Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 91

BOOK REVIEWS loyalty and motivation is compelling and offers a useful case study for the shaping of sentiment in a military unit. John E. Fahey, Lafayette, Indiana. THROUGH THE PERILOUS FIGHT: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation Steve Vogel, Random House, New York, 2013, 522 pages, $30.00 I n the course of celebrations of its bicentennial, America’s war of 1812 (which dragged into 1815) is getting some warranted attention. Renewed war with Britain posed a serious test for a young America that was still sorting out its institutions, not to mention its very identity. Nothing better attests to the fragility of America’s position in the world at that time than the British strike on Washington in the summer of 1814, which left the U.S. capital a smoking emblem of humiliation. Author Steve Vogel, an accomplished writer and popular historian, has stitched together a stirring and colorful account of Britain’s fateful drive to defeat the United States in the third year of the war. Drawing extensively from first-person recollections, he invites the reader to see breaking developments from multiple perspectives. From the British side, he focuses on Rear Adm. George Cockburn, describing him as “ruthless and witty” and “determined to make Americans pay a hard price for their ill-considered war with Great Britain.” In his many character sketches, Vogel captures the spectrum of emotional states conjured up by the struggle from contempt and arrogance to fear and rage. Among the central players is Francis Scott Key. Key was a lawyer and friend of James Madison’s administration who found himself in the unlikely position of watching the British attack on Baltimore from a vessel of the Royal Navy. Despite his fascination with historical figures, Vogel has not neglected the gravity of the British campaign or the critical significance of tactical and strategic events. He describes how the Chesapeake region’s killing heat affected the ordinary soldier during forced marches. MILITARY REVIEW  July-August 2014 Had it succeeded, the British attempt to capture Baltimore would have been a devastating blow to America’s strategic situation and the national psyche. Instead, U.S. troops rallied in front of the city and Fort McHenry withstood a furious naval bombardment. Cockburn’s thwarted gamble marked a dramatic reversal of fortune and broke the momentum of the 1814 offensive. The U.S. victory in turn restored its negotiating position as well as its self-confidence. Through the Perilous Fight is highly readable and brings the history of the war to life. The author does not