Although I do not know as much about the War of 1812 as America’s other wars, I have gained some knowledge based on books that intrigue me. This is the case with George Daughan’s The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex during the War of 1812.
The first few months of the War of 1812 were a smashing success for the U.S. Navy against Britain’s Royal Navy. Trying to build on that success, Captain David Porter of the USS Essex, after failing to meet with two other U.S. Navy ships, set out to harass Britain’s whaling fleet in the Pacific Ocean. Although Porter’s cruise against the British whaling fleet was wildly successful, he frittered away his advantage by diverting the Essex and his prizes to the conquest of Nuku Hiva (part of the Marquesas Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean).
Daughan balances describing Porter’s excellent leadership of the Essex and Porter’s borderline stupid decision to claim Nuku Hiva for the United States. Among his many successes, Porter navigated the ship around South America’s Cape Horn, steered clear of the shifting Chilean political scene, prevented the ship’s crew from mutinying over food shortages, and skillfully deceived and captured many British whaling ships until it was too late to escape.
After commending Porter for the above actions, Daughan rightfully criticizes Porter’s boneheaded decision to capture Nuku Hiva. Daughan blames Porter’s missteps on his misplaced ego (he was trying to gain great riches and fame by topping the exploits of his fellow American naval captains). Rather than escorting the captured whaling ships back to the United States, Porter decided to visit Nuku Hiva. Porter’s dithering also allowed the British to catch up with him and prevent him from leaving the harbor of Valparaiso, Chile without a fight.
The book is a great description of the Essex‘s voyage, but the placement of the maps is poor. All of the maps are placed at the front of the book rather than in the text. Maps should be placed in the text so that the reader can refer to them quickly while reading.
The book is an excellent description and analysis of David Porter’s cruise in southern Pacific Ocean.