on June 23, 1999
In Lords of the Lake, Robert Malcomson explores the naval activity that took place on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. In this brilliant and highly readable work, Malcomson succeeds in outlining, perhaps for the first time, the importance of the naval war on Lake Ontario in determining events of the larger conflict. While avoiding the national bias that has often marred the study of the War of 1812, Malcomson was able to establish the rightful place of the naval conflict on Lake Ontario in the lager contours of Canadian and American history. A must read!
on August 23, 2000
This valuable tome tells the interesting story of the arms race of the War of 1812. Gallant naval feats are few here, and there are mismanaged operations and no showdown fights. There is, though, a very interesting story to tell. Well-researched and better written, the author has chosen a topic that is seldom talked or written about and that is a valuable addition to the literature of the little-known War of 1812.
The story of the 'naval war' on Lake Ontario is a strange one. The British commander, Sir James Yeo, built an excellent fleet, and never really sought decisive action against his foe, American Isaac Chauney, who more than obliged him, apparently believing that to save his hard-built fleet was more important than hunting down and destroying his enemy, in the words of the immortal John Paul Jones, seeking a fast ship (or ships) and going 'in harm's way.'
In cold fact, Yeo didn't have to. By denying the Americans the control of Lake Ontario, he accomplished his mission. By not seeking decisive combat, Chauncey denied his country a strategic advantage, at the same time starving his very competent and aggressive subordinate, Oliver Perry on Lake Erie, experienced seamen and assets to build an overwhelming superiority on that other lake, which didn't stop him from winning the decisive victory at Put-in-Bay. It would have been interesting to see Perry command on Ontario against Yeo afterwards.
This book is highly recommended and belongs on every history buff's bookshelf, whether or not he or she is a War of 1812 enthusiast. It is another piece of the puzzle that is American militiary history.
on July 9, 2002
This book is everything that military history should be. Mr. Malcolmson has a very readable style, while still providing a strong level of detail, and is not overly judgemental of most of the principal characters. Indeed, for the most part, both Commodores Chauncey and Yeo come out much better than most other histories of the War of 1812 have rated them. Lots of excellent and readable maps, are provided through the book where appropriate in the text. Excellent contemporary and modern art provides an evocative feel for the action, and is again placed strategically thoughout the text. Reserved for the appendices are tables showing the ships and broadside statistics for each fleet at several key intervals in the campaign, an appropriate decision given the changing nature of the fleets. The data is useful for understanding the different strategies employed at different stages of the war.
The book is not just a naval history, and does not overly concentrate on details of construction of the ships involved. At most times it would appear that providing crews for the fleets was more of a concern than the construction of ships. The book does a fine job illustrating the interaction of the land and naval arms and also the impact of events elsewhere such as on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. Detailed accounts of the battles at Sackett's Point, Oswego, Sandy Creek, York and the 1813 campaign to Montreal are provided, as well as the many potential fleet actions on the lake, and more minor fleet activities. The struggles of both sides' commanders with their superiors, and the management challenges some of their underlings provided, are also covered, again, in what I found to be just sufficient detail to help keep the writing entertaining and evocative of the period.
I have read quite a bit on the War of 1812, and I still found much to learn from reading this book. I highly recommend it.