The Royal Navy stumbled badly on the outbreak of war against America in 1812. In August, the USSConstitution sank the HMSGuerrière. In October, the USSUnited States captured the HMSMacedonian, and in December the Constitution sank the HMSJava off the coast of Brazil. The tiny American navy—six frigates were all the capital ships it mustered on the outbreak of war—was managing what the much larger and more experienced fleets of Napoleonic France, Spain, and Holland had failed to do: beat the British in a straight fight.

When the eighteen-gun brig USSHornet sank the equal-sized HMSPeacock in under fifteen minutes in February 1813, the navy of Nelson seemed to have lost its aura of victory. But, honor...


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