Thomas J. Legg
Naval historians continually state that the naval history of the Civil War and the stories of the men who fought it have been sorely neglected. This may indeed be true if the literature of the land war is used as the measuring stick. By most standards, however, a survey of the existing literature, including periodicals, shows that the some 100,000 men who served in the Union navy (about 5 percent of the number in the Union army) are well represented in both the quality and quantity of scholarship.
The most fruitful place to begin an exploration of the lives and careers of Union naval officers is with the recent, and by far the best, collection of biographical essays on Civil War-era navy officers. Editor James C. Bradford Captains of the Old Steam Navy ( 1986), one of the Naval Institute Press's Makers of Naval Tradition series, contains thirteen twenty- to thirty-page analytical essays on some of the Civil War's most prominent naval officers, both Union and Confederate. The nine Union officers detailed are John Dahlgren, Samuel DuPont, David Farragut, Andrew Foote, Benjamin Isherwood, David Porter, John Rodgers, Robert Shufeldt, and Charles Wilkes. In addition to placing these men into the broader context of the great changes that navies around the world were undergoing in the mid-nineteenth century, among the many strengths of the volume--which includes appropriate illustrations and maps--are the individual bibliographic essays for each of the subjects, plus a general bibliography pertaining to the nineteenth-century U.S. Navy.