Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
A naval architect and marine engineer, Dr. Stanley Quick began researching the War of 1812 after he and his wife purchased an historic home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His focus of study was the British campaign in the Chesapeake Bay. Although raids and attacks were made on land bases in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, this was primarily a naval campaign that began in 1813 and ended in September 1814. He first amassed a collection of information from primary documents, including copies of the ships’ logs from every Royal Navy vessel that participated in the events, from which he wrote his historical version of the events before reading other scholars’ conclusions. Unfortunately, he died before completing his book, so Chipp Reid, a naval historian, was selected to write the final two chapters – the burning of Washington and the attacks on Baltimore – of this story and to edit the manuscript.
The story of the invasion begins in the last decade of the eighteenth century when “Irreconcilable Differences” erupted between the United States and her former motherland, Great Britain. One sore point concerned the impressment of merchant seamen from America ships, which almost led to war in the first decade of the nineteenth century after HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake. Cooler heads prevailed until finally, on 18 June 1812, President James Madison declared war on England. These events are discussed in the first chapter, and the divisiveness that separated Federalists from Democrats is best shown through the lives of two polar opposites: Captain Charles Gordon of the US Navy and Alexander C. Hanson, a newspaper editor and lawyer.
The subsequent nineteen chapters discuss (a) how woefully unprepared for war the fledgling nation was when pitted against the battle-hardened Royal Army and the supremacy of the Royal Navy upon the High Seas; (b) the British blockade of the North American coasts and the effect this wooden wall had on the Chesapeake and the people who lived and worked there; (c) the movements of the vessels in both navies, as well as the privateers who sailed from Baltimore; (d) the ships, raids, attacks, and naval maneuvers during 1813 and 1814; (e) lesser-known and key participants in the events, such as Admiral Sir John Warren, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, Secretary of War John Armstrong, Secretary of the Navy William Jones, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, Major General Robert Ross, Commodore Joshua Barney, and Major George Armistead; and (f) detailed accounts of specific battles, including Caulk’s Field, Hampton, St. Leonard Creek, Bladensburg, and North Point. Quotations from primary documents, illustrations, and maps enhance the narrative. Chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index complete the book.
Aside from a of couple minor errors pertaining to which secretary of the Navy signed orders in 1812, Lion in the Bay is one of the most detailed, unbiased, and clearly presented accounts of what took place in and around the Chesapeake Bay from 1813 through September 1814. The inclusion of events in other theaters and locations help to place the entire war into perspective. Any student of history who wishes to know more about this time and place will find this an invaluable, rewarding, and highly readable resource.
Book Review Copyright ©2015 Cindy Vallar
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