The Challenge: America, Britain and the War of 1812

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Faber & Faber, 2012 - Great Britain - 538 pages
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In the summer of 1812 Britain stood alone, fighting for her very survival against a vast European Empire. Only the Royal Navy stood between Napoleon's legions and ultimate victory. In that dark hour America saw its chance to challenge British dominance: her troops invaded Canada and American frigates attacked British merchant shipping, the lifeblood of British defence.

War polarised America. The south and west wanted land, the north wanted peace and trade. But America had to choose between the oceans and the continent. Within weeks the land invasion had stalled, but American warships and privateers did rather better, and astonished the world by besting the Royal Navy in a series of battles.

Then in three titanic single ship actions the challenge was decisively met. British frigates closed with the Chesapeake, the Essex and the President, flagship of American naval ambition. Both sides found new heroes but none could equal Captain Philip Broke, champion of history's greatest frigate battle, when HMS Shannon captured the USS Chesapeake in thirteen blood-soaked minutes. Broke's victory secured British control of the Atlantic, and within a year Washington, D.C. had been taken and burnt by British troops.

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User Review  - Evan_Edlund - LibraryThing

A great book about the naval war between Britain and America. Having said that, the bulk of the book takes place on the Atlantic and very little is said about the war on the Great Lakes (much of where war was actually settled). Read full review

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Simon of Amazon says,
... this book puts many of the myths to bed, and puts the British response to the attack by the US into its proper global strategic perspective. It clearly shows that Britain
went out of its way to avoid war and fought largely on the defensive both in Canada and at sea. The idea that the war was a second War of Independence can be firmly laid to rest: This was a war of aggression by the US against Britain at one of the most critical moments in her history, and the Americans finished it broken militarily, at sea and financially. They almost finished it in secession and civil war.
All this is clearly laid out by Mr. Lambert in a highly readable narrative, which if, like me, you have been interested in the War of 1812 for over 30 years, has been a long time in coming.
Patrick responds,
American aggression? like, impressment, unlawful seizure, and Orders in Council. These are the only reasons why America launched its Canadian incursion and attacked British frigates. And Lake Champlain and New Orleans were not British defensive battles. The above English revisionist depiction (along with the historical skewing of portions in this book and many of the other reviews) is a typical Brit comment to a war that was caused by nothing more than the illegal maritime behavior of England, notwithstanding the situation in Europe. The final result: Twice the Mistress of the Sea was sent home with her tail between her legs. It was not a second war of Independence. It was a second humiliation for English pride, and the ascendency of American sovereignty. Which all historians agree ultimately led to the decline of Toryism in Great Britain and helped their people transition from a despotic monarchy into a stronger democracy. Everyone should be celebrating the 4th of July over there, and sending a thank you to all Americans, especially honoring George Washington and Andrew Jackson.

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About the author (2012)

Andrew Lambert is Laughton Professor of Naval History at King's College London. His books include Nelson: Britannia's God of War, Admirals: The Naval Commanders Who Made Britain Great, Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, for which he was awarded the Anderson Medal, and The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy Against Russia 1853-1856. His highly successful history of the Royal Navy, War at Sea, was broadcast on BBC Two.

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