(M43'12) Six Frigates, Ian W. Toll

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(M43'12) Six Frigates, Ian W. Toll

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jul. 2, 2012, 9:19 pm

This was the book that took up /all/ of my June reading time. It was on kindle and not text to speech, so I had to go 500 pages when I had the time to sit down and physically read. No listening in the car, nothing like that. It was an enjoyable book though... and I made plenty of notes. I'll post them in a day or two, when I'm more settled back into the group and all.

jul. 8, 2012, 6:57 pm

There are 108 notes or highlights in my kindle for this book, so hang in there with me while I post all this.

Describing the British Navy's attitude toward sailing:
They put into port for short, furious bursts of work - with little or no shore liberty for the crews, who were kept constantly busy in refitting and reprovisioning - and then hurried back out to sea. A captain who kept his ship in port too long was diminished in the eyes of his colleagues and superiors.
I thought this greatly explained Malcolm's character on Enterprise. ;)

The third son of a country parson, he was a small, harmless-looking man, who stood five feet six inches tall and weighted 130 pounds. His features were gentle and pubes-cent, even feminine. He was as passionate and tender as a poet in springtime, pouring his heart out to the women he loved - above all to Emma Hamilton, the beautiful young wife of the British ambassador to Naples, whom he loved adulterously and publicly.
I loved this description of a man. Wasn't expecting such good, clear descriptions in a book about history, so I was much relieved to know I had more of this to look forward to.

During the long period of war from 1793 to 1815, the British lost 17 frigates to the French (9 of which were subsequently recaptured), while in the same period the French lost 229 frigates to the British.
Go England.

"There was fire from above, fire from below...the guns recoiling with violence, reports louder than thunder, the decks heaving and the sides straining. I fancied myself in the infernal regions, where every man appeared a devil. Lips might move, but orders and hearing were out of the question: everything was done by signs." -One of the officers aboard the Victory.
This'll remind us of what war is like.. then and now... Any time you have massive explosions... but to think of being at sea, trapped in that splinterbox...

The truth was that America did not want war, least of all a sea war, because its merchant marine was making money hand over fist in the "carrying trade," a role it coudl continue to exploit only so long as its government remained neutral.
How Ferengi of us.

In 1805, the United States was not much more than a narrow strip of sparsely populated beachfront real estate.
True and well described.

Influential men lobbied their congressional delegates to take unruly sons and nephews off their hands.
Not at ALL like today, nope, big change there. :p

"Until Revenues for the Purpose can be obtained it is but vain to talk of Navy or Army or anything else...Every good American must wish to see the United States possessed of a powerful fleet, but perhaps the best way to obtain one is to make no Effort for the Purpose till the People are taught by their Feelings to call for and require it." -Robert Morris
This is one of those things that is true any time. Several times in the book the attitude is that back then Americans were against this or that... but really, they still are. No one wants to spend money on a war, or send their kids off to war...

Quoting Thomas Paine from Common Sense:
"Our plan is commerce, and that, well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship of all Europe, because it is the interest of all Europe to have America a free port." American food exports, he added, "will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe."
I actually had to laugh at the last bit.

More in a while... Dinner is soon.

Editat: jul. 16, 2012, 7:54 pm

He proposed a tongue-in-cheek explanation for this supposed difference in French and English manners: "I fancy it must be the quantity of animal food eaten by the English which renders their character insusceptible of civilization."
I had a nice laugh at this.

The British let it be known that the Americans no longer enjoyed their protection. The wolves were hungry; the sheep were fat, numerous, and slow, and there was not a shepherd in sight.

Regarding ships being captured in Morocco...
Captured crew members were transported back into port in chains, where they were imprisoned, put to hard labor, or sold at slave markets. Women faced the prospect of being raped or sold into private harems. Prisoners who disobeyed or attempted to escape might be burned alive or impaled. That sub-Saharan Africans were subjected to the same cruelties by white masters in America did not prevent the news of such attacks from creating a sensation in the United States, where they inspired a genre of lurid fiction and plays.

Neutrality may have been the only realistic choice for a nation with seven hundred farm boys in uniform and not a single armed ship afloat.

Maclay detested the thought that Americans might "forego our republican innocence, and, like all other nations, set apart a proportion of our citizens for the purpose of inflicting misery on our fellow mortals. This practice is felony to posterity."
Very true, but unfortunately war comes to the world, no matter how much we wish it wouldn't.

Good officers and bad ships would make a better navy than good ships and bad officers.

On the same day, Washington sent a second message to Congress.
I highlighted this not because it was meaningful, but because It was in this part of the book where I stopped and told myself how wonderful it was to read about Washington's life as if he was a current president.

"My entrance into office is marked by a misunderstanding with France, which I shall endeavor to reconcile, provided that no violation of faith, no stain upon honor, is exacted. but if infidelity, dishonor, or too much humiliation is demanded, France shall do as she pleases, and take her course. America is not scared."
Even the second president had to emphasize the mess that he has to clean up after the first one. And people still blame the incoming guy for the problems left over from years previous. Nothing changes. Nothing at all.

Enjoying life after the revolution:
"This ball of liberty, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll around the globe," wrote Jefferson.

Jefferson foresaw that the French crisis would destroy Adams politically. "I know well that no man will ever bring out of that office the reputation he carries into it," he wrote. "The honeymoon would be as short in that case as in any other, & its moments of ecstasy would be ransomed by years of torment & hatred."
Ditto from above.

France, Adams declared, had "inflicted a wound in the American breast." Its refusal to receive an ambassador "is to treat us neither as allies, nor as friends, nor as a sovereign state." It and the rest of the world must be persuaded that "We are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear and a sense of inferiority, fitted to be the miserable instruments of foreign influence, and regardless of national honor, character, and interest."
This jumping back and forth from quotes to narration was a little bothersome in this area...

The War Office kept up a steady drumbeat of pressure to finish arming, fitting out, and victualling the three frigates that were finally afloat.
I liked the wording of the drumbeat to push people along... that whole thing went well.

"Does any man enter into (naval service) for the sake of subsistence?" he asked. "Are not glory and fame the grand incentives?"
This was a popular highlight.
"Without officers what can be expected from a navy? The ships cannot maneuver themselves," Truxtun lectured McHenry. "If we are to have a navy, we must make officers to manage that navy."
Versus mine...

The life of a naval officer, he said, was a life of unremitting toil, close attention to detail, and intense devotion to excellence in every aspect of his duty and deportment.
Again, the popular highlight...
"Every citizen in private life is his own master," he said, "But when he enters into the navy or army he is no longer so, for he must submit to strict subordination."
Versus mine.

The hope of the American navy would lie in its first generation of midshipmen, the young officers at the bottom rung of the promotion ladder.
Very, very true. I was impressed that this would even get a mention. People don't often think back to the beginnings of a thing when you /do/ have to worry about bringing in the best of the best for even the lower rungs of the ladder, 'cause they'll be the upper ones soon enough.

Only 66 notes and marks to go, some of those pair up together, so it'll be a little bit less... maybe a lot bit less...

jul. 13, 2012, 5:30 pm

It was a test of the strength of each ship's rigging, as well as a test of seamanship for the respective crews. Pursuer and prey each kept up a press of sail, their captains hoping for the best.
This was the end of some real great suspense here. I'm not kidding, I couldn't put the book down as I read this part.

By law, all money raised by the government in prize cases was to be deposited into a fund to support disabled officers, sailors, and marines.
I had no idea that this was something they did so early on. I was impressed at the idea of taking care of those serving our country.

The success of the navy, in mid-1799, was reflected in the sharply declining numbers of American merchantmen captured by French privateers. In the waters surrounding Guadaloupe, where eighty-nine American Vessels had been captured the previous year, only thirty-eight were taken in 1799. Overall, the number of American ships lost to the French in 1799 fell by nearly two thirds.
Way to go America. I can't help wondering if the odds had been different, would the navy still exist. It's amazing to think of us building something like this out of nothing.

"I must confess," he told a friend, "that it mortifies me to be idle in a moment like the present, when every mind and every hand should be employed to save our country."
There are a few of these quotes through the book, things people told friends... and how do we no these words so exactly? Might I ask? I mean, they have to be true, right?

The political culture of the young democracy was still evolving, and there was not yet an established boundary between acceptable rhetoric and outright slander.
Wait... There's an established boundary now?

He was an expert rider. "You saw at a glance," said his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, "from his easy and confident seat, that he was master of his horse, which was usually the find blood horse of Virginia. The only impatience of temper he ever exhibited was with his horse, which he subdued to his will by a fearless application of the hip, on the slightest manifestation of restiveness.
Actually, this sounds more like brutality than being an "expert rider" but I could have read the thing wrong...

Nearly every structure in the process of being built, torn down, expanded, or otherwise improved.
This is describing the Washington Naval yard and really paints a good picture of the place in a state of chaos it must have been in.

During his diplomatic service in France two decades earlier, Jefferson had repeatedly been warned that the Barbary States were perfectly situated to blackmail any nation desiring access to the Mediterranean trade routes.
I highlight this because of the "two decades earlier" remark. There is a /lot/ of going back and forth in history while reading this, and I don't just mean that we hit "meanwhile, back in America." No, we jump back and forth a lot, sometimes to the point of wondering if we've changed presidents again.

Yusuf, infuriated, ordered the ship's admiral beaten and forced to ride backward on a donkey through the streets of the city while wearing a necklace of sheep entrails.
Boy, if this only worked to fix political situations today! When did we become so complicated as a culture that this simply didn't work any more? :p

These tactics would never pose a direct threat to the American Frigates, but--as a Tunisian minister told William Eaton, the American consul in Tunis--"though a fly in a man's throat cannot kill him, it will make him vomit!"
Nice quote. Where do we get these things?

"Some Fanatics may say that blowing the ship up would have been the proper result. I thought such conduct would not stand acquitted before God or Man, and I never presumed to think I had the liberty of putting to death the lives of 306 Souls because they were placed under my command."
This is Bainbridge, writing to Captain Preble, by the way...
There /is/ something to be said against the self destruct command.... However doesn't every sailor on a ship accept the risk of death when sighing on? In the past, in current time /or/ in the future?

By six the next morning the man on the deck of the Siren, forty miles out to sea, coudl still see the light of the distant fire on the southern horizon.
The whole scene here (this is the end of it) was written out like something from a movie. It was a page-turner of a read.

And here I'll stop for now. I've gotten down to 43 highlights with notes and I need to be getting ready to go and eat. Hopefully I'll get some more notes in before I go to bed tonight... Chapter Eight was a good stopping point.

Editat: jul. 16, 2012, 7:54 pm

I have to say that while I was reading around in this area I started to listen to ocean sounds and /boy/ was that the perfect accompaniment to the book. Add to this the light gongs of Tibetan singing bowls and you're having a /perfect/ day at sea!

There's a great bit on Dueling somewhere in chapter eight, dealing with how people used to challenge each other and all of the rules and whatnot. It wasn't supposed to be allowed in the navy, but like everything that's not allowed, people went and did it anyway.

One of the strangest duels in the early navy aws set in motion by an exchange of friendly banter between Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers in 1798, when both were midshipmen serving on the United States under Captain Barry.
After reading what happened here, all I have to say is that I went /back/, highlighted this section and wrote "Wow, was it!" lol!

"I amputated all his fingers but one, with a dull knife, and dressed them in a bungling manner, in hopes of losing my credit as a surgeon in this part of the country--for I expected to have my hands full of wounded Turks in consequence of the exploits of my brave countrymen." -Doctor Cowdery, the Philadelphia's surgeon, regarding being forced to heal soldiers of the opposing country.
It isn't often that you see this kind of truthfulness. I don't know that I could do what he did, had it been me... And you /really/ have to read the whole section to feel this part.

Spence recognized Lieutenant Caldwell, who was "Without arms, or legs; his face so mutilated that I could not discriminate a feature--by his dress only I recognized him; he was not dead, although he sank instantly."
What a simply horrible way to go. This literally gave me nightmares.

In his letters during his two terms in office, one finds occasional references to politics and policy amid dissertations on (to pick a few subjects at random) gas lighting, Native American arts and crafts, geology, tooth-extracting instruments, steam engines, sculpture, the calculation of longitude, ventriloquism, heat conduction, mathematics, nailmaking, French wines, and the use of gypsum as a soil dressing.
This is regarding Jefferson's vast knowledge base. And vast is certainly the word for it.

The Federalist newspaper Connecticut Courant gleefully commented that the gunboat might, if left in the field, "grow into a ship of the line by the time we go to war with Spain. Should this new experiment in agriculture succeed, we may expect to see the rice-swamps of Carolina and the tobacco fields of Virginia turned by our philosophical Government into dry-docks and gunboat gardens."
I laughed at this. I just had to.

When danger menaces any harbor, or any foreign ship behaves naughty, somebody is to inform the Governor, and the Governor is to desire the marshal to call upon the militia general of colonel in the neighborhood, to call upon the captains to call upon the drummers (these gentlemen who, we are informed from high military authority, are all important in the day of battle) to beat to arms, and call the militia men together...to go on board the gunboats and drive the naughty stranger away, unless he should take himself off during this long ceremonial. -Anonymous letter, published in the Washington Federalist, filed among Jefferson's personal papers.
I laughed at this too.. Just the visual of this ridiculousness of people running around and everyone getting into place as the baddies slowly ambled away, waving to all...

There is mention at location 6722 about a ship named the Squirrel. I looked it up because I honestly thought that there couldn't /really/ be a ship named after a cute, fuzzy rodent... and yes, indeed... Apparently the British /love/ to name their ships after these cousins of rats. Why... I have no idea... Maybe they were advertising to ours that they could come take over the land and run out the natives?

He asked that a court of inquiry examine his conduct.
This is what John Rodgers did, regarding actions between the Lille Belt and the President and I was most impressed that someone would basically write himself up for his actions.

Regarding the strategy of attacking Canada to punish England's behavior at sea, Josiah Quincy is quoted:
"If you had a field to defend in Georgia, it would be very strange to put up a fence in Massachusetts."
I actually laughed at this so hard I nearly woke the kids.

But it was a day not so fondly remembered by the staunch pacifists of the Society of Friends, when a renegade Quaker first lady celebrated the combat victories of warships built by a renegade Quaker shipwright, and blushed approvingly as a trophy of war was flung at her feet. "This was rather overdoing the affair...," Wrote Mrs. B. H. Latrobe to a friend; "And I could not look at those colors with pleasure, the taking of which had made so many widows and orphans."
This was very true and often forgotten in the old wars... battles were won, but at a /huge/ cost. They still are today, but the end isn't the same, what with instant news and whatnot... We're ignorant, but don't have a right to be. They were ignorant and with good reason... to a point.

The guests danced late into the night, and upstairs, in one of the hotel's seventy-eight rooms, a mother gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Stephen.
I can't figure out if this is someone I'm supposed to know or not... I honestly can't. And I looked it up, idiot that I am. :p It just seemed such an oddball thing to throw at the reader to be trivial, you know?

This is funny, but only in its entirety, so please pardon that I'm about to bombard you with a long quote here...
Local newspapers carried sarcastic reports of the British raids. When a party of Royal Marines landed in an isolated farm on the Nansemond River, finding no one but an elderly black woman at home, the Norfolk Herald gleefully reported the encounter:

The marines being most accustomed to that kind of warfare,were sent round to the rear of the house by a private avenue, under an officer of great experience, to surprise the henhouse; another party composed of the most resolute spirits were ordered to storm a neighboring pig-sty, and the third, being the remaining disposable force, headed by the commander in chief, proceeded to sack the dairy and smokehouse. The arrangement was excellent, but unfortunately the marines, by omitting to send out an advance guard, were surprised while defiling through a narrow pass, by a flock of turkeys, who charged them furiously in flank and rear. After a sharp engagement of near half an hour, however, the assailants were either killed, taken prisoner, or put to flight; without the smallest injury to his majesty's troops...(The) turkeys having been defeated, the hen-roosts were taken possession of; the pig-sty was carried after a slight resistance, the storehouses were sacked, and the whole of the forces retreated in excellent order, laden with spoil, and without he loss of a man!

Despite generous cash disbursements from Washington, there seemed to be a permanent shortage of money. A large proportion of the Chesapeake's seamen had reached the end of their two-year enlistments and wanted to be paid off, but there was not enough cash on hand to pay them the wages and prize money they were owed.
This is not at /all/ like today. Nope. Not in the slightest.~

Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake is wounded in battle and shouts out to the men around him "Don't give up the ship!" Meaning blow the thing up.
It was strange that these dying words, comprising an order (not obeyed) to commit mas suicide were subsequently adopted for the navy's official motto.
The things you learn from this book, I'm telling you! It's awesome.

In his official letter reporting the result of the battle, Perry coined an equally memorable phrase, destined to be taken up as another of the navy's slogans: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
I'm telling you, finding out all this stuff makes me want to go see the surviving ships.

"Is war confined within the limits of honor?" -Robert Fulton, one of the major weapons inventors of the day.
There was much more to this quote than what I included, but I was most touched by this part itself, dealing with the way the British were forcing American citizens to join their ranks and whatnot... how many tricks to countries rely on in order to win a battle? Honestly? The "rules of war" keep changing... which means they keep getting broken along the way...

In a town called New London, on a river called the Thames, in a region called New England, many felt sympathy for the British in their long struggle to defeat Napoleon, and some believed (or professed to believe) that Madison had entered into a secret alliance with the French.
I understand why this is worded this way, for dramatic purposes, but honestly... are we supposed to be surprised there's a place called New England in America? The drama is kind of lost in the lack of a big reveal, I thought.

The British commodore, Captain George Downie, was killed early in the action, and Macdonough was twice knocked to the deck by flying debris, the first time by the decapitated head of one of his own midshipmen.
You have to cringe at this. It's the truth of war, though... And still one must wonder /how/ we know all of these things so exactly. All the research that went in to recreating battles before there were ways to create them... you have to put together every letter ever written in war time to manage it. Gosh.

Henry Clay, who had been both a leading advocate of the war and a principal architect of the peace, asked his House colleagues in January 1816: "Have we gained nothing by the war?"

Let any man look at the degraded condition of this country before the war, the scorn of the universe, the contempt of ourselves; and tell me if we have gained nothing by the war? What is our present situation? Respectability and character abroad--security and confidence at home. IF we have not obtained in the opinion of some the full measure of retribution, our character and our Constitution are placed on a solid basis, never to be shaken.

What was remembered and cherished about the War of 1812, above all, was the fact that America's tiny fleet had shocked and humbled the mightiest navy the world had ever known. Decatur, Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Perry, and Macdonough were among the most exalted heroes of nineteenth-century America: their names were as widely known as the names of Hollywood stars or professional athletes are today. Towns, cites, and counties were named for them. Homes were decorated with engraved prints, pewter cups, platters, punch bowls, urns, and woodcarvings with the images of America's first ships or their commanders.
You see... they were remembered... and /more/ so than we remember our troops today, I'll tell you. More change, not all for the better.

Sailors kept fragments of wood said to have come from one of the navy's victorious ships, as if they were relics of the true cross.
More of the above...

...and it was only after the War of 1812 that Americans began speaking of the United States in the singular rather than the plural.
This is important information, because people forget that we used to call the country "THESE United States."

The United States would never again encounter problems with the Barbary powers.
Hm... Well.. if you mean the actual parts of Africa.. maybe... if you mean Muslim powers... that was a little off on the prediction there, of course. Not that the leaders are doing what the terrorists do, of course...

Henry Adams passed his judgement on the Treaty of Ghent: "Perhaps at that moment the Americans were the chief losers; but they gained their greatest triumph in referring all their deputes to be settled by time, the final negotiator, whose decision they could safely trust."
With this I share my last quotable line... and say goodnight... unless I write a review tonight, bot to be honest... my fingers need a break.

ag. 28, 2012, 7:11 pm

At some point in the future I'm going to have to read this book, because hearing you talk about it, and watching the videos you found that one time, of ships and things connected with all things Navy really got me interested. I know it was a long book but judging from the many many notes you made, it seems like it really caught your interest as well :)

Loved the comment you made about Malcolm, and you are absolutely right. It does go a long way to explaining him.

When I read your comment about the description of the man in the history book, (and I suppose because of the reference to Star Trek in the previous post) it led me to compare your experience here with the opposite experience you had reading the Typhon Pact books. Go figure.

In fact, (from the description of war), all of the descriptions in the book seem to have been really good - as you say - for a book about history.

Very much liked the description of the US in the 1800s.

" American food exports, he added, "will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe."
I actually had to laugh at the last bit.

More in a while... Dinner is soon.

This bit of your notes made me laugh too, in part because it's still so true today - just look at the number of American food chain/restaurants and stuff in Europe (and all over the world), but also in part because you took a break then - for dinner. :)

And I have to go to bed soon, so I will break here and continue tomorrow.

oct. 3, 2012, 2:34 pm

After the bit of "English bashing" about the quantity of animal food, I loved the comment about wolves and sheep. :)

You made a good point about war coming even when we don't want it to, and the book's comment about slavery... all very poignant.

Good officers and bad ships would make a better navy than good ships and bad officers.
I think I know someone who would definitely agree.

Love the comment about the presidents there... and so true that nothing changes. Very pointed just weeks before this next election.

The political culture of the young democracy was still evolving, and there was not yet an established boundary between acceptable rhetoric and outright slander.
Wait... There's an established boundary now?

I laughed out loud at your comment here!

There is mention at location 6722 about a ship named the Squirrel. I looked it up because I honestly thought that there couldn't /really/ be a ship named after a cute, fuzzy rodent... and yes, indeed... Apparently the British /love/ to name their ships after these cousins of rats. Why... I have no idea... Maybe they were advertising to ours that they could come take over the land and run out the natives?
Perhaps we were indeed!

The whole thing about the turkeys... hilarious.

There were so many other things I could have commented on... the 'simple political fix' the fly in the throat... oh so many, but I would have been commenting on every comment you made! I will read this book one day.