Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Couple of Short Book Reviews

Sorry I haven't posted any updated recently, I've been pretty busy with work the past week and haven't been able to do much miniatures work. But I thought I would post a couple book reviews as a little blog filler. Hopefully you find them useful.

Both of the books in this post deal with the War of 1812. Considering next year is the 200th anniversary of the war, I expect we'll see a lot more books on the subject.

Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas 1812-1815, By Stephen Budiansky

Budiansky's book takes a different tack to the naval portion of the War of 1812. Rather than focusing on the details of the naval actions, he turns his eye more toward the personalities involved in those actions, primarily viewed from the American side. While Budiansky does talk a little about the creation of the U.S. Navy, the book really starts out with the American war against the Barbary States in 1803, introducing the reader to Edward Preble, Stephen Decatur, and the unlucky William Bainbridge. After this introduction, the author moves on to the causes of the War of 1812 and general strategies for both sides.

The book goes on to cover the initial frigate vs. frigate victories by the Americans, but more from the viewpoint of how the commanders, politicians, and public viewed the battles than an actual blow-by-blow account. There are some places that I think the author follows some popular legends about these actions, but overall the story is pretty good. However, If you read a lot of book about the early U.S. Navy, there isn't much new in these portions of the book.

One section that does add might add some new information for readers is the chapter on American Privateers. This chapter provides a little about how the privateers outfitted their ships and operations, but the real meat of the chapter covers what happened to those ships that were captured by the Royal Navy. In addition to talking about the conditions on prison ships in the Caribbean and England, the author covers the eventual transfer of many privateers to Dartmoor Prison. I actually found the section on Dartmoor to be one of the most interesting sections of the book. Mainly because it was something that I didn't know a lot about.

The book only briefly touches on the naval actions on the Great Lakes and Chesapeake, but based on the subtitle, that is pretty much what I expected.

Overall, the book was an easy read and good introductory book for people that haven't read anything about the naval war of 1812. It does provide a little more insight into the personalities of the American frigate captains and the Secretary of Navy, William Jones, during the war, but if you are looking for detailed battle discussions, you probably want to look elsewhere. I would recommend the book, but I would also recommend reading Ian Toll's Six Frigates in conjunction with Perilous Fight.

Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812, by Donald G. Shomette

This book is an updated and enlarged version of a 1979 book of the same title. Flotilla covers the formation, operations, and dissolution of Commodore Joshua Barney's Chesapeake Flotilla during the War of 1812. The book is pretty detailed in coverage of the flotilla. The first appendix has the muster roll of every man in the flotilla, including when they joined, their station (what they did), and when they were discharged (or in some cases, killed); while the third appendix has reproductions of some the fleet maneuvers that Commodore Barney planned to use with the flotilla.

The book starts out by looking at the English actions in the Chesapeake Bay early in the war, which included devastating raids throughout the region. For the most part American officials were at a loss on how to combat the British. In late 1813, Joshua Barney proposed the formation of an independent flotilla of gunboats and war barges to stymie the British efforts. Because of Barney's past success, having been a successful captain in the Revolutionary War and privateer during the War of 1812, the offer was accepted and Barney started outfitting the group.

The book goes pretty in-depth into the organization, building, and outfitting of the flotilla and the gunboats (the second appendix of the book lists the cost and materials used in the building of the row galley Black Snake, including the number of rounds for each cannon on the galley). If you are a rivet counter, I expect you will find this very interesting. Because the author is a marine archeologist involved with researching the history of the flotilla, he is very up-front about what is known about the gunboats for the flotilla and what is guesswork.

Once the flotilla is fitted out, the book moves on to its deployment and the battles it fought in. There are some really good descriptions of the Battles of St. Leonard's Creek and militia actions during various British raids (side note: as a wargamer, I found a lot to like in these descriptions, since I could actually see ways of turning these battles into game scenarios). The books continues on with the eventual abandonment of the gunboats and the participation of the flotilla's sailors in the Battle of Bladensburg. It finishes up with a little about the archeological research into the flotilla.

Flotilla covers a little known aspect of the War of 1812 and I really enjoyed this book. This is probably because it was a subject I didn't know a lot about and because I could see myself creating some gaming scenarios based on the actions described in the book. That said, it is a pretty expensive book (I would guess that is because it had a limited print run), so unless you have the extra money to spend on it, I would suggest checking with your local library to see if they have a copy or can get one through inter-library loan.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.