Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War

Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War

Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War

Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War


Now for the Contest tells the story of the Civil War at sea in the context of three campaigns: the blockade of the southern coast, the raiding of Union commerce, and the projection of power ashore. The Civil War at sea was profoundly influenced by innovation and asymmetry- both sides embraced innovation, but differences in their resources and their strategic objectives pushed them down different paths. At its peak the Union navy boasted over fifty thousand men and nearly seven hundred ships. The Confederate navy was far smaller, never exceeding some five thousand men, and it numbered its ships in the tens rather than the hundreds. The Confederacy's "technology strategy" and its overseas programs formed the main counterweight to the Union's numerical force.

Now for the Contest also examines how both sides mobilized and employed their resources for a war that proved to be of unprecedented intensity and duration. For both antagonists the conduct of the naval war was complicated by rapid technological change, as steam power, metal armor, and more powerful ordnance sparked experiment and innovation both in naval construction and in tactics. The war years brought tremendous change to a service that did not always welcome it. Innovative technologies flourished in this hothouse atmosphere, however, and a rising generation of naval leaders would carry the knowledge of combat into the long peace that followed.


The presidential election of 1860 was over. Few southerners had voted for the winner, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, and his overwhelming majority in the Electoral College came entirely from Northern states. Southerners saw the eventual demise of slavery in Lincoln’s election, and in December 1860, South Carolina made good on decades of threats by voting to withdraw from the United States. “The Union,” read a Charleston handbill, “is dissolved!”

The navy of 1860 was poorly prepared for the roles that would soon be thrust upon it. Accustomed to the peacetime routine of “showing the flag” and protecting commerce on distant stations, it was an amalgam of old and new. Most of its 7,600 enlisted men were seamen, but the force included mechanics and firemen. Some of its 1,550 officers had fought in the War of 1812, and younger officers had distinguished themselves in the Mexican War and in antislavery operations and hydrographic expeditions. Steam engineers, a growing minority, understood the latest technology even though their service could not afford to implement it fully.

The navy’s ships showed similar contrasts of old and new. They ranged from antique sailing line-of-battleships to modern steam frigates. Most were deep-water vessels, intended for oceanic operations, although a few shallow draft vessels formed the legacy of efforts by Southern congressmen to further Southern aspirations in Central and South America. Steam technology had brought a new way to propel ships, and with it the beginning of new ways to build and outfit them as well.

This volume is inescapably more about the Union navy than the Confederate. the Union navy at its peak encompassed over fifty thousand . . .

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