On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy

By Wilson, Andrew G. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy


Wilson, Andrew G., Naval War College Review


Lehman, John. On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy. New York: Free Press, 2001. 436pp. $35

John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy and author of Command of the Seas (1988), has with this book produced a masterful outline of "the grandeur of the American naval tradition." The truest examples of this "grandeur" are "best found in its people, fighting sailors, technical innovators and inspiring leaders." From John Paul Jones and the Revolutionary War to the six-hundred-ship fleet of the Cold War, John Lehman brings us a wonderful episodic view of the U.S. Navy's people and ships, and their collective contribution to the strength and character of the nation they have served.

Using both primary and secondary sources in the United States and England, Lehman offers an exciting and messageladen portrait of the American naval tradition, a portrait that is "deliberately selective and subjective." In short, this book is not a typical chronological narrative history of the U.S. Navy but a stimulating history of a highly adaptive institution.

One of the most intriguing sections is the story of Joshua Humphreys, the "premier ship-builder" and "the most innovative and revolutionary designer of the age of sail." Humphreys would design several warships for the young republic, all of them larger, faster, and more heavily armed than similar vessels in England or France. Collectively known today as the 11 super frigates," this group included such storied vessels as Constitution, United States, and President. Even Admiral Horatio Nelson, the preeminent naval leader of his day, is quoted by Lehman as foreseeing "trouble for Britain in those big frigates across the sea"; the trouble of which Nelson warned came during the War of 1812. Throughout, Lehman contends that, contrary to the views of many historians, privateering had a significant impact on the outcome of both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. He argues that "the battles of the American Revolution were fought on land, and independence was won at sea." This work does much to reinforce such a view.

From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Spanish-American War, a great deal of technological and strategic change was absorbed by the "new Navy" of American Manifest Destiny. …

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