Thursday, April 26, 2012

eBook Review: The Naval War of 1812

Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812

Product Details

  • File Size: 575 KB
  • Print length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Public Domain Books (October 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000JQV2W0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (5 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.00

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Theodore Roosevelt (before he became the President of the United States) wrote in a simple, straightforward, modern style.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Oddly, kind of a roller coast. With a catfight.
This book give good value for your money, but only for the hard-core naval history fanatics. Else it is not worth your time to download.

2.2. What I did not like: Whoever scanned and uploaded the book did so with some skill but not enough. The tables Roosevelt carefully inserted into the text are scrambled. They can be deciphered with time and patience and a lot of reader knowledge; that is, you gotta know that 1,240 must refer to a ship's tonnage, not the weight of metal that it throws in a broadside. If you do not know your way around a ship -- starboard, larboard [archaic term for port], stem, topsail, capstan, keel, beam, forecastle, quarterdeck, stern chaser, kedge -- read another book.

The Kindle edition omits the numerous action charts and paintings referred to in the text.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:  Hard-core naval history fanatics.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes, if the child in question is a hard-core naval history fanatic.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  Yes, but there aren't any.

2.6. Other:  Most people do not know that President McKinley appointed Theodore Roosevelt to the office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. (Chase the link. It's worth your time.) [1897]

TR first published this book a year after he graduated Harvard. [1881]

This book is the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation in naval history. TR used primary sources:  original US Navy logs and documents and original letters. Where available, TR also used British source documents. In the book, he critiqued and criticized writers on both sides of the Atlantic for distorting the histories. But TR reserved his venom for British naval historian William James; TR wrote that James's history was mendacious; that is, he called the man a liar.

TR organized the book masterfully. The organization follows:

1812 [The year]
1. On the seas. [Actions that occurred on the high seas.]
2. On the lakes. [Actions that occurred on the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain.]

1. On the seas.
2. On the lakes.

1. On the seas.
2. On the lakes.

1. On the seas.
2. On the lakes.

Simple and effective.

Each year ends with a summary table of actions and losses. These tables are scrambled and can be read only with difficulty, but I found them informative.

Those who are not hard-core naval history fanatics . . . why are you still reading this? Those who are, I found something of interest. To wit, there was only one action in which the British were clearly superior to the Americans: Shannon v Chesapeake. Why? Because Captain Broke disobeyed the Admiralty's orders and exercised his men at the guns each week for both speed and accuracy. That is, he trained his men for war. That training paid when he met the enemy. And his crew had been together for 7 years.

By contrast, the crew of the Java had only been together 6 weeks when they were defeated by the Constitution. This should have been enough. Earlier that year, in only 6 weeks, Isaac Hull trained the crew of the Constitution well enough to outrun a British squadron. A month later -- 10 weeks with the crew together -- the Constitution destroyed the Guerriere.

British crews were trained to fire fast but were not trained to fire accurately. American crews were trained to fire fast and accurately. In one of the frigate actions -- the United States v the Macedonian, I think --  the British fired three broadsides to the Americans two, but the American shot struck more often.

In actions between ships of equal broadsides (or nearly so) -- that is, brigs -- the crews both British and American showed courage, but the Americans won the majority of the actions.


The typical American crew was better trained than its British counterpart.


The typical American officer was more diligent in the performance of his duties -- training his men -- than the typical British officer.


Edward Preble.

Isaac Hull, William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Charles Stewart, Thomas Macdonough, James Lawrence, David Porter -- names that ring through American naval history -- all these men captained ships during the War of 1812 and all served under Edward Preble during the First Barbary War. They were Preble's Boys. They learned their trade from a master of naval warfare, and they kept at it in the way Preble taught them. More, they passed on that diligent attention to the craft to their subordinates.

The United States Navy owes its victories from Tripoli to Mobile Bay to Edward Preble.

Four last items:

I had forgotten how young Thomas Macdonough was when he commanded the American fleet on Lake Champlain: just 30. (TR gives his age as 28 -- an error.)

TR often mentions Capitaine Jurien de la Graviere, Guerres Maritimes, as an unbiased source. I have not found an English-language edition of the work. I think that TR read it in French. Given his high praise for la Graviere's even-handedness, I would very much like to read Guerres Maritimes.

Why TR included an account of the Battle of New Orleans in an appendix I do not know. Nothing in the account -- detailed and informative though it was -- concerned naval history. TR adored Andrew Jackson, but the account of the campaign reads differently than the rest of the book. The tone is different, the style is different. It feels like a much-loved college class assignment tacked onto the end of a dissertation. (There are several appendices. Some of them indicate that the book was published in several editions, and TR updated the book with a new appendix each time. At least one appendix answered his critics from across the pond.)

The full title of the book is The Naval War of 1812 or the History of the United States Navy during the Last War with Great Britain to Which Is Appended an Account of the Battle of New Orleans. Aren't you glad I abbreviated the title? I know I am.

2.7. Links:  Wikipedia on The Naval War of 1812 
                   The Naval War of 1812 from the Gutenberg Project

2.8. Buy the book:  The Naval War of 1812

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