Readers who have experienced George C. Daughan’s previous volume, “If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy from the American Revolution to the War of 1812 (Basic Books, 2008), will not be surprised by the sweep, substance and attention to detail in his new book, “1812: The Navy’s War.”

The earlier study won Daughan the Samuel Eliot Morison award, and aptly so. “If By Sea” is a sprawling, brawling, yet factual and big account. It took the reader from Dr. Warren’s Boston whale boats of 1775 to the 1812 Battle of New Orleans, which included the British landing and American gunboats.

In “1812,” Daughan gets to the financial battles between Jeffersonian Republicans and Adams Federalists over what kind of navy to have and what kind of war to be prepared for. The Republicans opted for a weak, defensive navy to avoid entanglements. The Federalists (most from New England) wanted a strong navy, and got a handful of excellent frigates.

But it was Republican President James Madison who declared war on Great Britain. The Navy had 27 Men of War (seven of which were laid up), while the Royal Navy had 1,000 with 600 at sea, the rest being repaired or under construction.

Madison hoped to invade and conquer Canada, a plan that suffered bloody setback after setback and, as Daughan so neatly shows, was only saved by an American naval response on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.

It is difficult for the general reader to see what part of the total War of 1812 the author omitted. We are shown the burning of Washington, D.C., and the British occupation of Maine east of the Penobscot, which in this book comes under Navy aegis. Some interior fighting with Native Americans was no doubt skipped, but one might have included canoes and boats. We are certainly made privy to all the government diplomatic negotiations at home and abroad, and to the Federalist’s unofficial attempts to consider a separate peace for New England.

The writer’s emphasis is on the influence of the Navy in shaping war and attitudes, and saving the United States, and brings it close to being a more general study of the war. Daughan has an almost encyclopedic command of facts and figures, and he knows how they weave together.

The Battle of New Orleans, which was poorly defended by the Navy with five unnamed gunboats, was really a land victory due to Gen. Andrew Jackson (certainly aided by the Navy) and the stiff-necked pride of the British leaders. In terms of attitude and coupled with Macdonough’s victory on Lake Champlain, the gloom and doom that had settled over the embryonic U.S. after years of disasters vanished. Even the surrender of the USS President by Capt. Decatur didn’t change the rising optimism.

As we know, and as Daughan so colorfully documents, the famous American frigates (including the immortal Constitution) had, in the darkest moments, delighted Yankee souls with singular one-on-one victories over Royal Navy frigates. Such romantic and horrific sea fights did little to win the war, but kept morale up and the national flag flying.

There can be no doubt that the struggling nation became more than a group of states with contending regionally based parties after and because of the War of 1812. This sea change occurred because of the performance of the Navy in individual battles, on lakes and by surviving to fight again.

This attitude impressed countrymen and European politicians as well as the British admiralty. Indeed, America and Great Britain never fought again.

But surely some credit goes to Jackson, changing politics in Europe and the desire for both sides to end a war that neither could really win.

In the end, I stand in awe of my fellow Portlander’s breadth and depth of knowledge and his ability to organize a coherent and most readable volume. Here is a basic book for understanding America’s “Second War of Independence” after 200 years. 

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored or co-authored five books, including “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” and the novel “Pyrrhus Venture.” He lives in Portland.