August 28, 1814. Dressed in black, James Madison mourns the nation's loss. Smoke rises from the ruin of the Capitol before him; a mile away stands the blackened shell of the White House. The British have laid waste to Washington City, and as Mr.Read more...
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August 28, 1814. Dressed in black, James Madison mourns the nation's loss. Smoke rises from the ruin of the Capitol before him; a mile away stands the blackened shell of the White House. The British have laid waste to Washington City, and as Mr. Madison gazes at the terrible vista, he ponders the future-his country's defeat or victory-in a war he began over the unanimous objections of his political adversaries. As we approach its bicentennial, the War of 1812 remains the least understood of America's wars. To some it was a conflict that resolved nothing, but to others, it was our second war of independence, settling once and for all that America would never again submit to Britain. At its center was James Madison-our most meditative of presidents, yet the first one to declare war. And at his side was the extraordinary Dolley, who defined the role of first lady for all to follow, and who would prove perhaps her husband's most indispensable ally.
In this powerful new work, drawing on countless primary sources, acclaimed historian Hugh Howard presents a gripping account of the conflict as James and Dolley Madison experienced it. "Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War" rediscovers a conflict fought on land and sea-from the shores of the Potomac to the Great Lakes-that proved to be a critical turning point in American history.
Advance praise for "Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War"
"Hugh Howard has turned the least known and understood war in American history into a Technicolor, wide-screen epic of thrilling naval battles, brutal backwoods skirmishes, villainous intrigue, and stirring heroism. Thanks to Howard's prodigious research, fine eye for the telling detail, and vivid prose, the War of 1812 seems as contemporary and compelling as yesterday's battlefield dispatches from the Middle East."-Thurston Clarke, "New York Times" bestselling author of "The Last Campaign"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-10-10
- Reviewer: Staff
This fluent if glamorized history of the War of 1812 mines what heroism and romance it can from the woeful record of American military ineptitude, cowardice, political dissension, and lackadaisical leadership. Historian Howard (Thomas Jefferson: Architect) does find stirring moments, especially in his accounts of American frigates’ underdog battles with the British fleet, which yield gore (“his lifeless body fell to the deck, severed in two”) and gallantry aplenty, including Capt. James Lawrence’s immortal last words, “Don’t give up the ship!” (uttered just before the ship was, in fact, given up). The author’s foregrounding of the first couple, especially in a set piece recreation of the British sack of Washington, is less edifying. As much as Howard talks up his statesmanship, President Madison seems a feckless commander-in-chief who needlessly took an unprepared country to war and never got a grip. And Dolley Madison’s main impact was her star turn rescuing George Washington’s portrait from the Redcoats. Still, Howard’s entertaining saga extracts no little drama from an inglorious episode. B&w illus. (Jan.)
The bright stars of America's first war
In August of 1814, Maryland was invaded by foreign troops. After months of naval clashes in the Chesapeake and raids on shore, the British landed a serious force at Benedict, on the Patuxent River. And who was tracking their every move from a short distance and sending dispatches back to President James Madison? The U.S. secretary of state.
Yes, James Monroe, known as “Colonel” Monroe for his Revolutionary War service, was personally skulking behind bushes, risking capture or death, as he scouted the enemy. Imagine, if you will, Hillary Clinton running agents in Kandahar. Of course, you can’t, and that’s the point: The U.S. was a sparsely populated, fragile country in 1814, with a tiny, amateurish government and an ill-trained army. Monroe was probably the best man for the job.
As we begin to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, author Hugh Howard brings that very different world alive in Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War, an engrossing narrative history of a conflict that few today know much about. Howard ranges widely, as the war did, from the Great Lakes to New Orleans to the Mid-Atlantic Coast. His descriptions of the human carnage during the naval battles are particularly dramatic and moving. At the book’s heart is the personal experience of Madison and his gregarious wife Dolley, culminating in her legendary insistence on saving an iconic portrait of George Washington before she fled the White House ahead of the arrival of British troops in Washington. They burned the mansion and the Capitol, but subsequent American victories turned the tide.
Still, even the most positive assessment of the war, which was begun by Madison to end British impressment of American sailors and, he hoped (too optimistically), to expand U.S. territory into Canada, must conclude that it was hardly an American triumph. We lost as many battles as we won, and the ultimate peace treaty didn’t even mention the impressment issue, or much else. (The British stopped impressing Americans because they won the war against Napoleon and didn’t need the men anymore.)
And yet, this murky war was the source of what Howard calls the “rich, patriotic mythology” that helped solidify U.S. independence and fortify the country for the booming decades to come. It was a struggle of memorable personalities and phrases: “Don’t give up the ship.” “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.” Howard reminds us of the gumption and bravery behind those words.