The Captain from Connecticut
By C. S. Forester
Reviewed by D. Andrew McChesney
††††††††† In the second year of the War of 1812, the British blockade has the small American Navy and the young nationís merchant fleet effectively bottled up in port.† During a winter storm and under conditions in which any sane seaman would prefer to be snugly moored, Captain Joshua Peabody takes the frigate Delaware to sea.† Even with the weather scattering the guarding British fleet, escape to the open sea is a near thing.
††††††††† The apparent lone American presence on the high seas enjoys a successful run of anti-shipping activity, preying on British merchantmen in the West Indies.† Delawareís commerce raiding activities are brought to a halt, both by Royal Navy vessels in the area and the imposition of neutrality by local representatives of the recently restored French Monarchy.† At Fort-de-France, Peabody and his British counterpart, Davenant, spar diplomatically rather than coming alongside and exchanging broadsides.† As well, both find interests of a more personal and domestic nature.
††††††††† This is Foresterís only age of sail novel to focus on the early United States Navy.† As he does in the Horatio Hornblower series, Forester writes a neatly contained story that is both entertaining and easy to follow.† He ably contrasts the differences between the two services while pointing out those things that are the same.
††††††††† As with most of Foresterís works, there are technical details that might be questioned.† He discusses elevating screws for the guns, while at that time quoins would have been more likely for traditional shipboard cannon, although carronades did sometimes use screws.† Historical time lines also seem a bit vague.† Apparently much of the story takes place over a few weeks in the summer of 1814.† Peabody and Davenant agree that one will go to sea and wait the prerequisite twenty-four hours for the other to sail so they might finally engage in a ship to ship duel.† As Delaware gets underway, Davenant and Calypso race back into port with news of peace between Great Britain and the United States.† As the Treaty of Ghent wasnít agreed to until Christmas of 1814, it would have been early 1815 before those in the Caribbean would have been aware of it.† Quite possibly, both hostile parties did remain in a neutral harbor for nearly a year, but it is not evident from the way the story is told.
††††††††† This story also points out an interesting situation.† With the Royal Navy being a large fleet, it is easy to assume that vessels and officers mentioned may have actually existed.† Nearly anyone with even casual knowledge of the tiny American Navy would recognize both Delaware and her captain as fictitious.† (If it is of any interest, a few years after this, the United States did launch and commission USS Delaware, a seventy-four gun ship-of-the-line.)
††††††††† Despite a few glitches, this is a very exciting, entertaining, and readable story.† It is a must read for aficionados of the age of sail, naval adventure, and the works of C. S. Forester.† ††††††††† The copy read for this review, ISBN 1-877853-30-5 is copyrighted 1997 by The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, Inc., the seventh printing occurring in August 2003.