The Civil War at Sea

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Continuing in the vein of his Lincoln Prize-winning book Lincoln and His Admirals, acclaimed naval historian Craig L. Symonds presents a masterful history of the Civil War navies--both Union and Confederate--and places them within the broader context of the emerging industrial age.

Symonds begins with an account of the dramatic pre-war revolution in naval technology--the advent of steam propulsion, the screw propeller, and larger and more powerful rifled guns that could fire explosive shells as well as solid shot. These extraordinary changes were epitomized in the famous "Battle of the Ironclads"--one of the great stories of the Civil War--pitting USS Monitor against the larger and more heavily armed CSS Virginia (also known as Merrimack). Symonds also offers an overview of Lincoln's blockade of the South, a vast campaign involving as many as 500 ships and 100,000 men; discusses the fierce naval war for control of the rivers in the West; and looks at the important siege of Charleston, which would last three years and involve 40,000 men and sixty warships. Symonds concludes with three key episodes from the end of the war--the dramatic Battle of Mobile Bay, where Farragut delivered his famous cry: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"; the battle of Wilmington, where combined naval and army forces successfully overran Fort Fisher, a giant earthwork fort called by one historian "the mightiest fortress in America"; and the remarkable cruise of the CSS Shenandoah, a round-the-world voyage of 58,000 miles, during which she captured thirty-eight prizes--mostly after Lee had surrendered, alas.

The Civil War at Sea illuminates a little-discussed and greatly undervalued aspect of America's national conflict. Concise yet comprehensive, this volume is a lively addition to the field of naval history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Symonds, professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, combines his expertise as a scholar of both sea power and the Civil War in this study of an aspect of the conflict largely neglected until now (James McPherson’s War on the Waters comes out in September). Symonds covers the operational history of navies that on both sides were products of improvisation. Synergizing chronology and themes, the text begins by discussing the effect of the mid-century technological revolution. Steam engines, armor plate, and rifled cannon shaped both the war on the high seas and a riverine/littoral dimension unique in naval history. The Confederacy, Symonds says, was initially more creative, introducing ironclads, torpedoes, and a submarine. Southern commerce raiders devastated Union shipping, The Union’s repeated failures before the first battle of Charleston showed a ship could still be a fool to fight a fort. But the new technology of naval war eventually enabled the Union to overwhelm or bypass even complex, well-sited defenses. The Union blockade, though never complete, contributed heavily to the South’s “ growing sense of isolation and eventually depression, both economic and psychological.” Sea power, itself not decisive, significantly influenced the Civil War ’s duration and trajectory, concludes Symonds in this substantive analysis. 24 b&w illus., 4 maps. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Symonds writes briskly and with great competence, and The Civil War at Sea (and on the rivers) is a masterful overview of a most meaningful topic."--Naval History

"Excellent.... Crisp writing, incisive assessments of leading personalities, and attention to details often overlooked enhance Symonds's book." --Choice

"Symond's account of the campaigns, strategies, tactics, and personalities that characterized the naval conflict is both detailed and comprehensible for laypersons. He effectively places the naval war within the broader context of an emerging industrial age, as steam and steel led to great changes in the construction and use of warships. The author uses a topical approach, with his descriptions of the Union blockade and Confederate efforts to thwart it are particularly interesting. A good addition to Civil War collections." --Booklist

"Covering river and sea, tradition and technology, strategy and happenstance, admirals and sailors, this is as comprehensive and authoritative a book as has ever been written on the naval side of the Civil War. Craig Symonds' hand at the tiller guarantees superb scholarship and lucid prose. All hands aboard!" --Harold Holzer, Chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

"Craig Symonds combines his talents as a fine historian of the U.S. Navy and of the Civil War to produce this outstanding study of the Union and Confederate navies. Focusing on the ways in which Southern technological innovations and Northern industrial productivity shaped the strategy and tactics of the naval war, he offers important insights on the course and outcome of the conflict." --James M. McPherson

"Distinguished naval historian Craig Symonds' well-researched and engagingly written overview, The Civil War at Sea, touches all the major areas of the naval war, including the ships and their guns, the differing strategies pursued by the North and South, and the contest that ensued. Simply put, it is a splendid introduction to the naval side of the conflict." --Spencer C. Tucker

"The Civil War at Sea is crisp and well written, well researched and insightful as well as a timeless contribution to that neglected aspect of Civil War literature." --B. Franklin Cooling

"This is a superb read that melds emerging technology and captivating personalities, both of which continue to mold the U.S. Navy to this day. Craig Symonds masterfully brings this largely overlooked piece of our country's history to life, in a fine book that will appeal to a wide range of interests." --Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret)

"Craig Symonds' timely and readable tour-de-force, detailing the actions of the U.S. and Confederate navies, sheds new light on both well-known strategies, battles, and personalities as well as on those less well known. Here is a book for Civil War buffs and those looking for good history." --Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret), and President of the Naval Historical Foundation

"Symonds has a gift for making complex and technical issues easy to understand, and his straightforward style makes for enjoyable reading. This book will appeal to general readers interested in either U.S. naval history or naval aspects of the Civil War. His thematic structure allows readers to understand the big picture of naval tactics and strategy without being overwhelmed by minutiae." --Library Journal

"[A] comprehensive and outstanding history of the Navy during that period . . . Symonds' book provides an excellent introduction and an insightful look at naval strategy and technology for those familiar with the naval war and those who have devoted their Civil War study to armies and land battles." --ivil War News

Library Journal
Lincoln Prize-winner Symonds (Lincoln and His Admirals) examines naval strategies and tactics as illustrated by the Civil War, rather than presenting a history of the naval war itself. He tells three basic stories. The first details how technology changed the way navies fought in the Civil War. The most important technological developments included rifled guns and explosive shells, protective iron plating, and advances in steam propulsion with screw propellers. Second, Symonds analyzes Union blockading efforts and Confederate responses as well as Confederate commerce raiding and Union responses, devoting special attention to the effectiveness of overall strategy. The third story, over the last three chapters, is about combined actions and cooperation with ground forces, with accounts of action around Charleston, Mobile, and Wilmington. VERDICT Symonds has a gift for making complex and technical issues easy to understand, and his straightforward style makes for enjoyable reading. This book will appeal to general readers interested in either U.S. naval history or naval aspects of the Civil War. His thematic structure allows readers to understand the big picture of naval tactics and strategy without being overwhelmed by minutiae.—MF
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275990848
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Series: Reflections on the Civil War Era Series
  • Pages: 201
  • Sales rank: 868,092
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Craig L. Symonds is Professor of History Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy. He is the author of many books on American naval history, including Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History; The Battle of Midway; and Lincoln and His Admirals, co-winner of the Lincoln Prize in 2009

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Table of Contents

1. The Ships and the Guns: Civil War Navies and the Technological Revolution
2. The Blockade and Blockade Runners
3. The War on Commerce: The Hunters and the Hunted
4. "Unvexed to the Sea": The River War
5. Civil War Navies and the Siege of Charleston
6. The End Game: Mobile, Wilmington, and the Cruise of the Shenandoah

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