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Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That…

Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation

by Steve Vogel

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Interesting to read how the Americans kept blundering and allowed the British to ruin Washington D.C. but the narrative gets lost in a morass of details. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
"They will be driven to become soldiers"

August 24, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington D.C. by the British. It's an event remembered by few, and yet out of it came our most enduring symbols of America… and perhaps much more.

Most historians (or at least those histories I've read*) treat the War of 1812 almost as an extension of the Revolutionary War. But Steve Vogel takes a slightly different approach and emphasizes the more immediate causes, namely the impressments of American sailors by the British into the Royal Navy, and the opportunistic invasion of Canada by American forces. Britain was fighting France at the time, and when they began to run low of manpower they simply grabbed Americans on merchant vessels under the guise that they were still British 'citizens.' To combat this violation of rights, America attacked Britain along the Canadian border, believing that the Canadians would willingly and enthusiastically join the U.S. The timing seemed ideal - Britain was distracted with the war against France - but the Canadians fought back. Using the American attacks as justification, the British navy sailed into Chesapeake Bay and burned many towns, culminating in the conquest and burning of government buildings in Washington, including the president's house and the Capitol.

Vogel carefully weaves the story of Francis Scott Key, an attorney, into the greater history. Key was sent as a delegate to win the release of an American who had been captured by the British. Admiral Cochrane agreed to release him, but not until after the planned destruction of Baltimore. Key ended up being an eye-witness to the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the middle of the British fleet. Fortunately, American militias were in a better state of readiness this time, and the British were driven back. Upon seeing the American flag still flying the next morning, Key came up with the words to "The Star Spangled Banner," which prompted a greater pride in the American flag and was eventually adopted as the national anthem.

Vogel does an excellent job in telling the story of the battles for Washington and Baltimore. Key is never the central figure of the narrative, which focuses more on the actual leaders, but his part in it provides an element anyone who has stood to sing the national anthem can identify with. I'm not sure that the point of the subtitle - "Six Weeks that Saved the Nation" - is explicitly proven, but it certainly proved as a wake-up call to the new nation and drove certain changes that helped to strengthen it. And Vogel tells the story in a rousing and uplifting way. His descriptions of the battles are exciting, and you get a good feeling for the personalities involved in the events. There's a good deal of well-researched information in this book and it's an exciting read. (I received this book from the GoodReads "FirstReads" program. I am not obligated to offer a positive review, but honestly enjoyed the book!)

*I also recommend the following books that deal with the War of 1812:
Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815 by Stephen Budiansky
Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
In his latest book, Through the Perilous Fight, veteran Washington Post journalist Steve Vogel examines the turbulent period surrounding the burning of Washington, DC, by the British army during the War of 1812. Although largely an overlooked segment of American history, the conflict nevertheless produced a number of iconic American moments such as the aforementioned razing of the newly constructed capital, Dolley Madison protecting the portrait of George Washington, and of course the Star-Spangled Banner. With a spectacular level of detail derived from an obviously exhaustive study of primary and secondary sources, Vogel painstakingly presents the circumstances surrounding these events in an easy-to-read narrative that follows both the British and American forces (land and sea) as they maneuver throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Politics, including the diplomatic efforts in Ghent to end the war, and the privations of the citizenry are also given an in-depth look, while other significant events of the war - The battles of Lake Erie, Plattsburgh, and the invasion of Canada, for example - are mentioned in relation to the effect they had on the East Coast situation. Quite the page-turner (an uncommon trait among studies of military history), Through the Perilous Fight is a must-read for anyone having an interest in learning more about a time when The United States almost ceased to exist. ( )
  dknoch | Jul 22, 2014 |
Portraits are an outstanding feature of this book. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Mar 1, 2013 |
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Traces the story of a pivotal six-week period in 1814 that marked the turnaround of the War of 1812 and enabled a nearly defeated U.S. to rally against British forces at Baltimore.

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