Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865

Article excerpt

The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865. By Maurice Melton. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012. Pp. [xvi], 541. $69.95, ISBN 978-0-8173-1763-8.)

The Best Station of Them All: The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865 is a fine naval history. At over five hundred pages, including endnotes, it is also big in a traditional sort of way: long and almost luxurious historical narrative as opposed to penetrating examination. It is also, remarkably, Maurice Melton's second great volume on the navy of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Some four decades ago Melton's Confederate Ironclads (South Brunswick, N.J., 1968) was an instant classic and compared favorably with William N. Still Jr.'s Confederate Shipbuilding (Athens, Ga., 1969). Now we have Melton's new book, and yes, the work does seem worth the wait.

In the colorful naval history of the Civil War, Savannah tends to get overlooked in comparison with other Confederate coastal and riverine centers of gravity, namely, Charleston, Mobile Bay, New Orleans, and Vicksburg. Renowned historian James M. McPherson's recent War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Chapel Hill, 2012) shuts the city out of the story, like most other accounts, with the fall of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. "Savannah," McPherson writes, "was henceforth cut off from blockade-runners" (War on the Waters, p. 44). The only time McPherson returns to Savannah is when the Confederates there attempted to raise the blockade with their latest ironclad ram, the CSS Atlanta. But as Melton describes in vivid detail, that unlucky vessel did not share the Virginia's (the former Merrimack's) fame in battle against the Monitor. Instead, the Atlanta was confronted by the improved Union turret-vessel Weehawken at Wassaw Sound on June 17, 1863. By that stage in the war, despite all the impressive achievements of Confederates to mount an effective coast defense--let alone naval assault--their ironclads were hopelessly outclassed by the North's own technological upgrades. …

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