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Bill Thayer

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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

American Naval History

This section of my site — a specialized aspect of my much wider-ranging American history site — should in all propriety be titled "American Maritime History", since it includes books and other material dealing with all facets of the history of the seas, including privateering and piracy; but the bulk of the site is still about the United States Navy.

A Short History of the United States Navy is one of the finest books onsite. Written as a textbook for the U. S. Naval Academy by its then Commandant of Midshipmen, it continued to be used there for at least three decades; this is the revised edition, first published in 1927. Its clarity and good writing, striving at no effect and therefore getting it, put it in a class of its own: my only caveat is that, as would be expected, it adopts as a matter of course the official viewpoints of the United States government — but then every book has one viewpoint or another.

[ 3/18/13: 540 pages of print
— 34 webpages, 20 photos,
31 maps and diagrams, 5 engravings ]

Makers of Naval Tradition, co‑authored by Carroll Storrs Alden, a senior professor at the Naval Academy, and Rear Adm. Ralph Earle, a naval ordnance expert, is a set of biographies of naval officers who shaped America's history; bound together by the various ways in which they exemplified the best of that intangible yet very real spirit of the Navy.

[ 4/25/13: 370 pages of print
— 19 webpages, 20 photos ]

Among the earliest makers of American naval tradition was Captain Thomas Truxtun, who gave the United States a pair of significant victories at sea sorely needed during the Quasi‑War with France, the country's first war after the Revolution. Truxtun of the Constellation tells his life as a privateer, a merchant captain, and an officer who can be credited to a fair extent with shaping the early Navy.

[ 8/23/13: 307 pages of print
— 49 webpages, 5 illustrations ]

The American Privateers, by popular writer Donald Barr Chidsey, covers an often overlooked area of American maritime history that shades into the government's Navy at one end and piracy at the other. The heyday of privateering was the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth; it thus played a significant rôle in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

[ 5/20/13: 175 pages of print
— 28 webpages, 9 illustrations ]

The First Yale Unit tells the story of 29 young men, most of them college students at Yale University, who while World War I was being fought in Europe, realized it was only a matter of time before it would touch America, and of their own initiative taught themselves to fly the dangerous aircraft of the time; when the United States entered the war, they offered their services to the Navy: not only did they prove to be an exceptional group of pilots, three of them giving their lives, but in many ways the Yale Unit laid the foundation of U. S. Naval aviation. The book, published seven years after the war, draws on a deep array of primary sources and has thus preserved their story for posterity.

[ 9/11/13: 679 pages of print
— 50 webpages, 132 photographs ]

Admiral Thomas P. Magruder's The United States Navy is snapshot of that service at the critical time between the two World Wars when the United States government was slowly dismantling it with the notion that this would advance the cause of world peace. The book offers a description, sometimes technical, of the various types of naval vessels; but the politics and economics of a strong Navy are never too far from the writer's mind.

[ 9/24/14: 179 pages of print
— 8 webpages, 26 photographs;
plus added material: 12 pages of print, 2 webpages ]

Prof. Gerald E. Wheeler's Prelude to Pearl Harbor is a detailed scholarly study of American naval policy after World War I and the Washington, Geneva, and London naval armament limitation conferences between 1921 and 1930, with special reference to Japan. It is particularly interesting in showing how the Navy was weakened by disunity among the Navy Department, the State Department, the President and Congress against a backdrop of pacifist and belt-tightening public opinion. Good bibliography.

[ 6/8/13: 208 pages of print
— 12 webpages, unillustrated ]

Also by Gerald E. Wheeler, Admiral William Veazie Pratt, U. S. Navy • A Sailor's Life: the biography of the Naval Academy graduate (Class of 1889) who would become Chief of Naval Operations in 1930‑1933. Less a personal biography than an account of the United States Navy and the problems it had to face, especially between the world wars, from the viewpoint of one of its key movers.

[ 9/27/14: 437 pages of print
— 21 webpages, 60 photographs ]

At the end of World War II, the Navy's Aviation History Unit was tasked by the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) to tell the story of The Navy's Air War. The result is a dense, detailed book on every facet of American naval aviation in the Second World War: Pearl Harbor of course, then the forces and organization on hand at the beginning of the war, the war in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and especially the Pacific; and several interesting chapters on the logistics behind it all.

[ 9/11/14: 415 pages of print
— 38 webpages, 55 photographs, 3 maps ]

The Coast Guard is not the Navy, at least not in peacetime; but no story of American seafaring would be complete without telling its story. Riley Brown's Men, Wind and Sea does just that, in a popular vein. Not so much a history of this branch of the armed services as a graphic showing of what the Coast Guard is about; get past the sometimes unfortunate style, and the book does a very good job of it.

[ 11/6/13: 266 pages of print
— 13 webpages, 15 photographs ]


[image ALT: A flag-like design in which the field is divided into three portions equal in area: on the viewer's left, a broad vertical field one-third the width of the whole, and on the right the remainder is divided into horizontal halves: centered on these latter halves, a stylized line drawing of two crossed swords, points upward, and below them a small pistol, pointing right. The design, based on the flag of North Carolina, serves as the icon used on this site for my transcription of the book 'The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina'.]

The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina provides a background on the general topic of piracy, then tells the tale of many of the buccaneers who made the State their base of operations in the "golden age" of piracy in the late 17c and the first quarter of the 18c. Among them Calico Jack Rackham, women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Edward Low — and a full chapter each on Stede Bonnet and of course that most infamous epitome of piracy known to us all as Blackbeard.

[ 5/27/13: 72 pages of print, 10 illustrations ]


[image ALT: A close-up of a collection of papers spread out on a table. It is the icon used on this site to represent my American History Notes subsite.]

Among the journal articles onsite (most of them also collected in my American History Notes section) the events covered in the following involved the United States Navy to a significant extent. Listed chronologically:

Lafitte, the Louisiana Pirate and Patriot

La guerre franco-américaine (1798‑1801)

River Navies in the Civil War

The Itata Incident

[ 4 articles, 69 pages of print ]

For completeness' sake, a book that isn't really naval history, but might have something to offer pending a full account onsite of the Naval Academy. Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story is mostly an anecdotal social history of the town, but the last three chapters, weak as they are, do sketch a summary chronology of the institution thru the early 20c.

[ 5/7/13: 3 chapters, 2 photos  ]

Finally, this stray item: "Melancton Smith, U. S. N.", an 1893 memoir by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

[ 4/24/13: 12 pages of print  ]



[image ALT: An upright anchor fouled with a rope passing from the ring over the right arm of the stock (from the viewer's standpoint), then behind the shank, then forming a large bight or loop passing in front of the left arm and behind the right arm about halfway between the crown and the flukes, and extending some ways below the crown. The image is taken from the shoulderboard insignia of naval midshipmen, and serves as the icon on this site for the book 'A Short History of the United States Navy'.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is the fouled anchor on the shoulder boards worn as insignia by midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.


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Site updated: 28 Sep 14