SHIPS of OAK, GUNS of IRON: The War of 1812 and the Forging of the American Navy

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    A Review by Emily Jennings
    The Free Lance-Star

    What does 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1812, mean to you?

    That day held no particular significance for me, I confess, until reading Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron, by Ronald D. Utt.

    That is the day "the United States blazed as an indisputable world power," said Charles Francis Adams. "On that day and hour, this country, I confidently submit, became a nationality to be reckoned with," the Adams quote continues.

    Great-grandson of President John Adams and a noted United States historian, Adams knew his audience at the American Historical Society was keenly aware of what made that date so important.

    "That was the moment when the American frigate Constitution shattered and sank the British frigate Guerriere in the first major sea battle of the War of 1812."

    The War of 1812, or what is sometimes called the Second War of Independence, is one of the most dramatic "underdog" events in history. A newly formed government, struggling financially to survive, took on the wealthiest and most expansive military power on Earth -- and won.

    The battles that raged 200 years ago between 1812 and 1815 became a dramatic turning point in the history of our nation.

    Utt's book very effectively tells the story of this war, started in objection to the British policy of abducting American soldiers to serve on their 500 or more ships.

    A master storyteller, Utt draws the reader in, describing conflicts both on and land and sea, including the Great Lakes, and the incredible individuals who led them.

    The illustrations in the book are refreshing and helpful, including maps and naval battle actions that would be difficult to comprehend otherwise. Portraits of the leading players and paintings of the legendary ships involved add significantly to the narrative, as well as an excellent timeline to which I found myself referring frequently.

    Seven participants in the War of 1812 became president of the United States. Heroes whose names we've heard all our lives earned their reputation during the war: Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Francis Scott Key, Stephen Austin and Sam Houston, among others. They were an impressive generation.

    Utt very effectively allows his primary resources to tell their own story, quoting extensively from journals, letters and early accounts of the battles.

    "This is their story, and the story of thousands of other American men and boys who stood behind the guns and gave better than they got."

    Hardcover, 572 pages

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