Last year I started reading 1812: The Navy’s War by George C. Daughan as part of the war's bicentennial. It’s a fantastically detailed book on the events that led up to, and every major battle of the war.
The title derives from the fact that though British Canadian forces easily defeated American forces two, three, or four times their size on land, at sea our puny Navy inflicted incredible defeats on the mighty British Fleet. The difference was in leadership: Our Navy leaders were seasoned veterans of the undeclared Naval war with France, and of dealing with Barbary pirates in North Africa. The Army leaders were largely incompetent or cowards, some in place simply because of political connections.
One of the major issues leading to the war was impressment: the British practice of boarding American ships and taking any crew aboard they deemed to actually belong to the British Navy. British sailors often deserted for the U.S. Navy because of the horrible way they were treated by British officers, compared to the relatively civilized conditions in our Navy. Along the way, the British would sometimes grab U.S. citizens.
Partway through the war, the British planned to take over huge swaths of America, so that part of the war became a second War for Independence.
1812: The Navy’s War is a gripping read that fills in this part of American history, and will delight anyone who enjoys reading in detail about the old sailing ships.