Cover image for 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
Lehman, John F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 436 pages, 40 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map, plans ; 25 cm
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E182 .L47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In "On Seas of Glory" the U.S. Navy meets a storyteller worthy of its epic. John Lehman was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, and the man most responsible for rejuvenating the service during the 1980s. Lehman here gives a sweeping narrative of the Navy, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, filled with the ships that dominated, equally titanic personalities, and the battles that made history. Lehman profiles naval greats -- from John Paul Jones and David Glasgow Farragut to Commodore George Dewey and FDR -- but also gives credit to the lesser-known sailors who have made the U.S. Navy the mightiest in the world. "On Seas of Glory" uses the diaries, memoirs, and letters of average sailors to reveal naval combat as though firsthand. A powder boy during the War of 1812 recalls running to fetch cartridges through torrents of blood; the letters of the author's own father show what it was like to survive kamikaze attacks off Okinawa at the close of World War II; and the bravery of naval pilot Tim Howard during Grenada proves the spirit of John Paul Jones is not dead. The sweeping narrative also highlights the warships

Author Notes

John Lehman was 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

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

As a national security professional, naval aviator, Reagan's secretary of the navy, and descendant of Revolutionary War privateers, Lehman is well qualified for this chatty, popular overview of highlights of the U. S. Navy's first 200 years. Jumping from subject to subject like a grasshopper, and quite unlike a systematic historian, he emphasizes sometimes overlooked persons and weapons, such as Captain Nicholas Biddle of the continental navy, lost with his frigate Randolph; Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish flag officer and an adamant opponent of flogging; improvised ships of the Civil War and World War II, including the converted landing craft-gunboats in which Lehman's father served; as well as much of the spadework involved in creating the 600-ship Reagan-era navy. Those who dislike Lehman's pogoing historiography may give the book a pass, but many others will enjoy it, even if slightly better editing would have made it even more enjoyable. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

A former secretary of the navy, Lehman (Command of the Seas and Making War) presents the epic story of the American navy from its origins during the American Revolution to the present. Purists looking for new details and a fresh approach will be disappointed, but Lehman did not intend to craft a definitive history of the navy. Rather, he has gleaned a variety of interesting stories of men, ships and battles and has woven a once over lightly approach to this massive subject. This is, simply put, old-fashioned drums and trumpets military writing. Lehman knows his subject, and his folksy writing style is easy to read and comprehend. There aren't any footnotes to his no-nonsense criticism of mistakes by admirals and the strategic and tactical problems resulting from political shortsightedness in times of peace. Lehman provides concise and penetrating biographies of naval officers from well-known men like Ernest King and John Paul Jones to relative unknowns like the mid-19th century's Uriah Levy (the first Jewish naval officer to achieve prominence). In addition to brief descriptions of naval battles, Lehman includes the role of technology in the rise of American naval power. Novice readers especially will find this an appealing introduction to a rich subject. (Oct.) Forecast: Lehman's background in addition to his service, he is the founding partner of an eponymous New York banking firm, and the chairman of the Princess Grace and OpSail foundations should lend a hook for magazine coverage and even further credibility to this effort. Also look for short, respectful reviews in major newspapers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



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 Excerpted from On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy by John F. Lehman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter I The Revolutionary Warp. 5
Nicholas Biddle
H.M.S. Jersey
John Barry
John Paul Jones
Valcour Island
Francois de Grasse
Virginia Capes
Chapter II The Privateersp. 41
The Revolution
Fair American
George Lehman
Dr. Drowne
Stephen Girard
The War of 1812
General Armstrong and Andrew Jackson
The Civil War
Chapter III War With the Berber Pashas and Revolutionary Francep. 70
Joshua Humphreys
Horatio Nelson
Subscription Ships
Stephen Decatur Jr.
Chapter IV The War of 1812p. 103
Samuel Leech
Uriah Philips Levy
Joshua Barney
Charles Ball
Lake Erie
Lake Champlain and Thomas MacDonough
Chapter V The Civil Warp. 142
David Farragut
New Orleans
Mobile Bay
Commodore Class Gunboats
Joseph V. Kelly
William B. Cushing
Raphael Semmes and Confederate Raiders
Chapter VI Manifest Destiny: The "New Navy"p. 191
Alfred Thayer Mahan
Theodore Roosevelt
The Spanish-American War, Olympia and Manila Bay
Franklin Roosevelt
The First World War
War Plan Orange
Chapter VII World War IIp. 228
Pearl Harbor
The North Atlantic
Chester W. Nimitz
Ernest J. King
U.S.S. Yorktown
Alvin Kernan
Andrew Jackson Higgins
Leyte Gulf
John Lehman, Sr
U.S.S. William D. Porter
V-J Day
Chapter VIII The Cold Warp. 293
James V. Forrestal
Hyman G. Rickover
Grace Hopper
James Elliot Williams
Yankee Station
Chapter IX The 600-Ship Navy and Cold War Victoryp. 345
James L. Holloway III
Nimitz Class
The Falklands War
John Lehman
Iowa Class Battleships
Tim Howard
The End of the Cold War
Epiloguep. 397
Bibliographyp. 402
Acknowledgementsp. 415
Indexp. 417