This book review appeared in Vol. 1, No. 1 of the Gulf Coast Historical Reivew - Fall 1985.
Pearce, George F. The U.S. Navy in Pensacola: From Sailing Ships
to Naval Aviation (1825-1930). Pensacola: A University of West Florida
Book, University Presses of Florida, 1980, pp. 207. $18.00.
The history of important and long-established United States military installations is a topic greatly neglected by historians. The U.S. Navy in Pensacola, by Professor George F. Pearce, of the University of West Florida, partially fills that gap by detailing the history of the Pensacola navy base from its inception in the 1820s until it had already become well established as the center of naval aviation in the 1920s.
There is much to praise in Professor Pearce's work. It is based almost entirely upon primary sources (government records, diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews and contemporary newspapers). The use of original materials gives the author's work both great credibility and a strong flavor of the times.
Also, Professor Pearce deftly interweaves the story of the naval base with that of the Pensacola area, thereby telling the reader a great deal about local, as well as military, history. This integration of two different branches of history is most praiseworthy.
Finally, the author's style is fluent and clear. Therefore, this book is one that is not only informative, but also pleasant to read.
Dr. Pearce's work is not, however, without flaws. Most importantly, the book ends with an abruptness that is startling. Despite a concluding "Epilogue", after nearly 200 pages of well-researched and well written history, the work simply stops for no apparent historical reason.In addition, The U.S. Navy in Pensacola is lacking in maps, the only one appearing on page 76. Further, some of the illustrations that are included are poorly identified. Professor Pearce does not seem to be familiar with aviation. This is occasionally evident in the latter portion of the book, where he has difficulty dealing with the early aircraft in use at Pensacola Naval Air Station. One sees pictures of blimps, while the author speaks of dirigibles - two very different things.
Finally, Dr. Pearce often does not integrate the history of the naval base with national events. This is especially evident in the chapter on the U.S. Civil War, where one would be lost unless he knew the broader context of the material covered in this work.
All in all, however, The U.S. Navy in Pensacola is a very good book on a neglected subject. It is to be hoped that Professor Pearce plans a sequel, carrying the history of Pensacola's naval base on to the Vietnam era.
W. Robert Houston University of South Alabama