Next year, the United States, Canada and Great Britain will observe the bicentennial of the War of 1812. For the U.S., which declared the war, it was mostly a string of defeats and humiliations. For Great Britain, it was a pesky, expensive sideshow of empire, hardly a war at all. For British North America, it was the beginning of a coherent Canadian nation.

Joshua M. Smith’s “Battle for the Bay” is a perfect addition to Maine bookshelves, because it covers, for the first time, privateering in that time in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine. Smith, who grew up on Cape Cod and in Maine, teaches at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and knows more about the history of our waters between the Revolutionary War and the 1820s than almost anyone.

Money made the world go around then as it does now, and the British were eager to extract their major source of white pine naval mast from New Brunswick. There had long been a great deal of “free trade” (smuggling) between Maine and New Brunswick, and at the outset of the war, Smith notes: “The US commander of Fort Sullivan, which overlooked the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, was forbidden from firing on Royal Navy warships as they passed up Passamaquoddy Bay. The British warships for their part always lowered their colours when passing the battery, making it clear that they did not intend to attack.”

Early in the war, American privateers (private vessels licensed to attack and capture merchant vessels) swarmed out. In order for trade to continue, both sides often paid the British naval commanders to convey them back and forth. Fear of a privateer attack on Fredericton or outposts led the provincial sloop Brunswicker to be commissioned as a defensive and offensive weapon.

The workhorse of defense was the Royal Navy’s Schooner Bream (pronounced “brim”) under the dashing Lt. Charles Hare, whose life, Smith notes, “reads like something from a Patrick O’Brien novel.” Indeed, but his splendid record in a place where the admiralty had no eyes meant he remained a lowly lieutenant, and offered him little postwar advancement.

For Mainers, there are charts and descriptions of actions from Bream’s prizes taken from West Quoddy to Kennebunk Beach. This is the story, in clear outline, of the known privateering actions and a detailed account of the brutal duel between the H.M. Boxer and the brig the U.S.S. Enterprise in the autumn of 1813.

In the course of assisting an American smuggler, Boxer was sighted by the Enterprise, and the two engaged. While the Enterprise won the day in spectacular fashion, both commanders died, and are buried side by side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

By war’s end, Maine east of the Penobscot was in British hands, the coast was solidly blockaded, Washington was burned, and a status quo peace signed. Before that was known, Gen. Andrew Jackson scored a huge victory in New Orleans, allowing America to forget the bad and remember the too-late victory and sea fights like that of Boxer and Enterprise.

In “Battle for the Bay,” Smith opens our eyes to real combat and suffering right on our doorstep during the War of 1812.

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored/co-authored five books, including “Tate House: Crown of the Maine Mast Trade” and the novel “Pyrrhus Venture.” He lives in Portland.