The Civil War at Sea

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From Craig Symonds, author of the 2009 Lincoln Prize award-winner Lincoln and His Admirals, comes a fascinating look at the era when American naval power came of age. Thoroughly researched and excitingly written, it brings to light a wealth of new information on a pivotal aspect of the Civil War.

The Civil War at Sea covers navies on both sides of the conflict, examining key issues such as the impact of emergent technologies, the effectiveness of the Union's ambitious strategy of blockading, the odyssey of Confederate commerce raiders, the role of naval forces on the western rivers, and the difficulty of conducting combined sea and ground operations against the major Southern port cities. For Civil War buffs, fans of military and technological history, and other interested readers, it is insightful, essential reading.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The role of ships during the Civil War is, for most people, confined to the blockade of the cotton exports in the Carolinas and the battle between the ironclads Monitor and Merrimac. Symonds (American History, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis MD, emeritus) covers both these subjects and much more. Steam engines and iron-plated hulls were new technologies

at the time, changing the context of sea battles. The encounters are chronicled, with maps and diagrams and the strategic side of the war at sea is explained. However, Symonds also recreates the personalities of the seamen from admirals to deckhands. One lesser known tactic that he discusses is the Confederate response to the blockade, which was the

honored tradition of privateering. Union merchant ships were attacked off the coast of France and England. The Shenandoah sailed literally around the world, hampering trade as far as China and Japan. Symonds presents a side of Civil War history rarely, if ever, included in Civil War accounts."


Reference & Research Book News

"There was a time only several decades past when new histories of the blue-and-brown water US Civil War were hard

to come by. Students and others seeking details of the naval or riverine operations of the great conflict were forced to

rely on old standbys published at the end of the 19th century, some memoirs, several rather popular chronicles, and the

Navy official records. Now, within a span of three years, two excellent operational histories have appeared, both demonstrating the impact of the sea services upon the outcome of the struggle. The first was Spencer C. Tucker's

Blue & Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat (2006) and the other is this work, from the prize-winning author of last

year's Lincoln and His Admirals (2008). Crisp writing, incisive assessments of leading personalities, and attention to details often overlooked enhance Symonds's book. The author footnotes each of the six chapters, includes good maps, and provides the obligatory photos needed for a Civil War title. A bibliographical essay completes the concise survey. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates and Civil War buffs."



"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

"Symonds' 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 particularly interesting. A good addition to Civil War collections."



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.)
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

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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