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Book Review, NRJ 60.4

November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

War in the Chesapeake: The British Campaigns to Control the Bay, 1813-14

Charles Patrick Neimeyer

Charles P. Neimeyer, Director of Marines Corps History and Gray Research Center at Marines Corps University, has researched and written one of the finest studies available of British campaigns in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. His synthesis of numerous primary and secondary sources provides the vehicle for an excellent narrative that addresses the prelude to war, the stalemate on the northern frontier, and unsettled conditions around the Bay (popular unrest, a scramble for the spoils of privateering, and weakly prepared military defenses) before plunging into the nitty-gritty details of the British campaigns of 1813 and 1814. Within these campaigns hide marvelous stories of vessels large and small, heroic individuals, valiant resistance, lives sliced short, and a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that faded in the light of a dawn breaking on the waters and fields of Baltimore.

Neimeyer focuses his efforts on several key areas: the defense of Craney Island and Norfolk, British raids ashore in 1813, American naval resistance around the Bay, and the assaults on Washington, Alexandria, and Baltimore in 1814. His treatment of the British handling of American slaves is interesting; and the author does not neglect actions outside the Bay (for example, Cockburn’s raid on the Outer Banks of North Carolina). In several instances, he illustrates the interconnectivity of the Chesapeake campaigns with other events of the war. Notably, Neimeyer ties the cruelties (by both sides) along the Canadian Frontier to the burning of civilian homes and government buildings in the Chesapeake region. War invariably grows crueler over time–the War of 1812 was no exception.

As with all works, there is room for improvement. More maps would be welcome. Some additional analysis of the place of prize money and the drive for promotion among the Royal Navy’s officer corps (especially with the war in Europe winding to an end) would not be amiss. Similarly, the effects on the war as a whole of these massive concentrations of available British resources could have used a few more words. That noted, this is an extraordinary study that combines readability, entertainment, and the scholarly touch. It is a history for the general reader as well as the professional historian. As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 cruises to its inevitable close, Neimeyer’s study of the Chesapeake Campaigns is highly recommended and deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

  • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, x + 244 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
  • ISBN: 9781612518657

 Reviewed by Wade G. Dudley, East Carolina University

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