Hunting the Essex
A Journal of the Voyage of HMS Phoebe 1813 - 1814
By Midshipman Allen Gardiner
Edited by John S Rieske
Seaforth Publishing (www.seaforthpublishing.com)
RRP GBP £16.99
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During the 1812 Anglo-American War (often referred to as the “Second War of Independence by American historians) the fledgling US Navy scored a number of strategic victories at sea. Some of these victories were achieved by the frigate USS Essex. The Essex threatened to annihilate the lucrative British whaling trade in the South Pacific and the British were forced to respond to this danger.
The Royal Navy recognised this threat. They dispatched HMS Phoebe on a secret journey that would entail sailing halfway around the world in order to attack American settlements on the Pacific North West. In short, the secret journey assigned to the Phoebe was to hunt-down and destroy this highly successful commerce raider. This epic journey is re-counted in this superb journal written by a Midshipman on board the Phoebe. In the era literacy skills were scarce and this makes the journal even more magnificent as a primary record of this important voyage.
The Phoebe, after an epic passage, tracked her prey to Valparaiso where the American frigate was blockaded. For many weeks the Phoebe and Essex fought a “cat and mouse” game which culminated in an attempted breakout and a bloody battle. Eventually the Phoebe succeeded and the Essex was captured.
The Essex’s captain, David Porter, published an account of these actions and his version has mired the battle in controversy ever since. Gardiner’s account acts as a counter-balance to Porters’s and it refutes many of Porter’s wider claims. Thus this volume should be accepted as a more balanced version of the fighting and it is very important to recognise Gardiner’s work as less biased than Porter’s.
It is about 200 years ago since this action took place and it has recently celebrated its bi-centenary. Although it is one of the lesser known campaigns of the war it remains an interesting topic and one should appreciate Gardiner’s efforts to keep such an excellent journal. The journal is a fascinating read and is very gripping whilst giving the viewpoint of a man on board. This publication should be essential reading for all students of this maritime campaign.