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

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Although previously undervalued for their strategic impact because they represented only a small percentage of total forces, the Union and Confederate navies were crucial to the outcome of the Civil War. In War on the Waters, James M. McPherson has crafted an enlightening, at times harrowing, and ultimately thrilling account of the war's naval campaigns and their military leaders.
McPherson recounts how the Union navy's blockade of the Confederate coast, leaky as a sieve in the ...
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War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865

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Although previously undervalued for their strategic impact because they represented only a small percentage of total forces, the Union and Confederate navies were crucial to the outcome of the Civil War. In War on the Waters, James M. McPherson has crafted an enlightening, at times harrowing, and ultimately thrilling account of the war's naval campaigns and their military leaders.
McPherson recounts how the Union navy's blockade of the Confederate coast, leaky as a sieve in the war's early months, became increasingly effective as it choked off vital imports and exports. Meanwhile, the Confederate navy, dwarfed by its giant adversary, demonstrated daring and military innovation. Commerce raiders sank Union ships and drove the American merchant marine from the high seas. Southern ironclads sent several Union warships to the bottom, naval mines sank many more, and the Confederates deployed the world's first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. But in the end, it was the Union navy that won some of the war's most important strategic victories--as an essential partner to the army on the ground at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Mobile Bay, and Fort Fisher, and all by itself at Port Royal, Fort Henry, New Orleans, and Memphis.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
The aim of this compact book is to prove to modern students of the war that naval superiority throughout the conflict—on the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern river systems—was 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.
—Howell Raines
Publishers Weekly
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
"Maritime history at its best."--Journal of Southern History

"In yet another elegant turn, historian James M. McPherson demonstrates his research and writing skills in this concise review of naval operations during the American Civil War. This volume comes as proof positive that McPherson is entitled to all the prizes and accolades he has won in the past."--Journal of America's Military Past

"[A] well-researched, dramatic story. . . . An exciting introductory read."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Well-written. . . . A nice summary of the role that both navies played in the Civil War."--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"An outstanding survey by someone who brings to bear a grand knowledge of the complex social/political/military tapestry against which this tale unfolds. . . . An effective, eminently readable introduction to the subject, with good maps to boot."--United States Naval Institute

"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

"McPherson writes extremely well and is able to interweave political and diplomatic events into his tale. . . . An excellent one volume overview of the naval side of the Civil War, particularly valuable to those unfamiliar with this aspect of the conflict, and also useful for the more seasoned student of the war."--The NYMAS Review

"A comprehensive and compelling portrait of an oft-overlooked aspect."--Tennessee Libraries

"McPherson has written a popular history that is both approachable and fairly thorough."--Library Journal

"Both the general reader and the experienced historian can equally enjoy. . . . This one should definitely be on your reading list."--Speedreaders.info

"Recommended. General/public/undergraduate collections."--Choice

"McPherson's erudite prose and intimate knowledge of his subject makes War on the Waters an invaluable reference for Civil War scholars and laymen alike."--Charleson Post and Courier

Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807835883
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/17/2012
  • Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 259,860
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James M. McPherson taught U.S. history at Princeton University for forty-two years and is author of more than a dozen books on the era of the Civil War. His books have won a Pulitzer Prize and two Lincoln Prizes.
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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 11, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Valley City, North Dakota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1963

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Mobilizing for War 15

2 Establishing the Blockade 47

3 We've Got New Orleans 79

4 The River War in 1861-1862 111

5 The Confederacy Strikes Back 153

6 Nothing but Disaster 189

7 A Most Signal Defeat 218

8 Unvexed to the Sea 249

9 Ironclads, Torpedoes, and Salt, 1863-1864 276

10 From the Red River to Cherbourg 304

11 Damn the Torpedoes 337

Conclusion 365

Acknowledgments 369

Notes 373

Bibliography 415

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 18, 2013

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

    War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865, James M. McPherson, University of North Carolina Press, 23 illustrations, 19 maps, notes, bibliography, index $35.00.

    War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 is a clear and concise description and analysis of the Civil War's naval mobilizations, battles and diplomatic impacts. Within 250 pages, McPherson offers a primary source centered narrative that is enjoyable to read. Offering a chronological story, he places the navies' developments, successes and shortcomings within the context of the land campaigns and political conflicts. Within eleven chapters, McPherson describes the brown water and blue water fleets and the significant engagements of both navies.

    Much of McPherson's story may be new to Civil War enthusiast who regularly reads army and land battle narratives. Admiral Farragut's cannon, recently employed in the Mississippi Delta in late April 1862 challenged Vicksburg on July 1 of the same year; Farragut asks for Vicksburg's surrender and is refused.

    International law and diplomacy are set within the context of Europe's approach and avoidance policies toward the Confederacy. The earth's oceans the scene of commerce raiding, near piracy, and chases. The destruction of a segment are of the North's merchant marine by Confederate commerce raiders cause repercussions that lasted beyond the end of the war and settled by international courts.

    McPherson offers thorough evidence that the U.S. Navy was a major factor in the success of the Union's war effort and that the C.S. navy was, without a doubt, innovative and a considerable impact on the length of the war. With a meager 5% claim on the Union's military budget and assets, the U.S. Navy produced results disproportionate the expenditure. With even less funds available the C.S. challenged in a dramatic fashion the North's blockade and commerce. His narrative frequently is moved forward by the personalities of the inventors, sailors, and politicians.

    War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies is a pleasure to read and accessible to general readers including high school student working in advance placement courses. The 19 maps are uncluttered and offer details relevant to the narrative.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Intellgent and fun

    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, endnotes, bibliography and index.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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