The Washington Post
The aim of this compact book is to prove to modern students of the war that naval superiority throughout the conflicton the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern river systemswas an indispensable ingredient of Union military victory. Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, War on the Waters displays the technique that has become something of a trademark for the Princeton historian. He uses impeccable scholarship in the service of narratives that have appeal for the general reader…McPherson has spiced his book with lots of true but largely unexploited facts and vignettes.
McPherson, professor emeritus of Princeton and dean of Civil War historians, enhances our knowledge with this history of the conflict’s naval aspects. As definitive as it is economical, the work establishes beyond question the decisive contributions of maritime power to Union victory. The Confederate Navy, though materially outnumbered tenfold, was technologically advanced in such fields as mines and ironclads. Its commerce raiders devastated Union merchant shipping. Nevertheless, on the sea, along the coasts, and on the inland river systems, the North’s warships and landing parties independently achieved politically and strategically important victories: Port Royal, S.C., and Fort Henry, Tenn., Memphis and New Orleans. The fleet synergized with the army in combined operations from North Carolina to the Mississippi River and Texas. The Union Navy established and sustained a blockade without which “the Confederacy might well have prevailed,” These achievements were above all a product of pragmatism. From Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, through admirals like David Farragut and D.D. Porter, to the seamen and rivermen who joined for the duration, the Union Navy designed ships and developed doctrines to fit circumstances. Not everything worked. But as McPherson indisputably shows, the Civil War’s outcome was in good part shaped by Northern naval power A Main Selection of the History Book Club and a selection of the Military Book Club, BOMC, and BOMC2 online, (Sept.)
From the Publisher
McPherson's accounts of set-piece battles--Farragut's assault on Mobile Bay, the duel between the Monitor and the Merrimack--are vivid. Much of this briny story is provided through the words of the participants, and the maps are excellent throughout.--Wall Street Journal Gift Guide 2012
The book is, quite simply, a superb synthesis. . . . [It is] eloquently written in a spare, direct style with clear and moving descriptions that bring both individuals and events to life.--International Journal of Maritime History
Anyone wishing to acquire an immediate grasp on the main narrative points of the Civil War at sea, while enjoying a masterful summation of past and current historical thinking, should read this book.--Daybook
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McPherson (history, emeritus, Princeton Univ.; Battle Cry of Freedom), who has written extensively on various aspects of the American Civil War, now turns his authoritative attention to the naval campaigns that played a crucial but underappreciated role in the war's outcome. He provides thorough analyses of Union and Confederate strategies and detailed descriptions of pivotal battles in Memphis, New Orleans, Charleston, and elsewhere. His concise but comprehensive account includes explanations of how the Union navy and army cooperated, sometimes reluctantly and clumsily, to win the war's most critical sea battles, while the undermanned Confederates used torpedoes and tenacity to try to thwart their opponent's mostly successful attempts at blockading Southern ports. VERDICT McPherson's well-researched book is too dense and detailed for general readers, who would benefit from William Fowler's more accessible Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War, but this important addition to scholarship on the naval aspects of the Civil War is recommended for academic audiences. With maps of several key battle sites clearly depicting ship and fort locations.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Pulitzer and Lincoln Prize winner McPherson (Abraham Lincoln, 2009, etc.) displays his massive knowledge of the Civil War, this time specifically concerning the naval battles. The Union Navy far outnumbered the Confederate, but it was still much too small to effectively blockade the coastline from Chesapeake Bay to Texas. In addition, the forces were required to patrol in the rivers, which were so vital to transportation. Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was lucky in that Congress quickly eliminated the requirement to promote according to seniority of service before older leaders did too much damage. Cooperation with the Army was another hurdle, as traditional rivalry between forces made teamwork difficult. Samuel Francis Du Pont managed to take Port Royal in South Carolina without help from the Army, and other actions at Hatteras Inlet, New Orleans and Memphis proved the Navy's value. Actions in North Carolina in 1862 and on the Southern coast, especially Mobile Bay, were examples of the most successful combined operations. David Farragut's success in taking New Orleans enabled his push up the Mississippi in order to connect with Andrew Foote's Western Flotilla. These two navies opened the Mississippi and aided Grant's attack on Vicksburg. The use of ironclads, timberclads and even tinclads proved to be of more use in defending the Union ships and ramming the Confederates. However, when they met up with each other, it was usually a draw. While the navies may not be on the top of the list for most Civil War enthusiasts, this is a solid contribution to Civil War scholarship.