A New Force at Sea

George Dewey and the Rise of the American Navy

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A New Force at Sea tells the story of one of the most important officers in the U.S. Navy between the Civil War and World War II. Born in Montpelier, Vermont, George Dewey attended the still relatively new U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1858. He served with distinction in the Civil War in the Union Navy, saw a significant amount of action in the Mississippi River and along the Atlantic coast, and was singled out for his leadership and bravery by his superior officers. In the wake of the war, Dewey remained in the Navy as an officer, but the American people were generally uninterested in any role their nation could play in the broader world and the Navy languished. Dewey however, refined his perception of what American global naval strategy could be.  
By the time the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Dewey commanded a squadron of ships on the far side of the Pacific. His victory in the Battle of Manila Bay instantly made him the most famous American military figure after Ulysses S. Grant.   
The degree to which Dewey bore responsibility for embroiling the United States in what came to be known as the Philippine Insurrection was overlooked by an American public that eagerly named children for him, composed songs in his honor, and competed to stage the most extravagant civic celebrations of the quiet naval officer from Vermont. It was a public role for which he was ill-suited.  

Such was Dewey’s celebrity that he when he returned to the United States he was instantly spoken of as a serious candidate for the Presidency in 1900. After an abortive and half-hearted candidacy that damaged his public reputation, Congress raised his rank to the newly created “Admiral of the Navy,” the rank he would hold for the rest of his life. He became the embodiment of Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” attitude and the national symbol for American naval power. He served as the chairman of the new General Board of the United States Navy, created in 1900 as the first body to address questions of strategy and operational readiness.  
Dewey had a profound understanding that his career bridged two seminal periods in American naval history, and clearly understood the repercussions of his victory at Manila. He died in Washington in January 1917, shortly before the United States entered World War I fighting against Germany as he had foretold years earlier. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery but shortly after reinterred at the Washington National Cathedral, the only U.S. military officer to have such an honor.  

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

"In equal parts generous and critical, David A. Smith has given us the most comprehensive view of George Dewey to-date. More than just a naval hero and administrative figurehead, Smith shows us a naval leader deeply immersed in the many important technological, strategic, intellectual, and cultural questions of his time. A New Force at Sea is at once brisk and elegantly-written, precise in its analysis, and a resource both for serious and lay readers of naval history." —Jason W. Smith, Southern Connecticut State University, Author of To Master the Boundless Sea: The U.S. Navy, the Marine Environment, and the Cartography of Empire
“Transformation in naval and military affairs requires not only the theorists of war, but the commanders and warfighters who translate theory and strategic thinking into operational and tactical action. Admiral George Dewey was that officer as the U.S. Navy became a world naval power prior to World War I. A New Force at Sea superbly places Dewey at the forefront of the U.S. Navy’s transformation from a coastal defense, inward-looking force to that great world naval power.” — Stanley D.M. Carpenter, US Navy (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, U.S. Naval War College
"This new Dewey biography, the first since Ronald Spector’s Admiral of the New Empire: The Life and Career of George Dewey, published in 1988, is an interesting volume both for its subject, but also what could be described as an unusual approach that meets scholarly expectations but also incorporates a breezy, approachable style that readers, especially those with little historical or military knowledge, will enjoy." —Sea History
"Admiral of the Fleet George Dewey is so famous for his 1898 victory over a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, Philippines, that the rest of his impactful career escapes the notice of many. A 1858 graduate of the Naval Academy, he served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and remained in service during the post-war doldrums of the under-funded and under-manned Navy. He was part of a late modernization that gave the fleet the armored ships it needed to enter the 20th century with power. His appointment as chairman of the Navy’s General Board was consequential as his grasp of the new strategic environment heavily influenced President Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” approach to U.S. foreign policy and the build-up of U.S. naval power. This biography gives the reader the full story of this remarkable American."—Seapower Magazine
"Perhaps the most enduring significance of the war of 1898 was the emergence of the United States Navy as a major instrument of a newly expansive American foreign policy. Its remarkable victory in Manila Bay–no American lives were lost–made a hero of the commander of the American fleet, Admiral George Dewey, who is the subject of an excellent new biography, A New Force at Sea by David A. Smith, an historian at Baylor University in Texas."—Michael Mandelbaum, American Purpose
"This new biography of an important naval officer is both well-detailed and readable, with a smooth narrative. While Manila Bay was Dewey's famed moment, he had wider effects on the navy and this work bring those often-ignored facts to light."—Military Heritage