Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Civil War at Sea

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Civil War at Sea

Article excerpt

The Civil War at Sea. By Craig L. Symonds. (New York and other cities: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. viii, 248. Paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-19-993168-2.)

In this new paperback edition of The Civil War at Sea, naval historian Craig L. Symonds presents a brief but compelling history of the Civil War navies--both Union and Confederate--within the broader context of contemporary naval doctrine and technological change.

A fitting companion to the author's award-winning Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War (New York, 2008), The Civil War at Sea begins with a review of naval warfare and naval technology in 1861. With only forty-two serviceable ships, the prewar U.S. Navy was ill prepared for the coming war. But the Union navy was better off than the nascent Confederate navy, which boasted only a few steamers. Any single U.S. frigate could have sunk the whole Confederate navy in one hour. Having an existing naval force gave the Union the initial edge, but in truth both navies were created anew during the war. And here the United States possessed an insurmountable advantage. At the start of the war the Confederacy had no facilities for building oceangoing warships; no facilities to construct large-scale marine steam engines; and no money to purchase war vessels abroad.

Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, and Stephen Russell Mallory, his Confederate counterpart, were charged with creating new steam-powered navies radically different from the sailing-ship navies that had fought in the War of 1812 and earlier wars. Steam power was a relatively new technology, with all the teething problems that new technologies possess. …

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