Living in the year 2023 AD, it’s hard to believe that, once upon a time, the American military was the laughingstock of the world. There was a time when the United States couldn’t even defend their own coastline, let alone project military power to another region of the world.
It was the turn of the 19th century. The 1700’s were coming to a close and a new nation entered the 1800’s with nothing but hope for the future. The mighty Atlantic Ocean kept America safe from Napoleon’s bloodthirsty wars of expansion, wars that in turn put goods from the neutral Americans in high demand. Money from its lucrative trade deals flowed into the infant nation and the good times rolled.
But war with Europe was on the horizon, and Moroccan pirates patrolled the Mediterranean, plundering American ships without fear of reprisal. Though many Americans objected, a certain few statesmen realized a basic truth: to survive, the United States needed a Navy.
Six Frigates is a fantastic historic account of the beginnings of the United States Navy, a force that began with six unique frigates, one of which is still in service today. These frigates were bigger than their European equivalents, but faster and more maneuverable, too. They carried more cannons and were made with some of the strongest wood in the world. This wood came from the Southern Live Oak, a species of tree that grows only in the Deep South of America and contributed to one of the six frigates, the USS Constitution earning the nickname ‘Old Ironsides’.
As a matter of fact, the United States Navy to this day maintains its own forest of these trees so as to be able to continuously repair the USS Constitution with its original wood.
The other five of the original frigates were named the Chesapeake, President, United States, Congress, and Constellation. These names were chosen off a list of ten names presented to then-president George Washington. However, his interest in a Navy was minimal, so his method of selecting the names was picking the first six on the list.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book and its historical account of the origins of the United States Navy. The author pumped it full of good information and also included some sardonic humor here and there, such as the below passage:
As Rodgers came up over the side to take possession of the captured ship, he was privately thrilled by the sight of the carnage the enemy had suffered. “Although I would not have you think me bloody minded,” the bloody-minded lieutenant wrote Stoddert, “yet I must confess the most gratifying sight my eyes ever held.”
I highly recommend this one to those of you with an interest in US history, and it’s available for free on the Internet Archive!