Customer Reviews (3)
I was very favorably impressed by this book.It is easy to read, informative, and well-organized for referencing. I learned a good bit of history, especially about the War of 1812 with Britain and how it affected our economy, our Navy, and our relations with Canada.The explanations and descriptions of life at sea gave me an in depth understanding of what navy men endured. Now I can better appreciate naval fiction and all those sea-faring adventure movies.
"The Great Chase" description of Constitution's narrow escape from capture was riveting. It was a prime example of how knowledge, skill, endurance, and leadership can win through a disastrous situation.
I bought a new copy, after calling Fireship Publishing. The publisher had just gone through the book and corrected typeset errors.That's one advantage of modern electronic publishing - upgrades! So I had no such trouble as described by the other reviewers.
Latest Old Ironsides Book Disappoints
The latest account in a seemingly endless line of books on the Constitution does not stand out, but disappoints.Simply put, it contains too many errors.Some of the inexactness is trivial when standing alone.To illustrate, Great Britain, it is said, rescinded its bothersome orders in council "just a few days before" Congress declared war in June 1812.Actually, revocation came three days after the declaration.Ambassador Wise did not get out of the crossing-the-line initiation highjinks in 1844 with a "keg of spirits."He merely coughed up a bottle.Captain Percival did not assess the venerable old ship's condition "on his own initiative."Acting Secretary Henshaw assigned him to the task.And the Chesapeake did not attempt to "escape" from Boston past the Royal Navy.Followed by a large spectator fleet out to enjoy the sport, Captain Lawrence purposely went after the nearby Shannon, as he told the secretary, "in hopes to give a good account of her before night."Indeed, as he sailed, Bostonians prepared for a gala celebration for the evening when he was expected to return victorious.
Eventually, the errors add up and impact the record.The Shannon's conquest is cited as an example of a successful boarding prompted and made possible by a demoralized, weakened enemy crew.However, the facts paint a different picture.Eight minutes into the furious and continuing fight, the Chesapeake fell on board the Englishman when her mizzen rigging fouled the Shannon's fore rigging, locking the two warships together.Lawrence first saw the opportunity the accident offered and called for boarders just before being struck down.At much the same time, Captain Broke responded to the unexpected opening created by the mishap and got his party on the American before suffering a grievous wound in the ferocious and spirited resistance.In short, it was board or be boarded.
Elsewhere, the New England role in the War of 1812 - especially the antiwar aspect - is oversimplified and mischaracterized.Disgruntled New Englanders did not, as suggested, turn of the money spigot.Large and disproportionate sums of investments and taxes flowed to Washington from the region, funding much of the war effort.As well, federal recruiters did well in the area.A substantial percentage of regular U.S. Army soldiers came from New England, as did 40 percent of the critically important privateers.As for New Englanders "passing . . . intelligence to the enemy," the writers will be hard-pressed to provide a single substantiated example.The one allegation that received any attention - Decatur's complaint of blue-light signals to Captain Hardy's fleet off New London - proved so tenuous that the Republican-controlled Congress under Calhoun refused to open an inquiry on the matter.To make the apparently intended point, the authors could have substituted some mention of the shameless smuggling and profiteering that flourished along regional shores and borders.
There is more, but why belabor things?The foregoing should suffice to suggest that this book, weak in the entertaining art of storytelling, cannot be relied upon as a primary reference source.
An Excellent Effort
The War of 1812 has been called many things, among them "useless," pointless," and "without significant result." The authors of Ironsides! The Ship, the Men and the Wars of the USS Constitution tend to disagree with those assessments.It is their view (and that of this reviewer) that the War of 1812 helped to define the United States as we now know it.
Ironsides! isn't just about a single ship or a single conflict.It covers the early formative years of the United States, its Army and its Navy from about 1795 to about 1815.It contains information as diverse as wooden warship construction and rigging, recruiting, the Quasi-War with France, officer procurement, fighting on the inland lakes, gunnery drill, fleet dispositions for anti-slavery patrols in the antebellum period, shipboard routine, and the transition of the US Navy from sail to steam.
The basic thesis of Ironsides! is that the United States ventured into building a navy to protect its interests abroad because diplomacy and trade just were not working against revolutionary France or the pirates of North Africa, and the "tribute" (also called squeeze or protection money) they demanded would bankrupt an already thin treasury.The War of 1812, the conflict where Constitution became famous, is treated first as a trade dispute (which it was) and as a struggle over American sovereignty and their freedom to trade with anyone they chose.Absent from Ironsides! are extensive references to the other issues, which included the impressment of sailors and the still-unsettled northwestern border of the United States.
The work is divided into five parts: The Ship, The Men, The Wars, The Rest of the Story, and Appendixes.Each of the first four parts contains a number of individual essays by one of the three authors. well-researched and engagingly written. Essays on wooden warship management, the roles of officers, gunnery and gunnery training, the land war of 1812, politics and Constitution overhauls are loaded with rich nuggets of information. The history of the entire US Navy up to about 1815 can be traced through the pages of Ironsides!
While the main text is excellent it is somewhat short.The first four sections take up only 175 pages, half the book.Each essay is well enough done, but they do leave out critical details (such as the logistical nightmare both sides faced on the Niagara front) and in general are short on analysis.Still, factual errors are rare enough not to be notable except to scholars and true aficionados of the period, and some issues like the motivations of Britain in 1812 in issuing the Orders of Council are simply different interpretations of very complex subjects that historians have quibbles about in symposia.
The appendixes are worth the entire cost of the book.These are based on the primary record, including selected letters between Constitution's captains and the Navy, deck logs, personal journals, the text of laws, naval regulations and more.The bibliography is extensive if not exhaustive, and nearly all the sources can be had, somewhere and for a price.If readers want more detail on Constitution they can look into A Most Fortunate Ship by Tyrone Martin; for more on the formative years of the US Navy Ian Toll's Six Frigates is a good bet.There really isn't a great deal other than the standards out there on the War of 1812 and the Barbary Wars that this reviewer has read and can comment on.
This edition is a reprint of Old Ironsides: An Illustrated Guide to USS Constitution.Fireship's edition the same text and, according to the jacket and inside frontispiece, only the organization and layout has changed.If so they might have done better with closer editing and proofing.Typographical errors and missing words are a frequentannoyance.But in this kind of work, written possibly at different times by scholars working essentially on their own without an editor (presumably) then putting the essays together just before publishing it is practically inevitable.While the stand-alone essay format instead of contiguous flowing chapters is a good way to make this kind of broad-ranging subject work, it can lend itself to technical challenges.
Despite the typos, Ironsides! is a worthwhile effort.If you have only limited time in your schedule or space on your shelfto cover the early years of the US Navy, the War of 1812, the Barbary Wars, USS Constitution or wooden ships at the end of the Age of Fighting Sail,Ironsides! fulfills all those requirements.
John D. Beatty, is a Wisconsin writer and researcher of military history and was a contributor to the Garland Encyclopedia of World War II in Europe.He has worked in US Army Military Intelligence, holds a BA in American Military History from American Military University, and is a Master's candidate in American History at AMU, and American Public University System school.
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