“An engrossing narrative history of a conflict that few today know much about.” BookPage.com
“Interesting, informative” Booklist
“Howard's book makes no effort to be a comprehensive account of the war. Instead, he tends to select particular moments for detailed and intimate – you-are-there sorts – of descriptions of scenes or events.” Gordon Wood, The New York Review of Books
“Hugh Howard has turned the least known and understood war in American history into a Technicolor, wide-screen epic of thrilling naval battles, brutal backwoods skirmishes, villainous intrigues, and stirring heroism. Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War moves smoothly between the White House, New Orleans, and the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake, and the waters off New England. Thanks to Howard's prodigious research, fine eye for the telling detail, and vivid prose, the War of 1812 seems as contemporary and compelling as yesterday's battlefield dispatches from the Middle East.” Thurston Clarke, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days that Inspired America
“Hugh Howard provides us with vividly written accounts of some of the more dramatic highlights of the War of 1812. Readers with particular interests in the Chesapeake Bay campaigns of 1814 will find much to enjoy here.” Professor J.C.A. Stagg, editor of The Papers of James Madison
“Hugh Howard tackles the history of a war that is incomprehensible in the modern sense of warfare and renders it understandable, giving a fascinating and engaging account of the people and events involved in America's first war. Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War will add enormously to public understanding of the War of 1812.” Michael Quinn, President, James Madison's Montpelier
“An entertaining look at the forgotten war, the burning of Washington, and the fourth president's none-too-effective efforts to command the military.” Military History Quarterly
“Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War has a wonderful visual quality that allowed me to feel I was standing on the deck the HMS Confiance as Captain Downie was struck by a canon barrel and mingling with members of congress at one of Dolley Madison's Wednesday gatherings.” Patricia O'Sullivan, Historical Novel Society
“Hugh Howard's engaging and energetic Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War … is a worthy look at a rite of passage making the nascent United States into a nation that, although far from a world power, would be here to stay.” Casey Common, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Here is the story of the War of 1812 not from the military, but the personal perspective of James Madison—the first U.S. President to declare the country at war—and the beloved Dolley Madison. Readers get a feeling for the period beyond the political and military contexts and gain salient new information. For example, Dolley Madison's social gatherings at the White House on Wednesday evenings did much to ease political differences between parties. In the midst of the war, President Madison was deathly ill with "bilious fever" and wasn't able to travel until early August 1813. With the British in the Chesapeake Bay region, committing depredations up and down the coast, a President's travel plans were kept secret for the first time. At the British devastation of the capitol in 1814, the Madisons had to flee. VERDICT Howard's descriptions, e.g., of the burning of Washington, are superb, as is his use of primary sources throughout. Highly recommended to all readers on this war's bicentennial.—D.L.P.
Numerous books have cast almost too much light on the "unknown" War of 1812, so historian Howard (The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art, 2009, etc.) take a different tack, writing largely from the point of view of President Madison and Dolley, the nation's most popular first lady before Eleanor Roosevelt. The author delivers a skillful history of the war itself, launched after five years of frustration at British seizure of American merchant vessels and impressment of sailors. The chief goal the American army was the conquest of Canada, which failed disastrously despite several attempts. The goal of the navy was damaging British commerce. This succeeded notwithstanding the distraction of a handful of minor but spectacular American naval triumphs, which did not prevent the immense Royal Navy from blockading our coast, damaging American commerce even more. Mostly the war was a three-year litany of inept generals, wrong-headed politicians and a sprinkling of heroes (Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Oliver Hazard Perry), whose victories made little difference in the war's outcome. British and American historians agree that it was a draw; ironically, Canadians consider that they won. Britain never agreed to stop seizures and impressment, but winning the Napoleonic wars made that moot. Dolley's contributions to waging the war were minimal, but Howard provides illuminating asides about her activities as Washington's premier hostess and a far more colorful correspondent than her husband. An entertaining portrait of the era's first couple and the social life of the young nation's elite.