Father of the U.S. Navy

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Father of the U.S. Navy

The importance of the sea as a highway, a source of food or a battlefield, if necessary, was well understood by the American colonists.  When the Revolution came, it was a natural impulse, therefore, that many men in numerous locations would play prominent roles in the founding of a national navy.  Thus, the Navy recognizes no one individual as "Father" to the exclusion of all others.  As it was the Continental Congress, convoked in Philadelphia, that created the Navy in their resolution of 13 October 1775, the members of Congress must collectively receive credit for the creation of the Continental Navy, the forerunner of the United States Navy.  The various attempts to credit individual naval officers with this act are misguided, for those officers received their commissions from the very body that created the Navy in the first place.  None of this, of course, detracts from the great contributions to our struggle at sea for independence made by General Washington, John Barry, John Paul Jones, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and others.

Source: DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER, WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. Description: Evan Thomas’s John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy grounds itself on the facts of Jones’s life and accomplishments to bolster his place among the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes while also working to deflate the myths that have circulated about his name. Jones, we learn, was confronted throughout his life with controversy and was crippled by ambition. But Thomas lauds Jones for early innovations as an American self-made man who rose from Scottish servitude. Continued below…

Jones, despite his too brisk manner, was a true success, if not genius, as a naval captain. Early in the Revolutionary War, he captured a shipload of winter uniforms destined for General Burgoyne’s army in Canada, which instead warmed General Washington’s troops as they swept across the Delaware to defeat British at Princeton and Trenton. Later, Jones helped formulate the Navy’s plan of psychological warfare on British citizens. And Jones’s strategy to cut off the British fleet via the French Navy was arguably the most decisive strategic decision of the War. In the end, Thomas makes a good case for a renewed appreciated for Jones’s role in the broader revolution, citing his many connections to the Founding Fathers and his contributions to the broader war effort. While it may be that the John Paul Jones who proclaimed "I have not yet begun to fight" never existed, the real man behind the textbook legend is every bit as compelling a figure in Thomas’s hands. This temperate biography situates Jones in what will likely prove durable fashion among portraits of Adams, Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson.

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Recommended Reading: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

A cabinet-level Department of the Navy followed in 1798. The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy. Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era's political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.

 

Recommended Reading: George Washington's Secret Navy (Hardcover). Description: In July 1775, in his first inspection of the American encampment on the outskirts of Boston, the Continental Army's newly arrived commander-in-chief noted its haphazard design and shabby construction--clearly the work of men unprepared to face the world's most powerful fighting force. George Washington had inherited not only an army of woefully untrained and ill-equipped soldiers, but a daunting military prospect as well. To the east he could see the enemy's heavily fortified positions on Bunker Hill and a formidable naval presence on the river beyond. British-occupied Boston was defended by impressive redoubts that would easily repel any American assault, and Boston Harbor bristled with the masts of merchant ships delivering food, clothing, arms, ammunition, and other necessities to the British. Washington knew that the king's troops had all the arms and gunpowder they could want, whereas his own army lacked enough powder for even one hour of major combat. The Americans were in danger of losing a war before it had truly begun. Continued below…

Despite his complete lack of naval experience, Washington recognized that harassing British merchant ships was his only means of carrying the fight to the enemy and sustaining an otherwise unsustainable stalemate. But he also knew that many in Congress still hoped for reconciliation with England, and in that climate Congressional approval for naval action was out of the question. So, without notifying Congress and with no real authority to do so, the general began arming small merchant schooners and sending them to sea to hunt down British transports “in the Service of the ministerial Army.” In George Washington's Secret Navy, award-winning author James L. Nelson tells the fascinating tale of how America's first commander-in-chief launched America's first navy. Nelson introduces us to another side of a general known for his unprecedented respect for civilian authority. Here we meet a man whose singular act of independence helped keep the Revolution alive in 1775.

"James Nelson is not the first historian to reveal this little-known albeit incredibly important aspect of our Revolution, but no one has done it more thoroughly or with greater literary grace." --William M. Fowler, author of Empires at War

 

Recommended Reading: If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy-From the Revolution to the War of 1812. From Publishers Weekly: Daughan brings a long academic career and solid command of his sources to this provocative history of the origins of the U.S. Navy. Conventional wisdom has the navy beginning in the 1790s. Daughan instead traces its roots to the Revolution. The fleet established by the Continental Congress had a relatively undistinguished career, but Daughan demonstrates that the Americans gained technical experience, produced talented officers, trained seamen and developed a basic understanding of how a navy should be employed. Continued below…

The question then was whether a navy would concentrate too much authority in the central government and risk embroiling the new country in foreign quarrels. By contrast, a coastal defense force of small ships threatened nobody, foreign or domestic. Daughan traces the debate through four administrations, smoothly integrating political with external influences like the Quasi-War with France (1798–1800) and the campaign against the Barbary pirates. Not until the War of 1812, when the navy proved critical, did a national consensus emerge that preparing for war was the best way of avoiding one—a lesson that remains worth remembering.

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (Bluejacket Books). Description: America's greatest naval historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, writes about America's greatest naval hero in this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The Scottish-born John Paul Jones struck several severe blows to English morale during the American Revolution, as he fearlessly ravaged the king's ships within sight of British shores. With tactical brilliance and almost reckless courage, Jones eagerly attacked larger foes and soundly beat them. During one famous engagement, his opposing commander called out and offered Jones the opportunity to surrender. Jones's immortal response: "I have not yet begun to fight!" This marvelous book is a fitting tribute to a controversial yet romantic figure, who now lies buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

 

Recommended Reading: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour. From Publishers Weekly: One of the finest WWII naval action narratives in recent years, this book follows in the footsteps of Flags of Our Fathers, creating a microcosm of the war's American Navy destroyers. Hornfischer, a writer and literary agent in Austin, Tex., covers the battle off Samar, the Philippines, in October 1944, in which a force of American escort carriers and destroyers fought off a Japanese force many times its strength, and the larger battle of Leyte Gulf, the opening of the American liberation of the Philippines, which might have suffered a major setback if the Japanese had attacked the transports. Continued below…

He presents the men who crewed the destroyer Taffy 3, most of whom had never seen salt water before the war but who fought, flew, kept the crippled ship afloat, and doomed ships fighting almost literally to the last shell. Finally, Hornfischer provides a perspective on the Japanese approach to the battle, somewhat (and justifiably) modifying the traditional view of the Japanese Admiral Kurita as a fumbler or even a coward-while exalting American sailors and pilots as they richly deserve. (American admirals don't get off so easily.) Not entirely free of glitches in research, the book still reads like a very good action novel, indicated by its selection as a dual split main selection of the BOMC and History Book Club alternate.

 

Recommended Viewing: Biography - John Paul Jones: Captain Of The High Seas (DVD) (A&E Home Video). Description: His sense of adventure brought him to America. His bravery made him the country's greatest naval hero. The son of a Scottish gardener, John Paul Jones went to sea at age 12 with the British navy, making his way to America after killing a sailor in self-defense during a mutiny. He joined the fledgling American Navy, and in 1779 became captain of the Bon Homme Richard. In an epic battle with the British frigate Serapis, he responded to the enemy captain's premature assumption of victory with the immortal words, "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight," and went on to win the battle. Continued below…

Maritime experts, leading historians, and naval officers reflect on the legacy of the swashbuckling hero in this definitive look at his life. And learn about his many accomplishments after the Revolution, when he went on to fight in the Russian navy and lived in Paris during the French Revolution. Join BIOGRAPHY for the story of an inspirational leader and the founder of the American naval tradition.

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: America's First Sea Warrior (Hardcover). Description: This fresh look at America’s first sea warrior avoids both the hero worship of the past and the recent, inaccurate deconstructionist views of John Paul Jones’s astonishing life. The author goes beyond a narrow naval context to establish Jones as a key player in the American Revolution, something not done by previous biographers, and explains what drove him to his achievements. At the same time, Admiral Joseph Callo fully examines Jones’s dramatic military achievements—including his improbable victory off Flamborough Head in the Continental ship Bonhomme Richard—but in the context of the times rather than as stand-alone events. Continued below…

The book also looks at some interesting but lesser-known aspects of Jones’s naval career, including his relationships with such civilian leaders as Benjamin Franklin. How Jones handled those often-difficult dealings, Callo maintains, contributed to the nation’s concept of civilian control of the military. Suggesting that Jones might well be the first U.S. apostle of sea power, the author also focuses on the fact that Jones was the first serving American naval officer who emphasized the role naval power would play in the rise of the United States as a global power. Another neglected aspect of Jones’s career that gets attention and analysis is his brief tour in the Russian navy, a revealing chapter of his life that has been under-reported in the two hundred years since Jones’s death. Rather than looking at Jones in a rearview mirror, Callo illuminates how this unique naval hero is linked to the nation’s present and future. As a result, he gives us a sea saga that tells much about our own lives and times. About the Author: Rear Admiral Joseph Callo, USNR (Ret.), Naval History magazine’s 1998 Author of the Year, has written three books about Admiral Lord Nelson, including Nelson Speaks: Admiral Lord Nelson in His Own Words and Nelson in the Caribbean: The Hero Emerges, was the U.S. editor for Who’s Who in Naval History, and regularly writes on maritime subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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