Osprey's USS Constitution: A midshipman's pocket manual 1814


compiled by Eric L Clements


Osprey Publishing


$15.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 140 pages, 64 pages, 7 x 5 inches, hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2793-7

Let me start this by stating that there was no midshipman's pocket manual. Back in 1814, few sailors could actually read and while officers and those desiring to be such were required to be able to read, the level at which many of these boys and men were capable was minimal in many cases. However, the idea of one of these books is a neat one that produces a look at the early days of the US Navy in general and the War of 1812 in particular.

As in similar manuals today, such as the Bluejacket Manual, the book starts off with the duties and responsibilities of midshipmen. These were often boys of 15-16 years of age though there were midshipmen in their 20s. All were under training to be lieutenants.

Next is a look at the Constitution herself. This section delves into the formation of the Navy, the design of the Constitution, and the specifications of the ship.

The third section is on the duties of the crew aboard the ship. This is pretty complex, especially to those not used to the terminology and purpose of many of the crew duties and areas of the ship. It also covers things like pay, ship's discipline and the purpose of the Marines.

This is followed by a section on health and hygiene as it was understood in the early 1800s. Many of the comments in this section are just as salient today as they were 200 years back. Section five is on the requirements of the ship and crew in terms of provisioning and stores.

You would think that 'how to sail' the ship would be important and indeed it is. There is a full section on not only the naming and use of the various sails but how to use these features depending on the situation at sea. The next two sections are on battle and include how to board other ships, the treatment of prisoners and the division of the spoils. This includes a part that deals with sailor pensions.

Finally we get a history of the Constitution herself, including her operations and exploits during the War of 1812. There is a glossary of terms and this is followed by an 1816 addendum that covers her exploits following the original publication date.

That is a lot of information packed into one book and it is fascinating to read. The compiler has had the opportunity to use period drawings and newspaper clippings to further enhance the experience. It makes for a book that those who love the age of sail need to have on their shelves.

October 2017

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