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America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815

Written by Stephen BudianskyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Stephen Budiansky

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On Sale: January 18, 2011
Pages: 448 | ISBN: 978-0-307-59518-8
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In Perilous Fight, Stephen Budiansky tells the rousing story of the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812, when an upstart American fleet fought off the legendary Royal Navy and established America as a world power for the first time.
 
Through vivid re-creations of riveting and dramatic encounters at sea, Budiansky shows how this underdog coterie of seamen and their visionary secretary of the navy combined bravery and strategic brilliance to defeat the British, who had dominated the seas for more than two centuries.  A gripping and essential hsitory, this is the military and political story of how the U.S. Navy became a permanent and essential part of the nation’s defense.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

That America would have a navy at all in 1812 on the eveof her mad war against Britain was the direct result of events of a decadebefore that had spoken more to the young nation's heart than to her mind. The American mind was dead set against the temptations that the republic's foundersbelieved always led governments to war and tyranny. A solid majority of America's political leaders opposed on principle the very notion of a standing navy, a solid majority of Americans opposed the taxes that would be required topay for one, and no sane American of any political inclination thought that anynavy their country could ever possess would be able to contend with those ofthe great European powers.

Yet from the Anglophile merchants of New England to thebackwoods farmers on the frontier, Americans had been stirred by the glory that had been won by the captains and men of the tiny United States navy in worldsfar away ever since its founding in 1794, and it was that glory that had kep tthe service alive against all rational calculation to the contrary.

Edward Preble had no illusions about the price to be paidfor that glory. "People who handle dangerous weapons," he once wrote,"must expect wounds and Death." Preble was a man of action to the core, possessed of a legendary decisiveness and a volcanic temper. Just a year before joining his country's young navy in 1798 as a not-so-young thirty-seven-year-old lieutenant, Preble had taken exception to something a fellow merchant sailor had said to him in Boston, and cracked him over the head with a musket. Preble ended up paying his victim's room and board and medical bills while herecovered, then gave him $200 for his troubles; he never apologized, though.

The first week of February 1804 found Commodore Edward Preble, forty-two years old, captain of the frigate Constitution and commander of America's six-ship Mediterranean squadron, going prematurely bald and gray.His dark blue eyes were as fierce as ever, but he was increasingly given tobouts of racking physical debilitation from a griping stomach complaint that laid him low for days at a time. On the outside he usually managed to keep up afront of self-control and even optimism; inside he was blackened by darts of despair at the task before him, at his mission in life, at the distressing runof bad luck that kept coming his way.

Just a year before taking command of the Constitution the previous May, he had tried to resign his commission from the navy altogether, pleading his shattered state of health, which had kept him bedridden more oftenthan not for weeks on end. Writing the secretary of the navy, Robert Smith ,with his decision, Preble had enclosed a statement from his physician confirming that he was "reduced to a distressing state of debility andemaciation," adding, "he is extremely susceptible of injury from thecares and fatigues of business." His ship's surgeon agreed that theburdens of the job had proved too much for a man of Preble's hard-driving and easily provoked temperament.

But Secretary Smith had spurned the resignation, orderingPreble on furlough to get some rest, and slowly his health had improved enough for him to return to the endless vexations of commanding one of the three plumships of the tiny American fleet. For more than two years the American squadron in the Mediterranean had been waging an anemic battle against the Barbary corsairs that were raiding American ships traversing the region. For centuries the semi-independent Muslim states of Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli had flourished on piracy and tribute extorted from European shippers that sailedthe Mediterranean. On May 14, 1801, the pasha of Tripoli had made known his dissatisfaction with the amount of tribute he had been receiving from the United States in return for allowing American ships to pass unmolested: in a symbolic declaration of war, the pasha had sent his men to chop down the flagstaff in front of the American consul's residence.

Little had happened since. The American naval force foundit could not effectively blockade Tripoli's harbor and had been reduced to defensive measures, convoying American ships rather than directly confrontingthe Tripolitan corsairs. American consuls in the region warned that the UnitedStates' prestige was plummeting-as was her navy's, both at home and abroad. Jefferson's cabinet, true to the anti-navalist credo of the Republican party,was strongly inclined to simply pay off the pasha and be done with it; Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin wrote the president that he considered the decision "a mere matter of calculation whether the purchase of peace is not cheaper than the expense of a war."

Preble's and the Constitution's mission was to prove themwrong; or at least to prove that the navy had some value at all. Painfullyaware how much was riding on their mission, the secretary of the navyconfidently let be it known in Washington that Preble would be on station tenweeks from the date of receiving his orders. Instead, the months had slipped byas Preble struggled to get his ship seaworthy. The Constitution was only five years old but was literally rotting away at her moorings. She had served withdistinction during America's undeclared naval war with France from 1798 to 1800-the Quasi War, as it came to be called, triggered by French captures ofAmerican merchant ships trading with Britain and then by a wave of popularanger over the XYZ Affair, when an American delegation sent to Paris to resolvethe rising tensions was approached by three agents of the French government who demanded a large bribe. In February 1799 the Constitution had captured the French frigate Insurgente in the Caribbean; a year later she fought acourageous action to a draw with the much more powerful French fifty-two-gunwarship Vengeance. But with the signing of a peace treaty between America and France in September 1800, the ship had returned to Boston after one final cruise in the West Indies, and since June 1802 she had lain utterly neglected, accumulating weeds and decay, in the Charles River near Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard.

On May 20, 1803, Preble had come aboard, inspected herskeleton crew of one midshipman, one boatswain, and twelve men, and ordered a caulking stage brought alongside so he could examine the ship's bottom. The next day he climbed out onto the stage armed with a rake and began pulling upswaths of sea grass that had grown through gaping holes in the copper sheathing below the waterline.

Through the spring and summer of 1803 Preble worked dayafter day, morning to night, making "every exertion in my power," he wrote an old acquaintance, denying himself even "the pleasure of dining with a friend" as he urged the work on. Every seam of the frigate's planking had to be recaulked, a job that required all of the officers' roomsalongside the wardroom to be knocked out. There were cables to be made and tarred, ballast to be brought in, fifty-four thousand gallons of water in casksto be loaded, all new yards to be fitted, all of the ship's rigging to beremoved and rerigged. For the damaged copper sheathing to be replaced, the shipfirst had to be brought over to a wharf at Boston's North End, just across themouth of the Charles River, and all her guns and nearly all her ballast laboriously removed. Then the gunports had to be hammered shut and temporarily caulked tight to make them waterproof, everything that might slide around hadto be unloaded and the rudder unshipped, and then each day she was tipped overand held at a frightening angle by huge ten-inch-thick ropes running from herlower masts to a capstan on the wharf alongside. Massive poles braced the mastsagainst the edge of the deck to take the strain as the ship was heaved over, exposing her side all the way down to the keel, while relieving tackles running from the opposite side made sure she did not capsize altogether. Carpenters setto work from a stage, ripping off the old copper sheets and filling the exposedseams beneath with oakum. Then came a coating of tallow, tar, and turpentine;then sheets of tarred paper roofing felt; then finally the new sheets of copperhammered on. Sailing Master Nathaniel Haraden-his nickname was "Jumping Billy"over saw the back breaking schedule; work started at 5:15 each morning, and the laborers kept at it until seven at night, with an hour off for breakfast and dinner and fifteen minutes for grog at eleven and four. Some captains had found Haraden hardto take for having "assumed too much" in telling them how to run their ship, but the fact was no one knew the Constitution better, and the log Haraden kept of the repair operation spoke of a man justifiably proud of hismastery of the myriad technical complexities the job entailed. Preble told Secretary of the Navy Smith he thought Haraden knew his job and that he could keep him in line when he had to.

By August 9 the Constitution at last was ready to sail,awaiting only a favorable wind to carry her out of Boston harbor. Preble wrote a farewell letter to an old friend from Maine, Henry Dearborn, now ThomasJefferson's secretary of war. "I assure you I am not in pursuit of pleasure-excepting such as the destruction of the piratical vessels in the Mediterranean canafford me," Preble wrote. "If Tripoli does not make peace, I shall hazard to destroy their vessels in port if I cannot meet them at sea."

And he added: "None but a real friend would have given me the kind advice which you have respecting the government of temper. Be assured it shall be attended to."

Nothing about his command was calculated to improve the new commodore's temper. One early and spirited display of his legendary short fuse, however, did him some good with the officers and men under his command who were already growing weary of what one midshipman, Charles Morris, termedtheir captain's "ebullitions of temper." Nearing the Straits of Gibraltar on the evening of September 10, the Constitution's lookout had spotted through the lowering haze just at sunset a distant sail, tracking thesame course but far ahead. A few hours later, dark night settled in and theywere suddenly on her: the same ship, apparently, and almost certainly a ship of war. The Constitution's crew was brought swiftly and silently to their action quarters-no beating of the drums, but every gun crew at its station, gun ports open and gunsrun out, the men peering down their barrels at the stranger, slow matchess moldering at the ready to set off their charges the instant the order to fire came. Only then did Preble give the customary hail.

"What ship is that?"

Across the water a defiant echo came back: "What ship is that?"

"This is the United States ship Constitution. What ship is that?"

Again the question was repeated, again with the sameresult. At which Preble grabbed the speaking trumpet and, his voice strained with rage, shouted, "I am now going to hail you one last time. If a proper answer is not returned, I will fire a shot into you."

If you fire a shot, I will fire a broadside."

"What ship is that?" Preble thundered one lasttime.

"This is His Britannic Majesty's ship Donnegal, eighty-four guns, Sir Richard Strahan, an English commodore. Send your boat on board."

Now the volcano erupted. Leaping to the netting, Preble bellowed, "This is the United States ship Constitution, forty-four guns, Edward Preble, an American commodore, who will be damned before he sends hisboat aboard any vessel." And then, turning to his crew, he bellowed anequally loud, and theatrical, aside. "Blow on your matches, boys!"

An ominous silence ensued, broken by the sound of a boatsplashing down and rowing across. A shamefaced British lieutenant came on deckand apologetically explained that his ship was in fact the frigate Maidstone,no eighty-four-gun ship of the line at all. Her lookouts had been caught napping,and they had not seen the Constitution until they heard her hail; they had no expectation of encountering an American ship of war in these waters, anduncertain of her true identity and desperate to buy time to get their own mento quarters, they had stalled and dissembled.

The apologies were accepted; more important, as Morrislater recalled, "this was the first occasion that had offered to show uswhat we might expect from our commander, and the spirit and decision which he displayed were hailed with pleasure by all, and at once mitigated the unfriendly feelings" that their commander's irascibility had produced.

Throughout the fall of 1803 the commodore was vexed bythe subtleties of Levantine politics, the difficulties of securing reliable translations of Arabic and Turkish documents, and a furious altercation withCommodore John Rodgers, who insisted that as senior captain, owing to theearlier date of his commission, only he was entitled to fly a commodore's broadpennant on the Mediterranean station. Then disaster: on November 24, on the passage from Gibraltar to Malta, the Constitution spoke a passing Britishfrigate that gave them the appalling news that the Tripolitans had captured the American frigate Philadelphia and all her crew on the last day of October. The available facts were few but devastating. Chasing a corsair running intoTripoli harbor, the American frigate had struck a shoal and helplessly surrendered to Tripolitan gunboats that had poured out from the town; the enemy had since refloated her, and she now stood in Tripoli harbor, snug under the guns of the forts that ringed the shoreline. "This affair distresses me beyond description," Preble confessed to the secretary of the navy in a dispatch two weeks later, "and very much deranges my plans of operationfor the present."

Although Preble never publicly let slip a word ofcriticism of the Philadelphia's officers, he poured out his despair and dismayin his private letters. To the secretary he continued:

I fear our national character will sustain an injury withthe Barbarians-would to God, that the Officers and crew of the Philadelphia,had one and all, determined to prefer death to slavery; it is possible that such a determination might save them from either....If it had not been for the Capture of the Philadelphia, I have no doubt, but we should have had peace with Tripoly in the Spring; but I now have no hopes of such an event...I do not believe the Philadelphia will ever be of service to Tripoly; I shall hazard much to destroy her-it will undoubtedly cost us many lives, but it must bedone. I am surprised she was not rendered useless, before her Colours were struck.


From the Hardcover edition.
Stephen Budiansky|Author Q&A

About Stephen Budiansky

Stephen Budiansky - Perilous Fight

Photo © Martha Polkey

Stephen Budiansky is a journalist and military historian whose writings frequently appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. His previous books include Perilous Fight, The Bloody Shirt, Her Majesty's Spymaster, Air Power, and Battle of Wits. He lives in Leesburg, Virginia.

Author Q&A

You have tackled a wide variety of topics in your previous works. What drew you to examine the War of 1812 now in Perilous Fight?
 
Military history has always drawn me not only because it’s intrinsically an interesting and important business, but because it’s a window on human nature. Many years ago, Calvin Trillin wrote a series of articles for The New Yorker about murders—a grim topic, but the point he made was that when something that dramatic and awful takes place in a town, it inescapably brings to the surface all kinds of things about people and communities and their relationships that otherwise remain hidden. Wars are the same—they bring out the best and worst in people; they also offer a unique penetrating look at the societies in which they take place. 
 
This period was also an absolutely crucial moment in the history of America. The young republic was struggling to find a sense of identity; there were serious questions whether this brash experiment in democracy would even survive; there was a fascinating struggle and process of self-invention going on in the whole society as it tried to figure out just what it meant to be an American, to be freed of the old aristocratic culture of Europe. The War of 1812 not only was a test of whether America would indeed survive but also provides a remarkable look at this society in transition to the modern world. 



In your opinion, why has the War of 1812 become relatively forgotten in American memory? Why do you feel that this war deserves a more extensive exploration and analysis now?
 
I think it’s actually quite complicated why this war has been so forgotten, though it’s interesting that very recently historians have been starting to pay more attention to it. Gordon Wood in his recent book Empire of Liberty notes that Americans at the time instinctively understood what the war accomplished even though historians ever since have found it all extremely puzzling. 
 
It was a confusing war; it was a war America almost seemed to back into by accident; there were lots of blunders and mistakes; it ended in a military stalemate—but in the end it really did change the course of American history. Even the skeptics at the time, like Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, acknowledged afterward that the war had forged a new sense of national feeling and identity; more than that, it established America as a nation on the world stage: the European powers never again treated American sovereignty as something they could trifle with or ignore as they had before the war.  


 
Certain events of the war were not forgotten, in fact they were memorialized (“The Star-Spangled Banner,” the USS Constitution, etc.) How did this selective memory influence our national identity in the years that followed?
 
If you ask most people what the words of the national anthem refer to, they don’t know that “the rockets’ red glare” was the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. If you look at history textbooks and curricula, the War of 1812 is about a paragraph—I may be exaggerating, but not much. People have heard of “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, but again most people can’t tell you why that warship is famous. 
 
The war was vividly remembered in the decades immediately afterward as a “second war of independence” but with the rise of the first professional historians in the late 19th century the shine began to wear off—there was a great effort to find the “real” motive behind it all, and historians ascribed it to petty politics, land lust, and so forth. I think part of why historians have had a hard time was that it was that rarest kind of war, one that really was about honor, almost a throwback to ancient times in that way.
 
 
America during this time was on the cusp of transforming from a fledgling nation to the dominant world power we recognize it as today. How was the War of 1812 a catalyst for this monumental change?
 
Of course it would be only the end of the 19th century and then finally World War II that really made the United States a dominant world power, but you have to remember how weak and insignificant the America of 1812 was in the eyes of the then-great powers of the world. It had essentially no army; it had a tiny navy, one hundredth the size of Britain’s; and even many liberals in Britain looked askance at American democracy as little better than mob rule. They thought America was hopelessly vulgar, backward, and doomed to fail as a republic. It was a stunning blow to British assumptions that America did not bow to the Royal Navy’s might,  that Americans were willing to fight for principles, that this country of boors and bumpkins and “democrats” was even able to defeat them in sea battles. 
 
And it’s interesting that it was British naval officers who saw the writing on the wall sooner than most. There was one remarkable editorial in the British Naval Chronicle, right after the end of the war, noting that the real significance of the conflict was the emergence of a new naval power on the world’s stage that would only grow mightier in the years to come. Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, who had made his share of disparaging remarks about American society, probably said it best: “The Americans have taught us to speak of them with respect.”



While the war on land saw many embarrassments and defeats for the U.S., its sea battles were a surprising success—a David and Goliath story with the young American fleet fighting against the legendary British Royal Navy. What was different about the land and sea campaigns that led to such divergent outcomes?
 
Partly it was that America really had no professional army. Militia officers up to the rank of colonel were elected by their men or appointed by state governors and it was all very much a popularity contest or political cronyism at work. Many of the generals from the Revolutionary War were old and over the hill. And there was huge overconfidence about the land campaign—a widespread attitude that we could just march into Canada and take possession while scarcely firing a shot. 
 
By contrast, the navy was tiny but it was a very professional service. I was struck by how resistant to political pressure the American navy secretaries were, how hard they worked to set objective standards for training and evaluating officers for promotion, how much they emphasized seamanship and ability rather than connections. It really was one of the huge hidden strengths of the American navy over their British counterparts.



What did naval technology look like in 1812?  In what significant ways has the nature of naval warfare changed from 1812 until now?
 
The huge difference was the reliance on wind—almost unimaginable to us today. The complexity of maneuvering and strategizing a battle while taking into account the constraints imposed by the prevailing winds is just a fascinating study in and of itself. But I think actually more important is the extreme short range of the weapons and the sheer physical demands of combat. A long-range cannon on a warship of the era had an effective range of maybe 1,200 yards. Today, in the age of very long-range naval weapons like missiles and aircraft, information is the force multiplier—things like radar and air reconnaissance are key. Two centuries ago, maneuvers—and raw courage—mattered much more. And then you had boarding actions, which were the most concentrated and intimate violence you were likely to encounter in warfare of any kind: Hundreds of men in a space that was half a football field’s length and at most forty feet wide, with no possibility of retreat on either side, battling with swords, pistols, axes, tomahawks, anything. 



Within the U.S., the War of 1812 was marked by vicious partisan politics between Federalists and Republicans (reminiscent of what we’re experiencing today). How did that division impact U.S. foreign policy?
 
Support for the war divided almost completely on party lines. The vote for the declaration of war was by the smallest margin for any war in American history. By 1814 there was even a serious threat that the New England states, where the Federalists were strongest, might secede or seek a separate peace. It clearly constrained Madison's options in pursuing the war and was undeniably a factor in his decision by 1814 to try to end the war on any even vaguely honorable terms. The British tried in a small way to exploit these divisions but never really seemed to grasp American politics. By contrast I think America's overall naval strategy was much more effective in sowing political dissension in Britain and equally forcing Britain to come to terms to end the war.



Can you tell us more about the primary sources that you used in researching Perilous Fight? What documents were available written by average Americans during this time? What new material are you bringing to light for the first time?
 
There is a possibly surprisingly rich variety of written sources—letters, diaries, official records, newspapers. Many American sailors were literate and there are some amazing journals, especially from American seamen held prisoner at Britain’s notorious Dartmoor prison. While most of these sources have been known to historians for some time, they haven’t been drawn upon in telling the comprehensive story of the war in the way you’d expect. The famous histories of the naval war of 1812 by people like Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan and C. S. Forester take a very top-end view and focus almost completely on the naval battles from a command and tactical point of view. There’s very little about the experience of ordinary seamen, about the background and personalities of the captains, and even less about the political figures like American naval secretary William Jones. Jones’s letters are at the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and while his important official correspondence has been published, there’s a remarkable trove of letters to his wife that in many ways are like the famous correspondence of John and Abigail Adams—very revealing about his tribulations, his personality, life in Washington, and the political and personal struggles he faced during the war. 
 
In London I spent many days at the National Maritime Museum reading through the papers of the British admiral John Warren, which include many ephemeral details that really add to the richness of the story—for example, lists of punishments meted out on British warships, and accounts of all the prize money the admiral was collecting for seizing American merchant ships. Before I began my research, I had read that the prize court records from Bermuda had been lost, but I found the papers of Warren’s prize agent in Bermuda (containing his own complete copy of the Bermuda court records), so I was able to come up with pretty exact numbers of how many ships the British were able to capture in the first two years of the war.
 
Mainly, though, what I tried to do was to bring the modern historical approach to this story in a way I think really hasn’t been done yet—drawing on many different kinds of primary sources in order to paint as broad a picture as I could of the total experience of the war—from sailors to captains, from politicians to ordinary citizens—explaining the technology and exploring the human dimension.



Two of the primary reasons for declaring war were the impressment of American sailors and the restriction of free trade by the British. How were these issues resolved by the Treaty of Ghent? What happened to the seamen who had been taken before and during the war?
 
One of the great criticisms of the war by the Federalists, and one reason I think historians have tended to downplay the war’s significance, is that the Treaty of Ghent did not even mention, much less resolve, these two great issues that had led America to declare war in the first place. But the fact is that the British never again tried to impress (forcibly enlist) an American seaman, and the British and French never again interfered with neutral American trade in the high-handed manner they had been accustomed to before the war. It was a huge American victory in that sense. 
 
Some two thousand American sailors had been forced into British naval service before the war, and the British put them in prisons when the war began. Many died there and all were held until the end of the war, along with the thousands more taken prisoner on American merchant ships and privateers. The story of the prisoners is a very important part of the war, and one I found extremely moving and powerful.
 
 
Are there lessons that the U.S. should take from our experience during that war now that we are the world power?
 
The strategy we pursued two hundred years ago was what we’d call today “asymmetric warfare.” Outnumbered one hundred to one, we couldn’t possibly win a direct confrontation with the Royal Navy, so instead we pursued a kind of guerilla warfare on the seas that struck at Britain’s weak points and flanks—going after British whalers in the Pacific, snapping up merchant ships in the mouth of the English Channel, darting around the world, and sometimes tying up dozens of British warships in vain pursuit of a lone American raider. How we once played the nimble David to the muscle-bound Goliath is a lesson worth remembering in this age of insurgency and terror when we’re all too often on the other side of the equation.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“A rousing story. . . . Budiansky writes with sure and vivid command.”
The Washington Post
 
“An excellent new history of what was, in effect, American’s second war for independence. . . . Highly readable and engaging. . . . Budiansky illuminates and brings to life a conflict that, even for those of us who think we know our history, has always seemed obscure. . . . By turns grand and grandiose, tragic and mean and appallingly bloody, and often mordantly funny, like the worst of family feuds. . . . Budiansky is a master at cutting through complicated historical and technical material, and focusing on what’s essential. . . . It’s a book that many people, and especially those in the military, would read with profit.”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer
 
“With excellent narrative, battle diagrams and photos, this book is a keeper. It’s timely, well-written, interesting and a recommended read. . . . A joy to read for the interested reader of history, the amateur historian, and at the same time a worthy reference for scholars”
—Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, The Washington Times
 
“Enlightening. . . . Thoroughly entertaining. . . . [Budiansky] has captured this swashbuckling era to perfection. . . . He paints all of the pictures from the grand to the gruesome.”
The Post and Courier (Charleston)
 
“Excellent. . . . Budiansky is a highly gifted writer, and this is a book well worth recommending, not just for the history buff. There is much to ponder here with reference to our own overmatched wars, to the toll of pride and arrogance in warfare, and the vulnerability of a great power to an uncoordinated, scattered, but single-minded adversary. Most relevant is the insight into the American idea of waging war that prevails even today, first defined on the high seas in 1812-15.”
Dallas Morning News
 
“Budiansky meticulously recreates three years of pitched and pyrrhic battles, while nicely folding in the collateral intricacies of rigging, reefing and tacking, the ambitions, caprices and cruelties of the captains and the exasperating policies of the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. . . . Budiansky is strictly on the beam, both with nautical and literary sensibilities.”
The Newark Star-Ledger
 
“A rousing story. . . . [Perilous Fight] brings clarity to a complex war that veered back and forth across the planet, from the lakes and forests of Canada to the English Channel and as far south as the waters of Brazil and Chile. . . . Budiansky knits together the action colorfully.”
The Military Book Club
 
“The author’s colorful narrative is full of gory sea battles, chivalrous flourishes, mutinous tars, and charismatic performances by Stephen Decatur, David Porter, and other American naval legends. . . . Budiansky’s well-researched and skillfully written account extracts a gripping true-life naval saga from an otherwise inglorious conflict.”
Publishers Weekly
 
Perilous Fight showcases Budiansky’s rare talent for writing history that is simultaneously enlightening, insightful, and entertaining. Impeccably researched and artfully written, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening account of how America’s ‘Big Stick’ navy got its start.”
—Bill Sloan, author of The Darkest Summer and The Ultimate Battle


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