Perilous Fight is a new volume chronicling the lead-up and the fighting of the War of 1812 at sea.
Budiansky begins with the Barbary wars going over the fights and some of the political infighting concerning the building and equipping of a Navy. He gives the details of the relationship between England and the US and the sometimes odd love/hate dealings between the pair.
A lot of attention in the volume concerns strategic considerations. the British Admiral Warren and the headaches of trying to maintain a blockade of the East coast are given a depth that illustrates the issues England had in fighting this naval war. William Jones who succeeded Sec Hamilton is also given a fair amount of attention as his strategy for fighting the war in the fashion of commerce raiding as the most effective way of maximizing the utility of the vastly inferior American Fleet. Jones clearly is one of the heroes of the war to Budiansky and thus he gives him a level of recognition that he has perhaps unfairly lacked in previous histories.
The actual individual ship combats are hit and miss so to speak. The amount of pages given to the USS Constitution under Bainbridge (who Budiansky disdain for is one of the defining points of the book) is slight and the attention the Charles Stewart's rather neat victory over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant is even slighter but Issac Hull initial victory and escape started the war and the epic voyage of David Porter in USS Essex are given the attention the events deserve and more so. HMS Shannon's victory of the USS Chesapeake gets perhaps more press because it was so much of an exception when it came to the ship to ship battles.
Budiansky also tackles the home front and trade issues with some gusto (including the lively trade that continued with Canada during the war and Jefferson's support for it.). The conditions of prisoners of war, and the change in the relationship between the two sides as the fight became tougher and less chivalrous are given more space than many past volumes. Privateering is examined with a clear eye for both risks and rewards We also get a solid look at the mostly unsuccessful land war but only a taste of the war on the lakes (considering the stress of the High Seas in the title that is understandable) a shame because in my opinion they (and particularly McDonough's victory on Lake Champlain) were the most decisive victories of the entire naval war both in number of ships and in effect.
All in all a pretty good effort. I would have liked to seen more of some of the actual fights but Budiansky covers a lot of ground that hasn't been given due diligence in the past allowing the book to be a valuable resource in your fighting sail library.
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About the reviewer
Peter Ingemi (DaTechGuy)
I am a blogger who hosts a Saturday evening Radio show on WCRN 830 AM out of Worcester Mass. I blog about politics, religion, baseball and doctor who at datechguy.wordpress.com I also cover … more
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