Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review - 1812: The Navy's War

With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 coming up, I've been expecting to see a lot of new books covering this little remembered war. Here is my take on the new book from George C. Daughan, 1812: The Navy's War.
This book is sort of a follow-up to Daughan's previous book, "If By Sea," which covered the creation of the American navy from the Revolutionary War through the War of 1812. I say "sort of" because If By Sea did have some coverage of the War of 1812, while the new book is only about the War of 1812.

Based on the sub-title and the author's previous work, you might think that this book would only be about naval actions during the War of 1812. But Daughan also does a good job of providing information about the politics involved (on both sides), the overall strategic plans, and the land campaigns (even those that didn't have a naval component).

The book starts out explaining the causes of the war from the point of view of each side, but mostly from a naval angle (Daughan doesn't talk very much about the issues on the western frontier of the U.S.). On the sailor's rights issue, Daughan even goes into some detail about how if the Royal Navy would have treated its sailors better there would not have been as high of a desertion rate and it wouldn't have had to impress so American sailors. While this is provides some interesting insights into the Royal Navy, I don't think the Royal Navy was ready for the sort of reforms he points out.

One interesting thread that runs throughout the book is the idea that President Madison was taking the expected actions of Napoleon into account when starting and planning for the war. I don't think I've read any other books that play this up as Daughan does. I think that Madison and the other people pushing for war were hoping that England would be too involved fighting Napoleon to take major actions against the United States and would be willing to settle the war quickly. But I don't think they were really making plans based on Napoleon's actions.

After the war starts, the book goes on to describe the major land campaigns and naval actions, with pauses to talk about each side's plans and the political situations. Most of the land actions have enough information that you get a good idea of what happened, with only a few (such as the attack on Baltimore after the burning of Washington and the Battle of New Orleans) covered in extra detail. The book does cover some land actions that other War of 1812 books skim over, such as the actions in Michigan area and Andrew Jackson's actions against the Creeks. On the naval side, the book does a good job of covering the major battles during the war (the frigate actions, the Battle of Lake Erie, and Battle of Lake Champlain) along with lesser known actions by American sloops and privateers. There was also really good information on the U.S. Navy's involvement in the New Orleans campaign, which is often brushed over by most War of 1812 histories. In fact, I really liked the chapter on New Orleans. The book also gives some information about the U.S. Navy's post-war expedition against the Barbary States. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more detail on the what was happening in Lake Ontario, but I have other books for that.

The book finishes with the post-war attitudes taken by each side and the importance of the war in changing the relationship between Britain and the United States.

Overall, 1812: The Navy's War is well written, informative, and I enjoyed reading it. The book does a good job of providing an overall view of the War of 1812, with a naval focus. From a wargaming point of view, the book should provide some ideas for land and naval scenarios for the War of 1812.

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