Civil War Book Review: Commanding Lincoln’s Navy: Union Naval Leadership During the Civil War

Commanding Lincoln’s Navy: Union Naval Leadership During the Civil War
by Stephen R. Taaffe

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (May 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591148553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591148555

The author brings his considerable talents to the US Navy during the Civil War, their mission and their management.  As with Commanding the Army of the Potomac, we look less at battles than management.  This produces a non-standard history that can be a challenge to read.  The author understands we do not know the Admirals as well we know the Generals.  He takes the time and writes a series of mini biographies of the main characters by way of an introduction.

In doing so, he shows us the difference between the pre-war Navy and Army, underscoring how these differences affect the war.  One major difference is no VIP tries to get command of a ship.  Another is the Navy Department is under stable political control throughout the war.  While strengths, these two items created their own set of problems.  Seniority was everything in the Navy.  Until death or retirement, no one moved up.  Since there was no real retirement officers served well past their physical abilities and often the intellectual abilities as well.

This is not a tale of Washington politics and influence peddling, although there is a good deal of that.  This is a story of building a Navy, selecting men for major commands and their actions.  Battles and blockades command much of the narration.  While there are few naval battles, attacks on forts and the problems of the blockade take center stage.  While not always a “page turner”, this is a book of solid information on an ignored subject.  This is either an excellent introduction to or a short history of the Navy’s activities in the Civil War.  Either way, it is well worth reading and a book that should be in your Civil War library.


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