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

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

by John Lehman

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Overview

In On Seas of Glory, the U.S. Navy meets a storyteller worthy of its noble history. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman gives a sweeping narrative of the service's illustrious past, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, filled with the ships that dominated the seas, equally titanic personalities, and the battles that made history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684871769
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 10/09/2001
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 6.62(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.23(d)

About the Author

John Lehman, shown here while an aviator in the naval reserve, was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Ronald Reagan. He is the founding partner of J. F. Lehman & Company, and the chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation. He lives in Manhattan and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

On Seas of Glory

Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy
By John Lehman

Free Press

Copyright © 2001 John Lehman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-684-87177-7


Introduction

The grandeur of the American naval tradition is best found in its people, fighting sailors, technical innovators and inspiring leaders. In turn, the physical embodiment of that spirit is to be found in great warships, and the people and ships together have shaped history in epic sea battles from the Revolution through the Cold War.

My exposure to naval persons aloft and alow, from history, to hearing the stories of my father's service in World War II, to my own many years as a naval reserve aviator, to my six years as Secretary of the Navy, has convinced me that those who have made their profession upon great waters in ships of war are deeply changed by the experience, and some in every era deeply change the experience for all those who follow. This has been true of those who have served only a few years as well as those who have devoted their lives to naval service.

The sea is utterly unforgiving of inattention, negligence or ineptitude. Add to this perpetual conflict with the elements the dimension of mortal combat, and we have a unique crucible. Through American history the Navy has drawn men of all types. Then it has put those men together in close quarters in wooden - and now steel - containers and sent them off for years at a time to deal with ferocious storms and deadly enemies. Those who return are still individuals, but common patterns of temperament are discernible. These patterns have shaped the service, and through it, America.

In my view, naval personalities fall into three general categories. There are the daring warriors who live for glory and for battle: John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Jr., and William B. Cushing come immediately to mind. Such men, as once was said in a fitness report on General Patton, "are invaluable in war but a disruptive influence in peacetime." Then there are sailors who are equally courageous but more prudent - less dramatic leaders in both war and peace. John Barry, David Farragut and James Forrestal would fall in this category. The last and largest category is made up of reluctant warriors who leave their civilian professions to go to sea in time of war. They bravely - and often brilliantly - do their duty, then like Cincinnatus return to civilian life. Because they do not stick around to achieve high rank, they are rarely celebrated in conventional accounts. But these officers and seamen are the largest source of naval greatness. Fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech, at the height of the battle in Macedonian, spoke for them all: "To give way to gloom, or to show fear would do no good, and might brand us with the name of cowards, and ensure certain defeat. Our only true philosophy, therefore, was to make the best of our situation, by fighting bravely and cheerfully."

As the subtitle of this book implies, the narrative is divided among stories about men, ships, and battles. There are in the traditions of the Army and the Air Force great and classic weapons that are a part of service history: the M-1 rifle, the Sherman tank, the P-51 Mustang, and the F-86 Saberjet, for example. But there is nothing quite the same as the relationship between seamen and their ships.

Sailors live for months and years inside their weapons. And their weapons last a very long time. Three of the original six great superfrigates built before 1800 were still in active service when the Civil War began. The battleship Wisconsin was nearly fifty years old when it went into combat in Desert Storm, and remains in the reserve fleet at this writing. Not unlike automobiles, buildings and airplanes, some rare warships achieve a perfect balance of efficiency and combat effectiveness - and beauty. Included here are stories of some of the most significant and unusual American warships, like Joshua Humphreys' superfrigates and the Iowa-class battleships, both near-perfect instruments of naval warfare.

There is also in the sea service - far and away the most superstitious of professions - a deeply held belief that there are certain lucky ships just as there are unlucky ships. I have thus tried to tell stories of both types: the lucky, like Fair American and Constitution, and the distinctly unlucky, like Chesapeake and Porter.

Naval shipbuilding today continues to benefit from the tradition of the great ships that are described in this book. It is a design philosophy formed from the hard lessons of those ships and their battles. Quite the opposite of the criticism by some that the Navy has always been resistant to change, the tradition of American naval shipbuilding is one of innovation. From Fair American through the superfrigates, the Monitors, the Dreadnoughts and nuclear aircraft carriers, American naval ships have led the world in speed, survivability and firepower. In recent years smaller American combatants have been attacked with mines, cruise missiles and enormous suicide bombs and have survived every attack. The tradition continues.

The final strand of the book is made up of tales of the battles that defined the Navy. There are many books about the most important naval battles in our history, and my list of battles is not intended to be definitive. I chose battles that I find of particular interest because they illustrate the flexibility, adaptiveness and ferocity of the American naval culture. There are some that would be on all lists - like the battles of Virginia Capes, New Orleans and Midway - and others that are little known, like those of Valcour Island and Ironbottom Sound.

A word of warning to the reader. This book is not yet another survey history of the U.S. Navy. It is a selection of stories on people, ships and battles of the American Navy set in historical context. So while the reader can expect to find here a chronological history of American naval power from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War, the book is not a comprehensive canon. It is deliberately selective and subjective. The list of whom and what I find to be of significance leaves out much that would demand inclusion in an official history or biographical dictionary, and includes much that would never make it into the same.

My opinions also frequently differ from the opinions of many professional historians, and the historians of the Navy itself. Some of my judgments in the book, such as on the importance of privateers in winning American independence, or of gunboats to Union naval victory, or of lessons from the Vietnam War, are not shared by many authoritative texts.

It is hoped that these accounts of great people, in their ships, during their battles, set in the context of the flow of naval history, will give the reader an understanding of America's naval tradition. Thomas Jefferson disliked the Navy because he thought it was elitist. Through much of its history it was; punctilious courtesy, tailored uniforms and silver napkin rings have coexisted at times with bigotry like that suffered by the Jewish Commodore Uriah Philips Levy, and racial inequality that endured even into the 1970s. From its founding until 1900, only one percent of midshipmen at the Naval Academy were from working class families. But a tradition of elitism based on real merit is the true legacy of the story told here. The genuine color-blindness of the naval service today is more a part of naval tradition than the practice of discrimination that at one time the Navy shared with the rest of the nation.

There is another tradition: of aggressive forward strategy, and ferocious prosecution of war once started. It is what Alfred Thayer Mahan described in his writings as offensive defense. The greatest victories of this naval tradition have been not the wars recounted here but the wars that were never fought because American seapower was so strong that to challenge it would be foolhardy. If we let it, the strength of that tradition will continue to underwrite peace in our land.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from On Seas of Glory by John Lehman Copyright © 2001 by John Lehman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction1
Chapter IThe Revolutionary War5
Nicholas Biddle
H.M.S. Jersey
John Barry
John Paul Jones
Valcour Island
Francois de Grasse
Virginia Capes
Chapter IIThe Privateers41
The Revolution
Congress
Fair American
George Lehman
Dr. Drowne
Stephen Girard
The War of 1812
General Armstrong and Andrew Jackson
The Civil War
Chapter IIIWar With the Berber Pashas and Revolutionary France70
Joshua Humphreys
Horatio Nelson
Subscription Ships
Essex
Stephen Decatur Jr.
Chapter IVThe War of 1812103
Macedonian
Samuel Leech
Uriah Philips Levy
Joshua Barney
Charles Ball
Lake Erie
Lake Champlain and Thomas MacDonough
Chapter VThe Civil War142
David Farragut
New Orleans
Mobile Bay
Commodore Class Gunboats
Joseph V. Kelly
William B. Cushing
Raphael Semmes and Confederate Raiders
Alabama
Chapter VIManifest Destiny: The "New Navy"191
Alfred Thayer Mahan
Theodore Roosevelt
The Spanish-American War, Olympia and Manila Bay
Franklin Roosevelt
The First World War
War Plan Orange
Chapter VIIWorld War II228
Pearl Harbor
The North Atlantic
Chester W. Nimitz
Ernest J. King
Midway
U.S.S. Yorktown
Guadalcanal
Alvin Kernan
Normandy
Andrew Jackson Higgins
Leyte Gulf
LCSs
John Lehman, Sr
U.S.S. William D. Porter
Okinawa
V-J Day
Chapter VIIIThe Cold War293
James V. Forrestal
Korea
Inchon
Hyman G. Rickover
Submariners
Grace Hopper
Vietnam
James Elliot Williams
Yankee Station
Chapter IXThe 600-Ship Navy and Cold War Victory345
James L. Holloway III
Nimitz Class
The Falklands War
John Lehman
Iowa Class Battleships
Beirut
Tripoli
Grenada
Tim Howard
The End of the Cold War
Epilogue397
Bibliography402
Acknowledgements415
Index417

What People are Saying About This

Frank B. Kelso

This book is a must-read for anyone who has the slightest interest in American sea power, past or future. Secretary Lehman has captured his devotion to the Navy in an exciting story concerning its fascinating history. I admire his knowledge.

George F. Will

This book is the masterful execution of an inspired idea — rather like the Inchon landing and other operations ably examined in these pages.

Walter Cronkite

This is one man's view of our Navy history — but, as a former Secretary of the Navy he is particularly well qualified for his strongly held and colorful perception of the men, the ships, the debates in counsel, and the actions at sea that have highlighted that history. John Lehman has given us a fascinating book.

James L. Holloway

On Seas of Glory offers a refreshing perspective of maritime history, creating a stunning profile of the U.S. Navy, as authentic as The Bluejackets' Manual and with the authority of a modern Mahan. Lehman calls on his remarkable experience in the Navy, from the Pentagon "E" Ring to the cockpit of a carrier jet, to capture the essence of the service he obviously loves and admires. An articulate piece of work that will educate as it entertains.

Henry A. Kissinger

John Lehman's On Seas of Glory superbly delivers what its subtitle promises. His tales of heroism and devotion to duty, brilliant commanders (and others less so), the courage of nameless seamen, glorious victories and tactical miscalculations are fascinating, informative, and moving.

Introduction

Introduction

The grandeur of the American naval tradition is best found in its people, fighting sailors, technical innovators and inspiring leaders. In turn, the physical embodiment of that spirit is to be found in great warships, and the people and ships together have shaped history in epic sea battles from the Revolution through the Cold War.

My exposure to naval persons aloft and alow, from history, to hearing the stories of my father's service in World War II, to my own many years as a naval reserve aviator, to my six years as Secretary of the Navy, has convinced me that those who have made their profession upon great waters in ships of war are deeply changed by the experience, and some in every era deeply change the experience for all those who follow. This has been true of those who have served only a few years as well as those who have devoted their lives to naval service.

The sea is utterly unforgiving of inattention, negligence or ineptitude. Add to this perpetual conflict with the elements the dimension of mortal combat, and we have a unique crucible. Through American history the Navy has drawn men of all types. Then it has put those men together in close quarters in wooden -- and now steel -- containers and sent them off for years at a time to deal with ferocious storms and deadly enemies. Those who return are still individuals, but common patterns of temperament are discernible. These patterns have shaped the service, and through it, America.

In my view, naval personalities fall into three general categories. There are the daring warriors who live for glory and for battle: John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Jr., and William B. Cushing come immediately to mind. Such men, as once was said in a fitness report on General Patton, "are invaluable in war but a disruptive influence in peacetime." Then there are sailors who are equally courageous but more prudent -- less dramatic leaders in both war and peace. John Barry, David Farragut and James Forrestal would fall in this category. The last and largest category is made up of reluctant warriors who leave their civilian professions to go to sea in time of war. They bravely -- and often brilliantly -- do their duty, then like Cincinnatus return to civilian life. Because they do not stick around to achieve high rank, they are rarely celebrated in conventional accounts. But these officers and seamen are the largest source of naval greatness. Fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech, at the height of the battle in Macedonian, spoke for them all: "To give way to gloom, or to show fear would do no good, and might brand us with the name of cowards, and ensure certain defeat. Our only true philosophy, therefore, was to make the best of our situation, by fighting bravely and cheerfully."

As the subtitle of this book implies, the narrative is divided among stories about men, ships, and battles. There are in the traditions of the Army and the Air Force great and classic weapons that are a part of service history: the M-1 rifle, the Sherman tank, the P-51 Mustang, and the F-86 Saberjet, for example. But there is nothing quite the same as the relationship between seamen and their ships.

Sailors live for months and years inside their weapons. And their weapons last a very long time. Three of the original six great superfrigates built before 1800 were still in active service when the Civil War began. The battleship Wisconsin was nearly fifty years old when it went into combat in Desert Storm, and remains in the reserve fleet at this writing. Not unlike automobiles, buildings and airplanes, some rare warships achieve a perfect balance of efficiency and combat effectiveness -- and beauty. Included here are stories of some of the most significant and unusual American warships, like Joshua Humphreys' superfrigates and the Iowa-class battleships, both near-perfect instruments of naval warfare.

There is also in the sea service -- far and away the most superstitious of professions -- a deeply held belief that there are certain lucky ships just as there are unlucky ships. I have thus tried to tell stories of both types: the lucky, like Fair American and Constitution, and the distinctly unlucky, like Chesapeake and Porter.

Naval shipbuilding today continues to benefit from the tradition of the great ships that are described in this book. It is a design philosophy formed from the hard lessons of those ships and their battles. Quite the opposite of the criticism by some that the Navy has always been resistant to change, the tradition of American naval shipbuilding is one of innovation. From Fair American through the superfrigates, the Monitors, the Dreadnoughts and nuclear aircraft carriers, American naval ships have led the world in speed, survivability and firepower. In recent years smaller American combatants have been attacked with mines, cruise missiles and enormous suicide bombs and have survived every attack. The tradition continues.

The final strand of the book is made up of tales of the battles that defined the Navy. There are many books about the most important naval battles in our history, and my list of battles is not intended to be definitive. I chose battles that I find of particular interest because they illustrate the flexibility, adaptiveness and ferocity of the American naval culture. There are some that would be on all lists -- like the battles of Virginia Capes, New Orleans and Midway -- and others that are little known, like those of Valcour Island and Ironbottom Sound.

A word of warning to the reader. This book is not yet another survey history of the U.S. Navy. It is a selection of stories on people, ships and battles of the American Navy set in historical context. So while the reader can expect to find here a chronological history of American naval power from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War, the book is not a comprehensive canon. It is deliberately selective and subjective. The list of whom and what I find to be of significance leaves out much that would demand inclusion in an official history or biographical dictionary, and includes much that would never make it into the same.

My opinions also frequently differ from the opinions of many professional historians, and the historians of the Navy itself. Some of my judgments in the book, such as on the importance of privateers in winning American independence, or of gunboats to Union naval victory, or of lessons from the Vietnam War, are not shared by many authoritative texts.

It is hoped that these accounts of great people, in their ships, during their battles, set in the context of the flow of naval history, will give the reader an understanding of America's naval tradition. Thomas Jefferson disliked the Navy because he thought it was elitist. Through much of its history it was; punctilious courtesy, tailored uniforms and silver napkin rings have coexisted at times with bigotry like that suffered by the Jewish Commodore Uriah Philips Levy, and racial inequality that endured even into the 1970s. From its founding until 1900, only one percent of midshipmen at the Naval Academy were from working class families. But a tradition of elitism based on real merit is the true legacy of the story told here. The genuine color-blindness of the naval service today is more a part of naval tradition than the practice of discrimination that at one time the Navy shared with the rest of the nation.

There is another tradition: of aggressive forward strategy, and ferocious prosecution of war once started. It is what Alfred Thayer Mahan described in his writings as offensive defense. The greatest victories of this naval tradition have been not the wars recounted here but the wars that were never fought because American seapower was so strong that to challenge it would be foolhardy. If we let it, the strength of that tradition will continue to underwrite peace in our land.

Copyright © 2001 by John Lehman

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