Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N.

By W. D. Puleston | Go to book overview

Chapter V Civil War Service

WHILE the Congress was sailing home, Captain Rafael Semmes, in the C.S. Sumter, ran the blockade of the Mississippi and began his famous cruise by capturing a Union bark, the Golden Rocket. Young Mahan shared the general indignation of his countrymen but resented the immediate criticism of the Navy that went with it. While on board the transport Adger he submitted a confidential plan to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy which he thought would insure the destruction of the Sumter.

He first reminded the department that "the ravages of the pirate Sumter have reached a pitch that, if long continned, will cast an undeserved stigma upon the Navy." Next he considered the movements of the Sumter. "Her speed on the cruising ground which she has chosen [the Brazilian coast, with which Mahan was familiar] will always enable her to obtain the twenty-four hours' shelter granted by neutral powers and thus a chance of escape by night." By luck or by intuition, Mahan had penetrated into the method successfully employed more than once by Semmes to make his escape even when actually under Yankee surveillance. This, Mahan asserted, "can only be prevented by surrounding her with a chain of vessels more numerous than our small Navy and extended blockaded coast can at present allow us to devote to this object." Here he showed that he had a clear idea of the difficulties confronting the naval authorities. To insure the speedy location, blockade, and final capture of one well-managed cruiser like the C.S. Sumter would require many United States cruisers. If they went in pursuit of Semmes, the blockade of the Southern States would be less effective.

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