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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Drake                    Splintering the Wooden Wall

Cover Art: Splintering the
        Wooden Wall
Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 1812-1815
By Wade G. Dudley
Naval Institute Press, 2003, ISBN 1-55750-167-X, $32.95
The wooden wall refers to the ships that patrol the coasts of a country to curtail maritime commerce, the lifeblood of any nation. In 1812, the Royal Navy has mastered this strategy to perfection, having blockaded French ports in two wars. The fledgling nation, These United States, dares to declare war against the mightiest nation on sea and land. At the time the American Navy consists of a few ships. Those of the Royal Navy total 607. To bring a swift conclusion to the war, the British Admiralty institutes a blockade of the American coast from New England to the Gulf of Mexico.

The purpose of the blockade is to isolate American naval and commercial ports. The loss of trade will cause severe shortages among the populace. Also, the Royal Navy preys on enemy merchant vessels, seizing both the ship and the cargo, which impacts America’s imports and exports. According to Dudley, “The actual mechanics for blockading seem simple--sail back and forth off the port, watch for enemy naval activity, and seize all legal prey in sight.” Theory and reality collide, however. The logistics of carrying out the blockade and the geography of the United States make a simple order extremely complicated. Even so, naval historians have long believed that the British blockade “proved highly effective, pinning American naval forces in their ports, destroying virtually all American commerce.”

Wade Dudley, however, challenges that interpretation in this scholarly work about the blockade from its inception until after the Battle of New Orleans. He provides a comparative analysis of the naval blockade in theory and practice. Through the use of charts, maps, and illustrations developed from primary documentation, he demonstrates that the blockade was anything but successful.

Aside from providing an overview of blockading strategies and how they developed, Dudley examines each year of the war and how the Royal Navy accomplished or failed to accomplish its orders to erect a wooden wall. He also compares this blockade to two other British blockades, both against France. Sources are cited throughout the text and a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary resources are included.

While primarily a work that concentrates on the problems and effectiveness of this particular naval stratagem, the book looks at the privateers who play a significant role in the war, particularly on the side of the Americans. Readers will also find significant information about life at sea in the Royal Navy and during the Age of Sail.

Book Review Copyright ©2003 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Drake
Drake: For God, Queen, and Plunder
By Wade G. Dudley
Brassey’s, 2003, ISBN 1-57488-406-9, $19.95


To the English he was a national hero who played a pivotal role in thwarting Spain’s attempts to invade England. To the Spanish he was El Draque, a heretic and pirate who plundered without mercy. Sir Francis Drake, a commoner at birth, entered the ranks of the nobility as one of Queen Elizabeth’s most fearsome Sea Dogs and became a legend in his own time.

Born around 1540 when religious strife pitted upstart Protestant England against devout Catholic Spain, Drake became an ardent supporter of the new religion. With Henry VIII’s death, Catholicism reared its head again in England, and like other Protestants who feared reprisals for their beliefs, Drake’s family left their successful farm to reside in the hulk of a ship in near poverty. Yet, this move brought Drake into close proximity with seamen and ships, which opened a new world to him. As a teenager, he fostered with the Hawkins family, who owned several ships. Drake worked his way through the ranks from ordinary seaman to captain of his own ship, and in the process made a name for himself as an accomplished mariner, trader, and soldier.

His seafaring ventures brought him wealth and success as a merchant. His seizure of the Spanish ship, Cacafuego--the richest treasure galleon ever plundered--and his circumnavigation of the globe brought him prestige. In spite of becoming a knight of the realm, Drake didn’t achieve the acceptance he sought. Some members of the nobility considered him no better than a pirate because of his ill-gotten gains.

Although brief in pages, this succinct biography of Sir Francis Drake is a marvelous introduction to both the man and the myth. Wade Dudley’s knack for examining the totality of time and place within its historical setting provides the reader with a focused understanding of the events that influenced Drake’s life and beliefs. A consummate storyteller, the author holds the reader’s interest while teaching him to look at history with a fresh eye and urging him to explore the subject in more detail.

Review Copyright ©2003 Cindy Vallar

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