The Power and the Glory
The decade between the end of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 was a crucial challenge for the United States. Lacking a navy, and with mere remnants of an army, the fledgling country was described by Alexander Hamilton as “A nation, despicable in its weakness, [which] forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.”
That nation desperately needed to establish itself as an independent entity in the eyes of Great Britain, and of America’s erstwhile ally, France. Meanwhile, France used nearby possessions in the Caribbean to harass American shipping; seizing cargos and ships, and slaughtering their crews. The United States needed to protect its ships and exports – and quickly – or it would founder. In 1794, Congress ordered the building of six frigates for the newly formed Navy; ships of war crammed with cannons and Marines, and built of live oak, a wood so dense that cannonballs bounced off the ships’ flanks as though they were made of iron.
The Power & the Glory is the newest offering in William Hammond’s award-winning series about the seafaring Cutler family. Two previous books covered the Cutlers’ naval service during the American Revolution, but Power is a fine stand-alone read. Hammond offers a deft blend of fictional and real characters which range the American coast from Massachusetts to Barbados, as Lt. Richard Cutler rises in the new American Navy. Hammond’s meaty tale climaxes in 1800 with a splendid ship duel between the newly-built U.S.S. Constellation and La Vengeance. This battle alone is so thrilling that I am now eager to look up Hammond’s previous works, and I heartily recommend The Power & the Glory.