ONCHIOTA — The most recent effort by Col. David Fitz-Enz to capture America’s history takes a thorough look at more than two dozen U.S. commanders who led the fight against Great Britain during the War of 1812.
“Hacks, Sycophants, Adventurers, & Heroes” offers a candid view of the men who offered support and expertise for President and Commander-in-Chief James Madison during the war that would decide the future of the fledgling American nation.
“I didn’t want to tell a linear story (of the War of 1812) that would bore people to death,” Fitz-Enz said of his decision to write a series of chapters devoted to the most important military leaders of the time. “What’s really interesting about war is the people who where a part of the war, who were impacted by the war.”
After spending three years researching the military leaders of the time, Fitz-Enz began to piece the individual stories together, starting with the captain of the U.S.S. Constitution, Issac Hull, and ending with James Wilkinson, commander of the army in the northern United States during the war.
“President Madison was incapable of conducting war,” said Fitz-Enz, a retired colonel from the U.S. Army. “He was a politician and, more importantly, an intellectual, but he was not trained in (warfare). He was totally out of his area when this war was dropped on his doorstep.”
Madison turned to others to conduct the acts of war, men who sometimes were very capable and sometimes were as incompetent in warfare as the president.
“These are the stories of those who rose to the occasion,” Fitz-Enz said of the volume. “These are the personal stories of 25 commanders.”
Fitz-Enz began his research with an effort to understand how these American commanders came to be in positions of leadership and how they handled those positions once thrust into war.
“I’ve got a library like you wouldn’t believe,” he said of the volumes of materials he collected during his research. “I did a lot of research in England; a lot of the stories I picked up through Englishman who had ancestors who fought in the war. I was able to build a complete character of these men.”
For instance, Fitz-Enz was able to paint a much broader image of Andrew Jackson, whose negative reputation may have outlived any of his accomplishments.
“He was a prisoner of war during the Revolutionary War,” Fitz-Enz related. “He was slashed on the forehead by a British officer; the wound healed, but what was inside (Jackson) never did.
“By telling the story of the individual as a child and young adult, I was able to show how he got to become a military man.”
Fitz-Enz chose his title to represent the varied personalities of the military leaders he examined. Some were true heroes, but others were hacks and sycophants, or self-seeking flatterers.
“Wilkinson was the worst of the worst of the worst,” Fitz-Enz said of the man who highlights his final chapter. “It’s written of him that he never won a battle and never lost a court martial. He was everything but a hero.”
Fitz-Enz called Battle of Plattsburgh naval Cmdr. Thomas Macdonough a true hero who has passed the test of time and remains one of the premier leaders of the war.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb, who commanded the land forces during the Battle of Plattsburgh, was an able commander but had some shaky experiences leading to his success during the War of 1812, Fitz-Enz noted.
Fitz-Enz has also written an account of the Battle of Plattsburgh called “The Final Invasion,” as well as an alternative history of the war titled “Redcoats’ Revenge.” He also wrote about the U.S.S. Constitution in “Old Ironsides: Eagle of the Sea” and chronicled his own experiences in the military in “Why A Soldier?”
He is now working on a spy thriller focusing on World War I and World War II.
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Hacks, Sycophants, Adventures, & Heroes," by Col. David Fitz-Enz, is published through Taylor Trade Publishing and can be purchased at Amazon.com and other online sources.