Military Subjects:  War of 1812

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 17: January 2012


Reviews: Books, Film, Collectables and Ephemera

The Challenge of Writing Naval History

By Donald R. Hickey

Stephen Budiansky. Perilous Fight: America’s Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-307-27069-6. Maps, Illustrations, diagrams, notes, bibliography, index. Xvi + 422.  Cloth, $35.00.

George C.Daughan. 1812: The Navy’s War.  New York: Basic Books, 2011.  ISBN 978-0-465-02046-1(cloth); 978-0-465-02808-5 (e-book).  Maps, illustrations, notes, glossary, select bibliography, index.  Xxix + 491.  Cloth, $32.50; Kindle, $17.42.

There is much that is appealing about the naval history of the War of 1812.  The glamour and excitement associated with seaborne travel in the Age of Sail is hard to resist.  The victories on the high seas, particularly of the U.S. Frigate Constitution and of H.M. Ship Shannon, became the stuff of legend in their respective countries.  The battles on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain were small but spectacular squadron engagements that shaped the outcome of major land battles.  And the British blockade of the U.S. coast, arguably the most effective use of naval power by either side, had a devastating impact on the fledgling young republic’s economy and public finance.  Yet for all this, the war on land has always attracted more scholarly interest and attention, forcing the naval war, particularly on the high seas, to play second fiddle.

What accounts for this disparity?  For one thing, the land war was surely more important.  This conflict could only be won or lost on the Canadian-American border, not on the high seas.  For another, there are some inherent problems in reconstructing what happened in the engagements at sea.  As the eighteenth-century British philosopher and historian David Hume put it:  “There is a natural confusion attending sea-fights, even beyond other military transactions, derived from the precarious operations of winds and tides, as well as from the smoke and darkness.”  Accounts of these battles “are apt to contain uncertainties and contradictions; especially when composed by writers of the hostile nations, who take pleasure in exalting their own advantages, and suppressing those of the enemy.”[1] 

Anyone interested in writing about the naval war has to learn an arcane language and at least the rudiments of ship design and seamanship in the Age of Sail.  Moreover, the war at sea has no battlefields that can be walked, no terrain that might be inspected to see how it matches up with the after-action reports.  Without any landmarks, it is harder to reconstruct the battles.  It is also difficult to get at the sources.  Although many of the Admiralty Papers are available at the Library of Congress, some important collections can be examined only in Great Britain.  Even with access to all the pertinent documents, scholars have to rely heavily on the official reports of the commanding officers. There are simply fewer accounts written by participants or observers than are available for the land battles. 

Nevertheless, accounts of the naval war appeared before the conflict was over and increased after peace had been restored.  Most of these were American accounts that were unreliable because they puffed up the U.S. victories while ignoring the defeats.  One would be hard-pressed to conclude from these works that in just about every naval engagement the more powerful ship or squadron prevailed.  William James, a British lawyer who worked on prize cases for the vice-admiralty court in Jamaica, was trapped in the United States during the war and got his fill of the American distortions.  Determined to counter these misrepresentations and uphold the reputation of the Royal Navy (and perhaps in the process win government patronage), James decided to write his own naval history of the war.  After producing a pamphlet on the subject in 1816, he published A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War in 1817.[2]  He followed up in the 1820s with a multi-volume Naval History of Great Britain, presenting more information as well as his mature judgments.[3]

James was far from unbiased.  He conceded that he was trying to make the Royal Navy look good, and he sometimes manipulated evidence to achieve this end.  “I was the champion of the [British] navy,” he said, “on every occasion.”[4]  Even so, he did not hesitate to criticize British officers, and his work is arguably the first modern naval history.  Although the Admiralty refused to give him access to its records, he talked to participants from the battles and examined the ships as well as the official reports and ship logs that he could get his hands on.  With the evidence he accumulated, he pioneered the practice of comparing the tonnage, crew size, and firepower of the opposing ships and squadrons—a technique that is now standard among naval historians.  Although his work is filled with errors, his scholarship set a standard that was not easily matched, and even today his work can be mined for information that cannot be readily found elsewhere, particularly on the technical specifications of British warships.[5]

In the 1820s, Edward P. Brenton published his own Naval History of Great Britain, which covered the history of the Royal Navy up to 1822.[6]  Fifteen years later, Brenton put out a more compact and revised edition that carried the story to 1837. [7]  Although Brenton’s treatment of the War of 1812 is almost identical in the two editions, scholars should prefer the second because a few errors were corrected and some new material added.[8] 

Brenton had extensive experience at sea as a Royal Navy captain.  He had served on the American station during the war, and he knew other naval officers who took part in the conflict.  Although he sought to uphold the honor of the Royal Navy and he praised its officers, not all of his views were conventional.  He opposed impressment, he defended Sir George Prevost, and he maintained that a British squadron, not H.M. Ship Endymion acting alone, had defeated the U.S. Frigate President in 1815.  Brenton got into a bitter feud with James over the respective merits of their naval histories, the former insisting that the latter had no naval experience and thus was poorly equipped to write a history of the Royal Navy.  Brenton’s own work has considerable merit but is not as rigorous or as analytical as James’. 

In 1839 novelist James Fenimore Cooper weighed in with his History of the Navy of the United States, presenting the American side of the story.[9]  Cooper evidently wished to avoid controversy, and the tone of his narrative is measured and reasonable.  Although he claimed—against all the evidence—that the British had better supply lines to the great lakes than Americans, most of his judgments were uncontroversial.  He had only the highest praise for American officers, and even British officers rarely came in for criticism.  He did not challenge the British writers, and in a note he even credited James with presenting more accurate figures than the American appraisers on the tonnage of the shallow-draft British vessels captured on Lake Erie.[10]  Only later, after the second edition of his work had appeared, did Cooper take off the gloves and in an extraordinarily sharply-word article excoriated James for what he considered nautical ignorance and bias.[11]  Cooper’s criticism notwithstanding, James’ work remained the most detailed and analytical naval history of the War of 1812 for more than half a century.

In the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt offered the first major challenge.  A landlubber who had to learn the ways of the sea from the keel up, Roosevelt wrote a naval history designed to respond to James’ claims and set the record straight.[12]  Roosevelt clearly ran out of gas in the latter half of his study, and his work is not without flaws.  He did not have access to many British documents, and he believed that American round shot was undersized so he routinely deducted 7 percent from his calculations of American firepower.  Even so, Roosevelt made a serious effort to be fair.  He did not hesitate to praise the British (like Captain Philip Broke and the crew of the Shannon) or to criticize Americans (such as Captain Stephen Decatur for his decision to surrender the U.S. Frigate President).  Roosevelt also demolished a number of myths that had originated with defeated RN officers and then had been codified in the works of James and Brenton, most notably that the American heavy frigates were actually ships-of-the-line and that they had “picked” crews that included a large number of British tars. 

A decade after Roosevelt’s work appeared, Edgar S. Maclay published his History of the United States Navy, which devoted considerable attention to the War of 1812.[13]  In his introduction, Maclay took on James and his British successors.  Besides repeating Roosevelt’s claim that American shot was undersized, he suggested that American guns and powder were inferior.  He also insisted that the tonnage formula used in the early nineteenth century overstated the size of the heavy U.S. frigates because they were more tapered at the bow and stern than their British counterparts.  Thus, even though they were longer, they could not fit extra guns into their broadside. 

Because the Admiralty papers for the nineteenth century were not opened to scholars until 1929, Maclay, like his predecessors, relied on published documents for the British side of the story.[14]  His work is more of a narrative than Roosevelt’s, and his battle scenes include considerable detail (not all of it reliable) that cannot be found in other histories of the war.  Maclay presents an excellent table for each battle, showing the firepower and crew size of the opposing ships.  Although he does not hide his American bias, his work is lively and generally reliable and thus still serviceable today.[15]

In 1905 Alfred Thayer Mahan published his magisterial work, Sea Power and Its Relations to the War of 1812.[16]  Mahan presented a broad account of the war, devoting considerable space to the causes of the conflict, the land battles, and the peace negotiations.   A proponent of a large blue-water fleet, Mahan was mainly interested in big-picture strategy, in the many ways that naval power was brought to bear in this war, whether on the inland lakes or the high seas.  Although he treated the naval battles in some detail, he had no desire to wage war with James or any other scholar.  In fact, he pointedly refused to read Roosevelt before completing his work so that he could reach his own conclusions independently.  Mahan’s work remains one of the great classics on naval strategy, but it supplements rather than replaces Roosevelt’s detailed treatment of the battles on the high seas.

In the 1950s, C. S. Forester (the creator of the Horatio Hornblower series) produced a history of the naval war, but the work is undocumented and meant for popular consumption and thus lacks the detail of earlier works.  In recent years, a number of specialized studies have shed light on the naval war.  There are several valuable studies of individual ships headed by Tyrone Martin’s illuminating work of the U.S. Frigate Constitution.[17]  There are also a number of modern biographies of American naval officers.[18]  In addition, we have solid studies of the naval contest on the lakes.[19]  We also have a modern study of the British blockade—the first work to tackle this subject since Mahan addressed it almost a century earlier.[20]  And yet, however valuable these works may be, they are no substitute for a general history of the naval war.  The works published in the century after the war, from James to Mahan, are still unsurpassed.  Although all have merit and all are useful today, for its analytical power and dogged attempt to get at the truth, Roosevelt’s work is probably the best.   

Fortunately, the sources to write naval history are becoming progressively more accessible.  The U.S. Navy Department records were put on microfilm long ago and thus are available for purchase or can be borrowed through interlibrary loan.[21]  There are published guides to help one navigate through the Admiralty Papers at the Library of Congress and to determine which British manuscripts are available in the United States on microfilm.[22]  For those who prefer to start with published collections, there are a number of options.  The Library of Congress has put the original American State Papers (including Naval Affairs) online.[23]  More important is the oft-neglected and little-used New American State  Papers, a commercial venture launched by Scholarly Resources in the 1970s that has far more material and can be readily borrowed through interlibrary loan.[24]  The Naval History and Heritage Command is publishing a magnificent four-volume collection of documents on the naval war taken from a wide variety of sources and edited to a high standard that will be completed in 2013.[25]  Finally, Google Books is putting many rare nineteenth-century imprints online, although scholars who find any that are useful are advised to download and save them because Google pulls any titles that come back into print.

Given the growing availability of the sources and the advent of the Bicentennial, it is hardly surprising that we are seeing fresh attempts to write the naval history of the war.  Two studies have just been published, and a third (by Andrew Lambert) is in press.[26]  The first to make it into print was Stephen Budiansky’s Perilous Fight.  Although billed as a military historian on the dust jacket, Budiansky is more of a science writer who has published extensively and imaginatively on animals and how man relates to them.  Nevertheless, he has done his homework for this project, and students of the war can profit from his study.  Budiansky has learned enough about sailing to handle his subject matter, and he has done commendable research on both sides of the Atlantic.  The only glaring omissions are his failure to use the U.S. Navy Department records and the New American State Papers, both of which are filled with valuable information on just about all aspects of the naval war.

The great strength of Budiansky’s work is his treatment of the U.S. Navy’s administrative history during the war and of the main characters involved.  He presents considerable information on how the war at sea was managed from Washington and on the work that was needed to keep the warships in service.  At the center of his story is the under-appreciated Philadelphia merchant, William Jones, who served as secretary of the navy during most of the war.  Jones did a fine job of managing his limited resources to maximize the nation’s naval power.  He also effectively handled the prickly personalities who made up the officer corps of the fledging service.  Budiansky’s portraits of some of these figures, most notably the unhappy and unpopular William Bainbridge and the calm and cheerful Isaac Hull, are particularly strong.

Budiansky also devotes considerable attention to Jones’ counterpart for the Royal Navy, John W. Croker, the first secretary of the Admiralty, who managed the war from the British side.  Budiansky does a good job of showing how the acerbic Croker, always professing to speak for the Admiralty, berated the senior officers on the American station—most notably Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren—for failing to do more to blunt the U.S. war effort at sea even though the Admiralty was unwilling to devote the resources needed to do the job.  Even after Napoleon’s defeat in the spring of 1814 freed up Royal ships from around the globe, the Admiralty still tried to win the American war on the cheap.  How much Croker acted on his own or actually consulted with his superiors at the Admiralty before delivering orders remains unclear.

Budiansky supports his story with a good set of maps and an even better set of illustrations, some of which are in color.  (The two galleries must have been separated at some point in the production process because the caption for the first black and white picture is marooned at the end of the color gallery.)

Budiansky’s first three chapters are marred by some breezy generalizations and by a dubious organizational scheme.  He starts with the Tripolitan War (1801-1805), then discusses the causes of the War of 1812, and only after that examines the creation of the U.S. Navy.  It seems more logical to push the creation of the navy ahead in his story and to start with the Quasi-War (1798-1801), which was the first conflict in which the navy showed how effective it could be.  The small American navy did a fine job of driving French privateers from the Caribbean, and the U.S. Frigate Constellation performed almost as impressively in the Quasi-War as the Constitution did in the War of 1812.  Budiansky’s examination of the battles at sea is also not as strong as it might be.  He seems little interested in assessing the relative power of the opposing ships but is content merely to explain the course of each battle.  For this part of the naval war, the reader is still better served by Roosevelt.

Budiansky’s study is also marred by some misconceptions and mistakes.  Far from being “a dead weight,” the national debt in this period was a source of working capital that financed the nation’s robust economic growth (33).  Impressed seamen in the Royal Navy were not considered volunteers if they accepted their pay but only if they took the enlistment bounty (53).  Parliament did not vote to repeal the Orders-in-Council in 1812; rather, these measures, which were executive orders issued by the King-in-Council, were repealed by the same authority (114).  Congress did not ban all British imports with the declaration of war in June 1812 but rather in the last major prewar trade restriction enacted in February 1811 (220). Fumigating a ship with vinegar poured over hot shot had more than “a talismanic influence” because vinegar is a genuine anti-bacterial agent (261).  British demands at Ghent were not “non-negotiable”; only the demand for an Indian barrier state was presented as a sine qua non, and in so doing the British delegation actually misread the ministry’s intentions (344).  Finally, the British recapture of H.M. Ship Levant was not technically “illegal”; rather, it took place within the grace period of thirty days spelled out by the Treaty of Ghent for this part of the Atlantic (361).

There is another claim in this book that deserves comment.  Following the lead of William Jones, Budiansky suggests that the United States was ill-advised late in the war to fritter away its resources in the “ship-builder’s war” on the northern lakes at the expense of the war on the high seas (317-18).  But the U.S. strategic focus needed to be on the lakes, even after Great Britain was freed from the European war.  No matter how much damage the U.S. Navy and American privateers inflicted, this war could not be won on the high seas.  The United States could win only if it seized and held a large chunk of Canada, and given the logistical imperatives of this wilderness war, the American objective could not be achieved without control of the lakes.  This explains why the Duke of Wellington told the secretary of state for war and the colonies in February 1814 that “the defence of Canada, and the co-operation of the Indians, depends upon the navigation of the lakes.”  It also explains why later that year he urged the ministry to drop its territorial demands at Ghent.  Without control of the lakes, he told the prime minister in November, “you have no right . . . to demand any concession of territory from America.”[27]

Budiansky’s misconceptions and errors do not seriously undermine his achievement in this book.  This remains a useful study that adds considerably to our understanding, especially of the administrative history of the naval war.  As such, it is a valuable complement to nineteenth-century works, which focus more on the high seas than on either home front. 

The other new study on the naval war is George C. Daughan’s 1812: The Navy’s War.  Daughan has written a book on the history of the U.S. Navy from 1775 to 1815, and this volume seems to have been designed to flesh out his treatment of the navy in the War of 1812.[28]  The dust jacket portrays it as a naval history, but Daughan has chosen to include the land war as well, and in his Acknowledgments he says that the work “encompasses the entire history of the War of 1812” (419).  Still, the war on the high seas and lakes takes center stage, so the work is probably best judged as naval history.

Daughan provides considerable detail on the American cruises and captures in the war, and he does a good job of presenting the armaments that the warships carried (although he does not give the weight of their broadside).  There are fourteen maps devoted to the geography of Europe, America, and the West Indies, although those showing the North American theaters are short on detail, and there is one—of the Detroit frontier—in which the location dots are missing. 

The strength of Daughan’s work is that the author pays close attention to developments in Europe, thus presenting the larger transatlantic context of the War of 1812.  We are kept informed of the course of the Napoleonic Wars (although devoting a full chapter to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is probably too much), and we are kept abreast of British newspaper opinion as well as of the thinking of British officials.  The great weakness of the work is that it rests heavily on secondary sources.  Although Daughan has made good use of Naval History and Heritage Command’s documentary collection, there is no evidence that he has examined the Navy Department or Admiralty records or that he has taken advantage of the rich collection of naval documents in the New American State Papers.  Moreover, he has used the modern consolidated edition of the Naval Chronicle, which omits most of the commentary on the naval war of 1812 that appeared in the original edition.  The result is a narrative that is filled with altogether too many errors.

Some of the mistakes deal with the naval war.  Daughan uses the title “commodore” freely even though this rank had no standing in the U.S. Navy and required Admiralty designation in the Royal Navy (188, 298).  He suggests that the U.S. Navy was created in the 1790s to meet a British threat although he surely knows that it was actually launched in response to the danger posed by the Barbary Pirates (6).  President Madison did not ask for naval expansion in his message to Congress in November 1811 but only for the stockpiling of building materials and naval stores, and midshipmen taken as prisoners-of-war were not confined to prison but instead were treated like officers and thus paroled (29, 68). 

Daughan makes a host of additional mistakes in his treatment of the land war.  He misstates the rank of a number of U.S. and British officers (178, 227, 385), and he suggests that the United States could have “easily” supported a regular army of 100,000 before the war even though it could hardly support a force half that size during the conflict (27).  The British did not surround Fort Mackinac in 1812 but rather seized control of the nearby heights, and to say that the Americans “ran wildly” from an Indian attack at Brownstown is not quite accurate (88, 95).  Nor did the British gain control of the St. Lawrence River when they captured Ogdensburg in 1813; instead they withdrew almost immediately to Canada (174). It may not have been Major General Henry Dearborn’s policy to torch public buildings, but he allowed his men to do so in York because he thought the British had burned war material after agreeing to surrender (177). 

Nor is this all.  Sir George Prevost did not retreat from Sackets Harbor in 1813 simply because of heavy losses but also because smoke from the U.S. navy yard suggested that he had accomplished his mission (179).  At Beaver Dams, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler did not surrender without a fight but only after his men had nearly run out of ammunition fighting the Indians, and Dearborn did not ask to be relieved after this defeat but in fact was puzzled by the War Department’s order transferring him to a non-combat zone (181).  Indians almost always avoided assaulting a fortified position, and thus few if any took part in the attack on Fort Stephenson (185). The British were not fired on by 300 militiamen when they entered Washington in 1814 but only by a few snipers in Gallatin’s house, and the British did not burn the National Intelligencer office but spared it because neighbors expressed fear that the flames would spread to their homes (302).  Prevost did not plan to target any points south of Plattsburgh when he invaded New York in 1814, and his army was not made up “largely” of Wellington’s veterans (341-42).  No one knows who killed Major General Robert Ross at North Point, and Major General Thomas Keene was not mortally wounded at New Orleans (336, 390).

There are also a number of errors in Daughan’s treatment of the domestic and diplomatic history of the war.  Daughan insists on calling U.S. and foreign ministers “ambassadors” even though none held this rank (13, 48, 169, 172).  Federalists voted for rechartering the National Bank in 1811, and they opposed repealing the non-importation law in 1812 not because of any interest in manufacturing but because they saw the proposal as a Republican trick to postpone unpopular taxes (160).  The U.S. Senate’s rejection of Albert Gallatin’s nomination to the peace delegation in 1813 was not the product of animus alone but of his unwillingness to surrender the Treasury portfolio while he was abroad (172). 

There is more.  The United States did not accept the Rule of 1756 in the Jay Treaty (6).  Napoleon had no real interest in acquiring Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South America, and he sought Louisiana not because he wanted to build an inland empire but because he needed a breadbasket for a revived French Empire in the Caribbean (9, 11).  There is no evidence that Madison timed the declaration of war to capitalize on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia (35).  The prewar embargo adopted in April 1812 did not exempt American grain shipments to the Spanish Peninsula, nor was it designed as a coercive instrument (although some Republicans supported it for this reason) (50, 57).  Finally, the British did not promise to return all runaway slaves in the Treaty of Ghent but only those carried off after the war was over (358).

While some errors can be found in any book, and many of Daughan’s might be dismissed as insignificant, there is one that is more serious.  This is his claim that the British in the last year of the war sought “to deal a crippling blow to . . . the republic’s maritime ambitions and, at the same time, to massively expand the British Empire on the North American continent” (245).  Conflating newspaper opinion with government policy, Daughan says that the British “wanted to regain Britain’s position as the dominant power on the North American continent and crush a bothersome maritime rival” (255).  Hence, their demands at the peace negotiations were “obviously meant to cripple the United States” (329). 

Evidence to support Daughan’s claim can be found in neither the primary nor the secondary sources on the war.  Anyone who reads the standard diplomatic treatises or who pours over the letters that the British leaders exchanged with one another or the instructions that they sent to their delegation at Ghent would be hard pressed to find any evidence of a vindictive attitude or of grandiose plans.  No one at the time thought this would be the last Anglo-American war, and the British aim throughout was, understandably, to enhance the security of Canada and its Indian allies against the aggressive and land-hungry power to the south that would only gain strength over time.  Britain’s initial demands at Ghent were what diplomatic historian Bradford Perkins has called “a probing operation,” designed to see how much the Americans would bend.[29]  When the American delegation remained firm, the British backed away from their demands and settled for the status quo ante bellum.  In the negotiations at Ghent, like those at Vienna, British leaders showed remarkable moderation and restraint, and the result of their statesmanship was a lasting peace on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Where, then, does Daughan’s book fit in the historiography of the war?  It must be judged as a decidedly pro-American account that provides some useful detail on the war at sea and that places the conflict in the larger context of the Napoleonic Wars.  It does not replace any of the great nineteenth-century accounts, but if used cautiously it can serve as a supplement.

Where should we go from here on the naval war of 1812?  We still need a fresh and comprehensive study of the contest on the high seas.  Such a study ought to be based on extensive research in published and unpublished sources on both sides of the Atlantic.  Like James’ and Roosevelt’s works, it should include a detailed analysis of the naval battles; like Cooper’s, it ought to be written in a measured tone; like Maclay’s, it should be lively; like Mahan’s, it needs to demonstrate strategic vision; like Budansky’s, it ought to show how the opposing navies were managed from the shore; and like Daughan’s, it needs to be presented as part of the larger transatlantic story.  Although writing this kind of work is certainly a tall order, if done right it would become an instant classic, relegating all other general studies of the naval war to a supporting role.      

Don Hickey is a professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska and the author or co-author of five books and numerous articles on the War of 1812.  His most recent books are The Rockets’ Red Glare:  An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, with Connie D. Clark (2011), and The War of 1812:  A Forgotten Conflict, Bicentennial edition (2012).  The author would like to thank Terri Headley of the U.S. Conn Library at Wayne State College and Conrad Berger and Patrick Kerwin of the Library of Congress for assistance in identifying and tracking down works mentioned in this essay; Andrew Lambert, Christine Hughes, and Bill Dudley for answering questions about the availability of sources; and Charles Berthold and Connie Clark for reading an earlier draft of the essay.


[1] Hume, David. The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, corrected ed., 8 vols. London, 1763, 7:518. 

[2] James, William. An Inquiry into the Merits of the Principal Naval Actions between Great Britain and the United States (London, 1816), and A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America. London, 1817.

[3] James, William. The Naval History of Great Britain, From the Declaration of War by France in 1793 to the Accession of George IV, 5 vols. (London, 1822-24), rev. ed., 6 vols. London, 1826.  This work went through many later editions which included changes made by the publisher.  There is also a good modern edition.   

[4] James to Viscount Melville, January 4, 1819, in Holden Furber, ed., “How William James Came to Be a Naval Historian,” American Historical Review 38 (October 1932), 76.

[5] The modern authority on James is the British naval historian Andrew Lambert.  For my understanding of James, I have relied heavily on Lambert’s introduction to the modern editions of James’ works.  See James, A Naval History of Great Britain, 6 vols. (1826; reprint, London, 2002), and James, Naval Occurrences of the War of 1812 (1817; reprint, London, 2004).  

[6] Brenton, Edward P. The Naval History of Great Britain, From the Year MDCCLXXXIII [1783] to MDCCCXXII [1822], 5 vols. (London, 1823-25). 

[7] Brenton, Edward P. The Naval History of Great Britain, From the Year MDCCLXXXIII [1783] to MDCCCXXXVI [1836], 2 vols. (London, 1837). 

[8] The second edition is more widely available in hard copy, but both editions are available online, the first through Google Books and the second through Hathi Trust Digital Library.

[9] Cooper, James Fenimore, The History of the Navy of the United States of America, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1839), rev. ed. in one volume (Philadelphia, 1841). 

[10] Cooper, History of the Navy (1839 ed.), 2:280n1.

[11] [James Fenimore Cooper], “Edinburgh Review on James’s Naval Occurrences, and Cooper’s Naval History,” Democratic Review 10 (May 1842), 411-35, and (June 1842), 515-41.

[12] Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812. New York,1882, 3rd ed. (New York, 1883).  This work is available in several modern editions.

[13] Maclay, Edgar S., A History of the United States Navy, From 1775 to 1893, 2 vols. New York, 1894.  This work went through several later editions to take the story through 1902.  Students of the War of 1812 must be sure to look at a matched set of these two volumes because the latter part of the war, which was treated in volume 2 of the first edition, was moved into the first volume in later editions.  

[14] For the opening of the Admiralty Papers, see Andrew Lambert, The Foundations of Naval History: John Knox Laughton, the Royal Navy, and the Historical Profession (London, 1998), 74-75.

[15] Ironically, in late 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt fired Maclay from his job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard because in the latest edition of his naval history Maclay had been sharply critical of Commodore Winfield Scott Schley for his actions in the Battle of Santiago Bay in the Spanish-American War.  See New York Times, December 25, 1901; and Aberdeen (SD) Weekly News, January 2, 1902.

[16] Mahan, Alfred Thayer. Sea Power and Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. Boston, 1905.

[17] Martin, Tyrone G. A Most Fortunate Ship:  A Narrative History of Old Ironsides, rev. ed. Annapolis, MD, 1997 and Undefeated: “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812. Chapel Hill, NC, 1996. See also Frances Robotti and James Vescovi, The USS “Essex” and the Birth of the American Navy. Holbrook, MA, 1999; Ira Dye, The Fatal Cruise of the “Argus”: Two Captains in the War of 1812. Annapolis, MD, 1994; James Tertius de Kay, Chronicles of the “Macedonian,” 1809-1922. New York, 1995; and Stephen W. H. Duffy, Captain Blakeley and the “Wasp”: The Cruise of 1814. Annapolis, MD, 2001.

[18] Long, David F. Nothing Too Daring:  A Biography of Commodore of David Porter, 1780-1843. Annapolis, MD, 1970, and Ready to Hazard:  A Biography of Commodore William Bainbridge, 1774-1833. Hanover, NH, 1981; Maloney, Linda M. The Captain from Connecticut: The Life and Naval Times of Isaac Hull. Boston, 1986; Smith, Gene A. Thomas Ap Catesby Jones : Commodore of Manifest Destiny. Annapolis, MD, 2000; Skaggs, David Curtis. Thomas Macdonough:  Master of Command in the Early U.S. Navy. Annapolis, MD, 2003, and Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage, and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy. Annapolis, MD, 2006; Schroeder, John H. Commodore John Rodgers: Paragon of the Early American Navy. Gainesville, FL, 2006; and Tucker, Spencer. Stephen Decatur : A Life Most Bold and Daring.  Annapolis, MD, 2006; Brown, Gordon S. The Captain Who Burned His Ships: Captain Thomas Tingey, USN, 1750-1829. Annapolis, 2011.

[19] Skaggs, David Curtis and Gerard T. Altoff, A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813. Annapolis, MD, 1997; Malcomson, Robert Malcomson, Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812-1814. Annapolis, MD, 1998.

[20] Dudley, Wade C. Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 1812-1815. Annapolis, MD, 2003.

[21] See U.S. Department of the Navy, Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy:  Captain's Letters, 1805-1885, Microfilm Series M125, National Archives (Washington, DC); Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanders, 1804-1886, Microfilm Series M147, National Archives (Washington, DC); Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Navy to Officers, 1798-1868, Microfilm Series M149, National Archives, (Washington, DC); and Miscellaneous Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Navy, 1798-1868, Microfilm Series M209, National Archives (Washington, DC).

[22] See Griffin, Grace Garner. A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to American History in British Depositories Reproduced for the Division of Manuscripts of the Library of Congress. Washington, DC, 1946; and Brown, Chester K. British Manuscripts Project:  A Checklist of the Microfilms Prepared in England and Wales for the American Council of Learned Societies, 1941-1945. Washington, DC, 1955.

[23] U.S. Congress, American State Papers:  Naval Affairs, 4 vols. Washington, DC, 1834-61, esp. vol. 1.

[24] Bauer, Jack, ed., The New American State Papers:  Naval Affairs, 10 vols. Wilmington, DE, 1981, esp. vol. 4: Combat Operations, although there is pertinent material in almost every volume.

[25] Dudley, William S., Michael J. Crawford, et al., eds., The Naval War of 1812:  A Documentary History, 3 vols. Washington, DC, 1985-2002.

[26] Lambert, Andrew Lambert. The Challenge: America, Britain and the War of 1812, Farber & Farber, forthcoming.

[27] Wellington to Lord Bathurst, February 22, 1814, and to Lord Liverpool, November 9, 1814, in Duke of Wellington, ed. Dispatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshall Arthur, Duke of Wellington, 15 vols. (London, 1858-72), 9:425-26; and 11: 525.

[28] Daughan, George C. If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy, From the Revolution to the War of 1812. New York, 2008.

[29] Perkins, Bradford. Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812-1823. Berkeley, CA, 1964, 69.


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