Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812

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Emergent56
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Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812

Post by Emergent56 » 2012-10-21 10:41am

So, my dear friends, I am currently reading Mahan's Seapower in Relation to the War of 1812.

What is becoming evident early on from my consumption of this book is that he's absolutely no fan of Jefferson at all.

But some of the stuff in his book seems to be a bit off - he claims that no naval construction appeared during the Jefferson-Madison administration, other than the 'worthless gunboats'.

I wish to ask two questions of the good people of this forum:

1. I recall reading in other sources that some kind of light vessels were constructed other than gunboats - what are these?
2. Mahan claims that the gunboats were no good in oceanic journeys - and yet some of them, I know, traversed the Atlantic during the Barbary Wars. What is up?

Thank you for your edification.

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Re: Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2012-10-21 02:14pm

A few schooners and brigs were built. The gunboats came in a lot of forms, all of them effectively useless in a war against the British. The ones that got across the Atlantic, one sank on the way, had the sides built up for the trip, false keels added and modified rigs with the guns stowed in the hold. They were totally incapable of fighting in the Atlantic, and indeed proved near incapable of operations in the Mediterranean and were never really used. The US Navy instead kept using gunboats it bought and borrowed over the years locally from the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. The USN also got several bomb ketches from these governments.

The US built gunboats generally had one or two guns, shallow draft, almost no freeboard and generally proved so weakly manned it was normal for the British to capture them via rowing launch attack. Near 200 may have been built by the federal government and state governments before the war of 1812, a great many ended up disarmed with the guns installed in forts. Some were so small they absurdly had both guns pointing in opposite directions on a turntable, which spun around when one gun was fired to present the fresh one. This made a bit of sense for craft on Lake Champlain, it was kidding yourself in a coastal vessel. Late in the gunboat program before it was finally ended in 1808 some slightly more useful vessels called Block Sloops were produced, which had a large bulwark around the deck with loopholes to protect them from boarding, kind of, and the guns fixed in the ends which was okay for a craft that primary acted as a galley. Still even a group of these vessels had no real chance against even the smallest proper warship, and so the only places they could defend were the mouths of creeks which accomplished little and more then once saw them outflanked by men marching overland.

As a whole these craft were worse then useless. The money spent on them might have been used to preserve all the large ships that did exist which were in poor repair, several frigates upon the outbreak of war had to be broken up and rotten. It also could have gone into actually finishing some of the forts the US was working on.

The US could have had a navy so powerful in 1812 that the war would have most likely never happened. In the Quasi War the frames for a major force of 74s were ordered and mostly completed, but the ships were never assembled. By 1812 the pieces had largely rotted and work had to start fresh but never saw much progress because Congress had become convinced that commerce raiding was the only course of action to follow and just ignored the blockade.
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Re: Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812

Post by Emergent56 » 2012-10-21 02:47pm

A good book on the gunboats is Gene A. Smith's For the Purposes of Defense.

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Re: Sea Power in Relation to the War of 1812

Post by houser2112 » 2012-10-22 07:52am

I have no idea if the scholarship of the book is up to the standards of the people on this board, but Ian W. Toll's Six Frigates is a book about the early US Navy that I've enjoyed reading.

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