Civil War Book Review: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
by James M. McPherson

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Civil War history tends to mention the Navy only at Hampton Roads and Vicksburg.  The blockade, usually noted in passing, gets credit for cutting the Confederacy from Europe.  A person could forget that both sides spent considerable resources on their navy.  This is a good introduction to naval operations during the war.  As expected, an introduction will not contain details and nuances.  Rather an introduction will cover the major considerations, personalities, operations and events.  The author provides everything that we could reasonably expect in an introduction to Civil War Naval history.  He manages to convey this in an interesting, intelligent prose that is as easy to read as it is enjoyable.

Organization is a combination of theater, operations or years, which sounds confusing, but it works well.  Depending on the subject, the reader can expect a history that is stand-alone or integrated into the war.  This is not all “Damn the torpedoes”.  There is a good deal of technological, political and social considerations.  We see the movement from wooded ships to ironclads, the racially mixed crews and how politics influences operations.

With all of this, we still find time for the battles.  Readers will not be disappointed with the military coverage.  The author captures all major and many smaller actions and firmly places them in the overall structure of the war.  We see how the result of past operations affects planning.

The University of North Carolina Press always presents a professional book.  This is no exception with a full set of maps, illustrations, end notes, bibliography and index.


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