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  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Commemorating the Seafarer: Monuments, Memorials and Memory

    Barbara Tomlinson

    Death at sea, whether through accident, or war, is often premature and unexpected. Sometimes bodies are not recovered, and people simply disappear. Although not all maritime memorials commemorate those lost at sea, perhaps this helps explain the reason, as Tomlinson notes, that maritime memorials are spread across Great Britain. According to Tomlinson, these memorials act as repositories for memory and grief, providing places for people to mourn and communicate with the dead. She also suggests that they provide information of historical and cultural importance, noting that all levels of society produced memorials affected by, and thus reflecting, such cultural forces as politics and religious as well as artistic trends.

    Tomlinson focuses on British maritime memorials from the sixteenth century through the modern era—from a time when only a small number of elite were honored in such a way to a broadening and democratization of commemoration to include the ordinary seaman. Ultimately, these memorials honored a wide range of people, including naval personnel, privateers, explorers, common seamen, and those lost in maritime disaster. Tomlinson states that her work concentrates on detailing artistically significant memorials, and the stories behind those monuments.

    Much of her study concerns naval memorials. She describes the funeral of Robert Blake, given a grand service and burial in Henry VII’s chapel in 1657. Three years later, churchmen disinterred his body, throwing it into a common grave, only to have his memory be honored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with stained glass windows at Westminster and a statue at his birth place in Somerset. In another, poignant example, she describes a wall monument in Westminster commemorating two junior officers. bodies lost at sea. Friends, both died in the Battle of Solebay in 1672. Tomlinson describes their epitaphs, on adjacent panels sharing a common cornice. The destruction of their ship, Royal James, is shown in relief. The vessel fought off two Dutch fireships, but was set aflame by a third. The father of one son paid for the memorial.

    Tomlinson also details memorials to those lost in maritime accidents. One early memorial commemorates Hugh Everard, lost, along with the entire crew of Restoration, when the vessel wrecked in 1703. Everard was only fifteen when he died. His memorial shows a sinking vessel in relief and bears the inscription Spes nulla salutis (no hope of safety). Later, Tomlinson describes memorials commemorating those lost when the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized in 1987. One, in the vessel’s homeport of Dover, includes a window showing Christ stilling the waters. A wall painting in the same city depicts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The bows of the ship appear below the figure of St. John. To Tomlinson, this shows “both death and new life through water.” She notes that sculptures of sinking ships are no longer used in memorials—they too explicitly remind people of their mortality—yet sinking ships remain a reality.

    Tomlinson’s work is a thorough and vibrant examination of British maritime memorials, providing both an enjoyable stroll through centuries of art and history, and a reminder of human mortality.

    •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 259 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $50.00
    • ISBN: 97817843839705

    Reviewed by Mark Keusenkothen, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Lascars and Indian Ocean Seafaring, 1780-1860: Shipboard Life, Unrest and Mutiny

    Aaron Jaffer

    This book is volume number twelve in a series of works on the East India Company. Aaron Jaffer draws upon several scholars who have previously studied the multitude of causes and effects, as well as the complexity, of mutinous events aboard sailing ships and compiles their evidence so as to give a broad, well-supported analysis of late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century mutinies in the Indian Ocean. The study considers both East Indiamen and private merchant ships, referred to as country ships, that operated mainly in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.

    Jaffer offers five key themes to explain mutinous events, their causes, methods, alternatives, and consequences. He makes use of an extensive list of primary sources, including private papers, court proceedings, and factory records. Jaffer also includes conclusions reached by previous scholars in similar studies and compares these conclusions with each other as well as his primary source evidence.

    A basic overview of each theme of the book is outlined, and expanded upon, throughout its respective chapter, including references to other studies and the specific primary material from which Jaffer draws his information. He includes differences in language, religion, culture, superstition, age, level of experience, and marital status in the causes for mutinous events, comparing the numerous examples of such acts and, when possible, the documented reasons. He discusses the different forms of protest and mutiny that have been documented, including desertion, hunger and work strikes, as well as the overthrow of power onboard. Sources and evidence for each of these protests abound and Jaffer’s writing makes that clear.

    Jaffer exams intermediaries aboard sailing ships and their role in events of mutiny or protest. The ranks of intermediaries included translators, overseers, arbiters, representatives of certain crew members and interest groups, and often had a hand in the finances of the ship. Each role could be, and sometimes was, easily corrupted to sway people or events for personal gain. In the event of ship seizure as the result of a mutiny or protest, of which there are many examples, the resulting status of former officers, commanders, women onboard, and the crew often fell into disorder. Jaffer acknowledges that the surviving testimonies of mutiny investigations and personal accounts are tempered with bias, skewed descriptions, and embellishments, making them difficult for historians to interpret.

    International politics had a profound effect on protests and mutinies onboard sailing ships in the Indian Ocean. Shifts in politics and diplomacy led to changes in regards to asylum, arrest, trial, and imprisonment. Those who intended to carry out a mutiny, primarily for personal gain, had to be aware of changes in geopolitics of the time in order to be successful.

    Jaffer’s work is well researched and composed, including references to other scholars’ research as well as numerous excerpts from sources close to each respective mutinous event. This volume is useful for anyone studying sailing ships and shipboard life of the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries.

    •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 235 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
    • ISBN: 9781783270385
    Reviewed by Olivia Thomas, East Carolina University
  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean, 1291-1352

    Mike Carr

    Mike Carr’s Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean 1291-1352 details the complex power struggles throughout the Aegean Sea during the Crusades. Carr states that the Crusades in the Aegean Sea was not simply a war between Christian and Islamic forces, but a balancing act of furthering Christian gains while trying to maintain economic stability in the Aegean Sea. 

    Carr starts by analyzing the strategic importance of the Aegean Sea before the fall of Acre. He outlines the political, religious, and ethnic divides of the Aegean Sea and the perils of raiders and treacherous waters plaguing the region. In terms of the Crusades, Carr explains that many Christian forces at the onset of the Crusades viewed the Greeks and Byzantines as evil and, in some contemporary writings, worse than their Islamic opponents. Christian forces regularly attacked Byzantines possessions, citing that the Greeks were incapable of holding against the Islamic forces. The fall of Acre, the last port on the mainland of the Levant held by Christian forces, signaled a shift in Christian tactics in stopping Islamic expansion. A number of naval leagues formed during the Crusades between Genoa, Venice, Byzantium, the Kingdom of Cyprus, and the Papal States to patrol the Aegean Sea and intercept the numerous raids conducted by the Turks. Carr details the complex balancing act of the maritime powers in the Aegean Sea on strategies to best combat Islamic expansion while still maintaining trade. Papal orders, in many cases, conflicted with the maritime commercial wishes of the other members of the naval leagues. Carr concludes by reiterating the role that both the maritime powers of the Aegean and the papacy had in strategies to combat Turkish expansion. 

    Carr does an excellent job of structuring his book in a concise and easy-to-follow manner that covers a wide range of viewpoints, both political and economic, while still maintaining cohesion. His method of following the perspective of certain powers, such as the Venetians, then backtracking to the beginning of his timeline to follow another viewpoint ran the risk of creating confusion, but his ability to reiterate major activities in each chapter insures that the timeline of events is not confused throughout the book. 

    Sources for his book provide a strong foundation from which the main theme derives. Carr pulls sources from Islamic texts, such as Ibn Battuta’s account of travels through the Muslim world, as well as Christian texts, both political and economic, which range from trade license agreements to indulgences granted for crusaders in the Aegean.  The wide variety of sources used, and acknowledgment of biases within those sources, ensures the greatest clarity available about the state of the Aegean Sea during the Crusades. 

    Carr’s Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean 1291-1352 is a highly detailed account of the complex political, economic, and military events in the Aegean Sea. His analysis of various Aegean perspectives, with the addition of using a variety of primary sources and secondary research, reinforces his thesis about the way in which the Papacy and maritime powers balanced warfare against a common enemy and maintaining important trade routes to the east. This well written book will provide valuable insight to scholars who seek to understand the Crusades in the Aegean.

    •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xvi + 196 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $99.00
    • ISBN: 97817843839903

    Reviewed by Tyler Caldwell, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Beyond the Golden Gate: A Maritime History of California

    Timothy G. Lynch

    When thinking of California, one tends to imagine the more glamorous or modern aspects of America’s most populous state. The iconic images of the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theater, and the Santa Monica Pier often take first priority when depicting California. It is easy to forget that the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the high-tech intellectualism of Silicon Valley are built on the back of a far more industrial history. Timothy Lynch tackles this subject by arguing that it was industrial maritime activity and culture that changed California from a sparsely populated backwater into a booming powerhouse of economic activity.

    Human interaction with the sea has always been a part of California’s history. Indigenous Americans were building reed boats to ply the waters of San Francisco Bay while Chumash Indians built intricate planked canoes, called tomols, to explore and exploit the waters around the Channel Islands. The arrival of Europeans to the Americas in the fifteenth century had an everlasting, and in most cases devastating, impact on native populations. From Mexico, the Spanish established missions up the coast of Alta California from San Diego to San Francisco. Despite the establishment of almost two dozen missions, California remained sparsely populated by Europeans and white Americans until the United States annexed the territory in 1848, following the Mexican-American War. Although a brisk trade in tallow, leather, and sea otter pelts was already occurring along the California coast, it was the Gold Rush of 1848 that sparked the large scale settlement and development of California. As thousands of American prospectors rushed to strike it rich, San Francisco became a booming industrial port.

    Lynch focuses on the rise of San Francisco as an economic and industrial center on the Pacific coast. Utilizing a large well of primary sources, Lynch is able to create a concise, yet in-depth, description of the development of California. In order to avoid being overly brief, the author sets aside space to illustrate some of the more colorful characters associated with California’s colonization. One example is a short biography of William Leidesdorff, a ship captain and the mixed race son of a Danish father and an Afro-Caribbean mother, who became one of the wealthiest land owners and politicians in early San Francisco. These short asides add to Lynch’s detailed and thorough documentation of California’s economic development that includes analysis of wide-ranging subjects such as sea otter harvesting and ship design.

    The only issue with Lynch’s book is its relatively narrow scope and focus. Although the subtitle professes this volume to be a “Maritime History of California,” a more accurate title would be “a Maritime History of Nineteenth Century San Francisco Bay.” While he does touch on some of the early settlements at San Diego and Monterey, these seem to be mere asides to the actual subject of San Francisco.

     Beyond the Golden Gate is an excellent book for anyone interested in industrial and maritime history. It is meticulously researched and provides an excellent starting point to learn about the American maritime endeavors that built and connected the United States.

    •  New York: Fort Schuyler Press, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xii + 318 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9780989939423

    Reviewed by Conner McBrian, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    In the Shadow of the Alabama: The British Foreign Office and the American Civil War

    Renata Eley Long

    In early 1862, the Confederate States of America desperately needed sea power. Busily launching littoral gunboats in rivers and sounds across the South, receiving foreign recognition as a legitimate power required the acquisition of a blue water navy. Confederate commissioners arrived in London and Paris just after the advent of hostilities, charged with acquisition of weapons, supplies, and financial loans to further the quest for Southern independence. Just over two months had passed since USS Monitor and CSS Virginia clashed at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Known alternately as 290 (its hull number) and Enrica, a private firm launched CSS Alabama on May 14, 1862. Union diplomats attempted to have this and other vessels intended for the rebel navy seized by crown officials. CSS Alabama, Florida, and Rappahannock succeeded in escaping and became the scourge of Federal merchantmen.

    In addition to its declared neutrality in the North American conflict, Great Britain’s Foreign Enlistment Act prohibited any citizen from equipping vessels as men-of-war for use against foreign powers with which Her Majesty's government was at peace. Since evidence incriminated crown officials with complicity in the escape of the Confederate ships, the American government sought damages after the end of the Civil War. The arbitration, now known as the Alabama claims, resulted in an unusual outcome which impacts Anglo-American relations to this day.

    Renata Eley Long created an in-depth study of the circumstances surrounding the Confederacy’s acquisition of warships. In the Shadow of the Alabama is extremely well researched. Long uncovered mistakes in the history perpetuated by previous historians. She establishes Victor Buckley’s identity early in the text. The connections of this nondescript British Foreign Office clerk build the plausibility of her case. Long meticulously presents evidence of Buckley’s central role in the affair. Finally, she connects the key players in an ever-expanding web of intrigue.

     In spite of its thoroughness, In the Shadow of the Alabama suffers from several deficiencies. Some details, such as the future and changing Royal titles of individuals, only serve to confuse an American audience. The book makes claims of Freemason involvement in the arbitration which followed the conclusion of the American Civil War; these are largely unsubstantiated. A brief reference to Charles Dickens is of questionable relevance and amounts solely to a distracting side note. The evidence of Buckley's involvement in the Alabama would not hold in an American courtroom. The only piece of hard evidence was presented by the same man who verified its authenticity. That same man was subsequently dismissed from the employ of the American ambassador.

    Its tenuous connections and shortage of evidence notwithstanding, In the Shadow of the Alabama is an interesting study. For lovers of Civil War history or international intrigue, the book delivers an exciting ride through the annals of Anglo-American relations in the nineteenth century. Much that is useful can be culled from within this story of the shadows that still gather around the most fabled Confederate warship.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiii + 254 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $37.95
    • ISBN: 9781612518367

    Reviewed by Dale Wetterhahn, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory

    R.B. Watts

    No one has been more influential in the historical development of American naval power than Alfred Thayer Mahan. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Mahan’s theories became the basis for the U.S. Navy’s strategic development based on the capital ship, decisive battle, and command of the sea. Dr. R.B. Watts, a retired Coast Guard captain and Professor at the National War College, provides an excellent historical analysis of the U.S. Navy’s interpretation of Mahan over time and the shaping of the Navy’s strategy and force structure by that interpretation. He argues that the Navy remained consistently wedded to Mahanian capital ship theory despite the shifting threat environment. In light of post 9/11 “irregular” wars, Dr. Watts argues that the Navy has only taken very limited steps to meet the challenges of irregular warfare and remains anchored to Mahanian conventional capital ship theory; which, according to Watts, threatens to make the Navy both irrelevant and unsustainable.

    American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory provides an excellent history of strategic thought and doctrinal development within the Navy since Mahan published his seminal work in 1890. Dr. Watts convincingly demonstrates that the Navy constantly adapted, but always maintained the capital ship focus in attempting to deal with changing threat environments. He very effectively demonstrates the fairly consistent disconnect between the Navy’s thought and doctrine and the actual missions it was asked to accomplish. While naval doctrine and strategy remained focused on the “blue water” fleet and the decisive battle with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it was consistently called to deal with irregular threats in multiple environments. Watts argues that, following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Navy should have adjusted its strategy to meet emerging irregular threats.

    Dr. Watt’s coverage of the Navy’s historic struggles to match its theory to the actual threat environment is clear, cogent, and convincing. His assertions concerning post-9/11 naval strategy and his recommendations for the future, however, are more controversial and debatable. He describes navalists seeking to meet this new terrorist threat using classical naval principles, focused on forward deployed capital ships conducting strike operations against terrorists. He is overly critical of the Navy’s post-9/11 strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the point of blaming the Navy and its strategy for failing to win both of those wars. Clearly a Mahanian in many ways, Dr. Watts seems to ignore Julian Corbett’s warning that wars cannot be won by sea power alone and he continuously downplays the importance of the Navy’s support to ground operations in these two land wars.

    Dr. Watts advocates for a more balanced and affordable force structure for the Navy and a shift in focus to include the defense of the littoral United States from irregular threats as a primary mission for the Navy. His recommendations rely on certain key assumptions: that terrorists are a strategic threat to the United States, that the terrorist seaborne threat to the United States is beyond the capability of the Coast Guard and civilian authorities, and that the forward deployed Navy is failing to meet the irregular terrorist threat. Dr. Watts’ work, due to his strong historical analysis, is a significant contribution to the ongoing debate concerning the future threat environment and the future shape, role, and missions of the United States Navy within the context of the larger joint force.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2016
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 222 pages
    • Notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786498796

    Reviewed by Sam Rogers, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812

    Robert Booth

    Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812, by Robert Booth, is an informative account of the lives of two historical figures during the War of 1812 and illustrates how delusions of grandeur ultimately led to catastrophic consequences. Captain David Porter is the main character, a deluded yet incredibly ambitious officer in the United States Navy. United States Consul General Joel Roberts Poinsett is a smart and worldly man charged with inciting revolution in South America. They serve as the main characters in a wild and extraordinary journey of two men's lives in the war-torn world of the early nineteenth century. Fantastical, but thoroughly researched for its quality in interpreting the life stories of Porter and Poinsett, it is heavily based on Porter’s journal entries which he eventually published in 1815 as Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean. Poinsett’s own personal accounts are utilized as primary source material, along with a plethora of other firsthand stories and secondary sources.  Descriptive in regard to the lives of both men on a larger global conflict scale, the narrative is indicative of the amount of research that Booth undertook to write this book.

    Booth articulates very well the history of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain with events leading up to, during, and after the conflict. Though primarily based on accounts of Porter’s and Poinsett’s experience, the book also touches on other broader scale conflicts such as the revolutionary movements in Chile that Poinsett helped but failed to establish. Other major historical events are also explored and woven seamlessly into the focused story of Captain Porter: a man who defied his own government’s orders to pursue an ill-constructed fantasy of fame and fortune. Booth does well to show the depth of character in Captain Porter and his obsession with the Pacific Ocean. This self-serving fantasy drove him into such frivolous madness, leading him and his men into an outlandish and suicidal pursuit of his own desires.

    This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. It takes an in-depth and analytical perspective of Porter’s mindset not only as a naval officer, but as an intense, emotional, and unpredictable individual. Porter’s personal journal entries and the author’s interpretation of them do well to explain the anger, frustration, and egotistical tendencies of the captain. Booth is very expressive with his writing. He is able to use cohesive sentences to break down and explain the mental rational of Porter, so much that it makes the narrative engaging and entices the casual reader to continue reading on sentence by sentence till the end of the book.

    The perspectives of other characters in this book are also equally described, particularly with the sailors on Essex under the command of Porter. Reviewing their accounts gives the reader a sense of physically being there as the sailors’ experiences are explained. This collection of historical narratives reads like adventure story. Well-written and researched, Mad for Glory: A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812 by Robert Booth is a wonderful book for anyone to enjoy. The title of the book is somewhat is fitting, as it explores the dark corners of the human desires, obsession and their consequences.

    •  Thomaston, Maine: Tilbury House Publishers, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 244 pages
    • Illustrations, map, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9780884483571

    Reviewed by Paul Gates, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution

    Nathan Perl-Rosenthal

    The American Revolution was a turbulent time that forever changed the history of the world, and its impacts were far-reaching. While history tends to focus on the experiences of colonists—as both loyalists and patriots—and the British military during the Revolution, scholarship mostly overlooks how sailors and mariners navigated this tumultuous era to gain international recognition as Americans. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal seeks to offer insight into this unique struggle of American seaman piloting global waters in order to provide their fledgling nation with much needed goods, commerce, and international connections. Perl-Rosenthal argues that American seaman held an integral role in shaping the understanding of citizenship in the United States of America and in its role as a sovereign nation that needed to defend these citizens abroad. He elucidates that early American citizenship was highly inclusive as the nation sought to secure American maritime crews composed of men from all regions, classes, and—somewhat surprisingly—races. This broad inclusivity of citizenship was meant to protect Americans at sea from imprisonment or impressment while in foreign waters or ports. However, citizenship could be difficult to prove at times, and foreign nations would do everything possible to discredit claims of American citizenship. He also clearly and effectively portrays the complicated nature of citizenship, especially in a newly formed nation that is undergoing political changes.

    Perl-Rosenthal makes extensive use of a myriad of sources in order to illustrate a complete picture of the American mariner’s struggle of national identity. He travelled the globe collecting sources in order to truly understand the trials and tribulations of American seaman before, during, and after the Revolution. In addition, his international scholarship incorporates the viewpoints of various nations on American sailors. These sources include naval and government records, sailors’ personal accounts, and merchant ship logs, found at the Archives Nationales in France as well as records in England and North American sites. Perl-Rosenthal deftly constructs these fragmented and unorganized personal accounts of American sailors, who travelled to far-flung ports, into a cohesive, insightful description of the struggles of American citizens at sea who had to prove their identity in order to avoid impressment at the hands of a foreign nation.

    Citizen Sailors is masterfully written in a narrative style that is suitable for the public as well as academics in the field. Perl-Rosenthal currently teaches as an Assistant Professor of Early American and Atlantic History at the University of Southern California with an emphasis on political history. Overall, Perl-Rosenthal succeeds in supporting his argument that American sailors were instrumental in the development of a diverse national model of citizenship, which was more inclusive than the definition of citizenship at later points throughout American history. The success of his argument resides in the use of numerous primary sources and the inclusion of illustrations that allow the reader to step back in time.

    •  Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015
    • 6” x 9”, hardcover, 372 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9780674286153

    Reviewed by Elise Twohy, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory”

    John H. Schroeder

    The War of 1812 has captivated the minds of British and American citizens alike since it occurred over 200 years ago. Many scholarly works focus on the entirety of the war or the events around New Orleans in 1815. John Schroeder, a professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Milwuakee, a student of nineteenth-century America and its military history, successfully discusses a significant battle in the war effort. His work, The Battle of Lake Champlain: A “Brilliant and Extraordinary Victory,” places the events on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, New York in the larger context of the war. Schroeder argues that the roles of the commanders and the strategies allowed for the unexpected American victory and that these events changed the outcome of the war.

    Schroeder strongly supports his opinion by comparing the American and British effectiveness in the battles on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, the lead up to the battle, and the aftermath of the battle. In examining the commanders of the two sides, Schroeder analyzes their strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on the outcomes of the events on Lake Champlain. The American commander Thomas MacDonough, although young, was able to inspire and rebuild the naval troops on Lake Champlain as well as outsmart the British forces in the battle on September 11, 1814 by working with the other commanding officers of the American forces in the area. On the British side, George Downie led the naval forces as a seasoned naval commander from the Napoleonic Wars, yet he was new to the area during the 1814 campaign season and was unable to work with other British officers. The Americans took advantage of the confusion of the new British officers and their inability to work together. As the battle waged, the British ineffectively implemented their plan, while the Americans effectively took charge through their commanding officers and streaks of luck that played out allowing them to take the day. These same factors further affected the outcomes of the war. As Schroeder effectively describes, the outcome of this battle in the Champlain Valley allowed the Americans to successfully negotiate with a war weary Britain.

    Schroeder is able to support this thesis so strongly through the use of primary source evidence and battle plans. His analysis relies on the writings of MacDonough, Downie, the American and British forces, writings of the council in Ghent and numerous other sources that aid in recreating the events leading up to the battle, the battle of September 11, 1814 itself, and the results of the American victory in the Champlain Valley. Schroeder uses the appropriate images and maps to represent the battle and those involved. He, however, could have also used more images of the battle itself. Although these images would be artistic in nature, these images would offer striking examples of what the battle could have looked like and further evidence of the impact of the battle on American history.

    The Battle of Lake Champlain is an excellent work that compellingly argues the role of the battle in the overall position of the War of 1812 and the effect this battle had on ending the war. His use of sources offers a deeper look into the commanders themselves and the strategies that worked or did not work in the battle.  Beyond exploring the Battle on Lake Champlain and in Plattsburgh, Schroeder’s work offers the necessary depth of background of the event of the War of 1812 and the complexities of its outcome. This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about Lake Champlain and its role in the War of 1812.

    •  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xiii + 164 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, table, notes, bibliography, index. $26.95
    • ISBN: 9780806146935

    Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum


  • November 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic

    David Head

    To understand the historical content and the events that led to privateering in Spanish America, author David Head offers a variety of perspectives from persons representing opposite sides of the conflicts, both on land and at sea. Wherever possible, Head consulted accurate first person account of events leading to the need for national privateering. Throughout, he strives to clarify the interlocking developments in geopolitical struggles around the turn of the nineteenth century that necessitated privateering. As a result, he examines the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 as precursors to the Spanish-American Wars of Independence and the struggle of nations to expand their territories.

    Head stresses that privateering was a way to represent nations during a time of power struggle. He also mentions that privateering became a larger geopolitical role embedded in every nation wishing to expand their territories. Through several specific examples of privateering case studies, he provides perspectives that justifies the citizens of the United States who found Spanish-American privateering was an attractive option as a profession during a time of great financial instability and inconsistency. During the early 1800s a person’s profession, financial class, and social standings played a large role when making a decision to join a privateering force. His sources incorporate nearly 350 federal court cases concerning Spanish American privateering, as well as statistics from Lloyd’s List, letters from the different crews, commanders, and legal actions of the ship’s owners. For example, the analysis from letters and memoirs of a Captain Chaytors’s decision was presented tactfully. Chaytor had to choose between becoming a privateer for a foreign nation and supporting his family on the proceeds, or declining the opportunity and risking not finding financial stability in his own nation. He chose to risk his life as a privateer for the sake of his family.

    One critical point developed by Head is that the sea has a logic of its own; only by penetrating that logic can the actions of privateers be understood. While understanding the driving forces behind the mentality of a privateer is the central theme of this book, understanding the sea is also a vital point. Head’s reasoning is that privateers, whether new to the Spanish American territories or not, had to adapt to the geography, currents, and elements of the southern hemisphere to become successful. The ability to adapt, combined with a privateer’s navigational and tactical skills, determined their ultimate success and the success of the nation for which they sailed during this time of expansion and flexing of power.

    • Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, xv + 201 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9780820348643

    Reviewed by Tyler W. Ball, East Carolina University

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.

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