Ships of the Civil War by Kevin J. Dougherty


Ships of the Civil War by Kevin J. DoughertyNonfictionReviewed by Molly

Kevin J Dougherty’s Ships of the Civil War 1861 – 1865 is a training type work rather than being a story book. While this tome is not a sit on the porch in the shade, sip tea and read book; it is significant as a quick reference.  Arranged by type of ship, this volume helps the reader appreciate that while the land battles waged during the war are the more remembered element of the divisive time in our history, naval engagements were also an essential component of the era.

From river boats driven by paddle wheels to ram ships, cruisers, steam driven ships and the introduction of ironclads; warfare was entering an innovative and continuing setting for combat.

This Illustrated Guide To The Fighting Vessels Of The Union And The Confederacy is an admirable reference work available for history buff, or serious scholar, as well as one having some, but not a lot of cognizance or familiarity for that bitter period in our nation’s history when the sounds of armed conflict resounded across much of the country.

This work of 224 pages begins with a Table of Contents listing the Introduction, and then the types of ships included in the work.  Ironclads, Gunboats, Raiders, Cruisers, Blockade Runners and Submarines are detailed with the name of the ship, year, information regarding the vessel on the left page and a large illustration of the ship on the right. The format of the book allows the volume to be completely open with facing pages lying side by side. Full color illustrations are done by hand.

Many early photographs portraying ships, their crews and actions add a deeper element of understanding for the reader to consider.

On the pages of the introduction author Dougherty details first The Federal Navy strength and activities, numbers of naval personnel at the beginning of the war, 1861, clarifies who Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was, in addition to what his function was.  In large part the blockade of Southern ports was a major concern for the Union, Federal, Navy, closely followed with capitalizing upon Southern vulnerability via large rivers leading into the heart of the Confederacy.

Early lithograph type images and sketches as well as paintings are liberally sprinkled amongst the prose.

The Confederate Navy faced the formidable task of building and implementing a Navy beginning with 5 ships brought into the Confederacy by seceded states and growing to 130 vessels.  The Confederacy lacked industrial shipbuilding capacity to match that of the Union shipbuilders.

The listing of individual vessels begins with the Ironclad, CSS Manassas, 1861 a Confederate craft initially built in 1855 as a twin screw towboat in Massachusetts, converted to ice breaker, and was used during the war as a Ram.

Specifications noted for the various boats generally includes displacement, dimensions, armament, armor, machinery, the Manassas was powered by steam, and manned by a crew of 36.

The text portion of the ship’s description begins with an explanation regarding when and where a vessel was built, original expected use of the ship if built before the war as a non war vessel, and how it was converted to war usage.

I like that many of the crafts are shown flying either the first national flag of the Confederacy, The Stars and Bars, or the Union’s Old Glory.

Many of the ships are shown as the only one on the page, as is the CSS Arkansas; while some are shown with another of the same type as is the CSS Atlanta built in Scotland, which launched in 1861 as a merchant steamship the Fingal.  When the blockade prevented her leaving US waters, she was cut down to the waterline, rebuilt as an ironclad ram and went into battle before being run ashore and captured by the US Navy.  Once repaired the Atlanta was recommissioned as the USS Atlanta joined other ships in the blockade of Southern ports.

On the same page is a description of the CSS Texas, another ram.

One illustration was especially thought-provoking; The USS Essex is shown in cutaway providing the reader with a view to the interior of the vessel.

The Ironclads are a grouping 44 vessels including rams, blockade vessels, riverboats, combat boats in the Western Theater, some were converted side wheel steamers, others were powered by a diversity of steam engines powering single or twin screws, at least one bore sails in addition to horizontal direct-acting Mazeline engines driving twin screws, while another utilized two vibrating lever engines representative of the wide diversity of vessels used by Union and Confederate naval personnel.

Gun Boats are listed between pages 88 – 162 show the predominance of federal naval power for 27 vessels to the 7 confederate ships and others used by both sides at differing times.  Gunboats, armed with a variety of guns, were used as blockade, fighting, river patrol and defensive vessels powered by sail, side wheel steam, horizontal direct acting engines, and a further diversity of mechanisms.

One ship among the gun boats noted that I found to be especially attention-grabbing is the USS General Bragg, impressed into Confederate service, converted into a cotton clad ram… double pine bulkheads were filled with compressed cotton.

Raiders are listed on pages 162 – 183.  These are the ships most often shown in movies dodging and running the blockade of southern ports.  Most of the raiders shown are those commissioned by the Confederacy.  From the Cuba built in New York in 1851 and commissioned by the Confederacy in 1861 as a privateer, to the mail ship, USS Rattlesnake before the fall of Ft Sumter to being fitted as a cruiser under the command of Lt RB Pegram when she became the first ship of war, CSS Rattlesnake, to fly the Confederate Flag to the CSS Sumter a commerce raider the raiders are a colorful group.

Of particular interest, I found the CSS Alabama shown in cutaway helped this reader understand the interior set up of the ship.  The Alabama was the most effective and became the most famous of the raiders with a history of burning, sinking or capturing 69 ships valued at $6 million during her career.

English ship yards produced a number of vessels for the Confederate effort, including the 1862 CSS Florida built under the name Oreto in an effort to throw the suspicious off as perhaps being built for Italian interests rather than as a ship for the American Confederacy.  All in all 10 Confederate raiders are depicted while only 1 USS is shown.

The USS Quaker City, a side wheel steamer built in Philadelphia in 1854, was purchased by the Union Navy in 1861 and became one of the most effective, most active Federal Blockaders.  The Quaker was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard 18 May, 1865 and was sold at auction in June that same year.

With names USS Susquehanna, San Jacinto, Powhatan, Brooklyn, Hartford, Iroquois, Richmond, Kearsage, Vanderbuilt, the Union Stockade Squadron effectively prevented many ships bringing needed goods into Confederate ports.

On the pages beginning 204 -212 the Blockade Runners includes the Teaser, in essence the first air craft carrier, a wooden hulled, screw tugboat purchased by Virginia, April 1861; the Teaser was used during the Seven Days’ Battles by balloonist Lt. Col Edw Porter Alexander.  Tethered to the deck of the Teaser, Col Alexander observed Federal movements.

Others in the flotilla of blockade runners include 4 more vessels; A D Vance, originally a side wheel steamer, Lord Clyde built in 1862, the vessel operated under state control.  She made 20 successful voyages before being captured 10 Sep 1864 while attempting to carry a cargo of cotton to Europe.  The Hope, Salvor, and Stag are noted as part of the ships used for blockade as the need became greater for the Confederacy to replenish goods and materiel as the war continued.

Closing out the naval vessels portrayed in this book is a small selection, 3 CSS and 1 USS forerunners of the Submarines which are an important part of modern naval contingents.

The CSS Pioneer propelled by a crank shaft, carried a crew of 3 men, 1 of whom propelled the craft by turning the manual crank of the screw.  Armed with a clockwork torpedo, the cigar shaped vessel had a conning tower, manholes in the top and small, and circular glass windows in the sides.

The CSS David, was an early semi-submersible, cigar shaped, having an explosive charge at the end of a spar, and made at least a trio of attacks against Federal vessels.

David is used to refer to any of several vessels resembling this early boat. Several of the David class were captured by the Federals at the end of the war, the exact fate of the original David remains unknown.

The CSS Hunley privately built in spring 1863, in Alabama was discovered, underwater, off Sullivan Island, she was recovered in 2000.  In 1999 the remains of 4 of her crew were located in a Confederate Cemetery during renovations at the football stadium at the Citadel.

The remains of the 8 man crew recovered when the Hunley was raised were buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston with full military honors in 2004.

Page 220 offers a Select Bibliography as well as a small glossary of terms used in the specifications regarding weaponry, propeller, in naval terms screw and engines.

An index closes out the work.

I bought this book as a gift for my husband.  Husband and I share an interest in US history in general, and the War Between the States in particular.  We each have a pretty fair understanding of many of the land battles, have visited many of the battlefields, and have a fairly sizable home library filled with books written about the era.

While we, as nearly everyone who has even passing understanding of the war, were well aware of the Merrimac and the Monitor; we did realize these were not the only ships of the era.  However, we were both a bit surprised to learn there were so many vessels of widely diversified type and usage employed by both sides during the bitter fighting waged on our continent during the 1860s..

Writer Dougherty, a professor at The Citadel, has produced an admirable volume featuring a well-rounded selection of ships detailing both Union and Confederate capabilities, strengths and short comings.

Written in clearly intelligible language; details of individual vessels are easily understood; type of ship, name, reason for the name if known, captain, battles and uses are all set down.  Some of the crafts survived the war and are now on exhibition as is the USS Cairo today displayed at Vicksburg National Military Park.  Others as was the fate of the CSS Louisiana did not survive battle, she was cast adrift towards the Union fleet, burst into flames and did not survive.  Some ships sank and have been recovered, some were sold for scrap.

For those who are not familiar with the various types of ships; chapter headings designating Ironclads, Raiders, Blockage Runners and the like, likely will prove helpful for the interested but not yet well educated regarding the various types of vessels.

I found the introduction to be filled with a wealth of information especially for the attentive reader who may be interested but has not yet become steeped in the details of the 1861-1865 era.

I am always interested in enlarging my own understanding of the period, and found fascinating that Mare Island in California was one of the Union’s eight navy yards.  I was born in the Bay Area, California, and grew up on stories my Dad told of driving materiel and the like to or from Mare Island during WW2.

Addition of artwork with vessels detailed in concert with the pages describing individual ships add much to the text forming the introduction.

Thought-provoking, motivating read, happy to  recommend

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