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Donald A. Yerxa

The Naval War of 1812

Good reading for the bicentennial.

This year marks the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812. Numerous commissions have been established to commemorate the conflict. The U.S. Navy has even set up a Bicentennial Network website to "connect people and organizations engaged in the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812." To no one's surprise, publishers have anticipated a spike in interest, and a number of highly readable books dealing with the naval aspects of the war have rolled off the presses. I've selected three of these—two expansive narratives of the naval war written by accomplished historical writers and an account of a single-ship engagement off the coast of Maine by a novice author. Stephen Budiansky, a journalist and former editor at U.S. News & World Report, has written several well-received military histories, though Perilous Fight is his first book-length foray into naval history. George Daughan, who has a doctorate in history from Harvard and taught at a number of universities, is now retired and resides in Portland, Maine. 1812 is a sequel to his award-winning If by Sea, which dealt with the forging of the American navy in the decades prior to the War of 1812. Knights of the Sea is David Hanna's debut book. A secondary school teacher in New York City and winner of the New York Times Teachers Who Make a Difference Award, Hanna grew up on the Maine coast, living for a time in the lighthouse keeper's cottage at Pemaquid Point, within sight of the waters where the HMS Boxer and USS Enterprise dueled in September 1813. These books enable us to become more familiar with one of America's most overlooked wars; at the same time, they provide an opportunity to assess whether history intended for a general readership reflects the best historical scholarship.

The United States entered the war with a very small naval force made up of only twenty frigates, sloops, and brigs, seven of which were undergoing repairs. These could operate individually or in small squadrons against isolated Royal ...

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