the intersection of two growing fields of historical interest, 19th century maritime culture and the United States in the world, and makes a notable contribution to both, as well as to our understanding of the navy in the making of the Pacific Northwest.

The Grog Ration

The richness of detail regarding the everyday life of a mid-nineteenth century sailor is undoubtedly the book's greatest strength but, McConaghy's skillful ability to bring this sailing adventure to life is equally fascinating, fun, and well, just highly entertaining.

The Journal of Military History

This is a marvelous book, deserving of high praise.

International Journal of Maritime History

Warship Under Sail is an impressive piece of scholarship that provides an unsparing account of the brutality of naval life…. It was a difficult time, and McConaghy has captured the debilitating tedium and the compounded ghastliness of it all without ever succumbing to the seductive scent of salt breezes or the romance of billowed sail.

Shavings

No matter what your background, Lorraine McConaghy's extensive research casts a new light on local and national history in the era before the Civil War while providing an intimate look at life aboard a sailing warship. It is an engrossing read that is well worth your time.

Seattle Times

McConaghy emphatically sees all the Decatur's theaters of action through the prism of its daily routines and disruptions of routine... By concentrating on the foreground with such gusto, she gives you an extraordinarily vivid idea of how men under pressures of danger, drink and disease (syphilis was rampant) strived to create order out of chaos.

Crosscut.com

Warship Under Sail recounts the Decatur's exploits during several years of voyages in the Pacific, but is bound to join the most important works to examine Seattle's earliest history.... a fascinating—and factually correct—tale that transcends the more simplistic versions of the city's past.

Reference and Book News

This is a rich resource, both for 19th-century American politics and the human side of ship life.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Lorraine McConaghy is the historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction1. Young America on the Pacific: "The Sailor of Manifest Destiny Views"2. The Decatur in the Old Navy: "To Command Our Own Seas and Coasts"3. Boston: Getting Under Way4. Episode 1. Through the Strait of Magellan: "Off to Californio!"5. Episode 2. Seattle: "Down Came the Indians, Like so Many Demons" 6. San Francisco: "This Reckless Life"7. Episode 3. Nicaragua: "Seeing the Elephant"8. Episode 4. Panama: "All the Subtle Demonisms of Life and Thought"9. The Civil War and BeyondAbbreviationsNotesBibliographyIndex

University of Washington Press

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