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 Post subject: strangling the confederacy
PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 11:08 pm 
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Mostly derivative, although there are some insights of interest. Author Kevin Dougherty’s endnotes and bibliography is short of primary sources on long on Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton, so we’ve seen all this stuff before; yet it’s somewhat useful to have it broken out of general discussion of the war. When the war started, the Lincoln administration quickly created a Navy Board, composed of USN Captain Samuel DuPont, Coast Survey Superintendent Professor A.D. Bache, Army engineer and fortress specialist Major John Barnard, and USN Commander Charles Davis. The Board quickly issued recommendations – the Navy should seize key locations along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to establish coaling stations for blockading vessels. The USN quickly adopted most of the Board’s recommendations and seized Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina, Port Royal in South Carolina, and Ship Island off the coast of Louisiana.

Dougherty doesn’t mention a key diplomatic situation here; the Union initially referred to a “blockade” of the south. Secretary of State Seward quickly pointed out that a “blockade” was defined by international law as affecting a foreign nation, and by declaring a “blockade” Lincoln was implicitly recognizing the Confederacy as a nation. Lincoln quickly acknowledged by declaring the various ports in the south as “closed” rather than “blockaded”; nevertheless the situation was always called a “blockade” by the north and the naval forces involved were the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons and the East and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons.

Dougherty notes the Confederacy initially put way too much trust in the efficacy of forts against naval vessels. The doctrine of the time is ship guns had to outnumber fort guns by at least 4 to 1 to have a chance, but that was developed before the days of steam power and rifling. The Federal navy quickly obliterated Fort Hatteras at Hatteras Inlet and Fort Beauregard at Port Royal, and just steam past Forts St. Philip and Jackson guarding New Orleans. However, Federal exploitation of their coastal enclaves was also inhibited by doctrine; Dougherty notes that Union forces never advanced, even though a relatively short march from New Bern, North Carolina, could have cut the Weldron Railroad that served Richmond. Dougherty attributes this to lack of initiative and poor cooperation between the Army and Navy; however I propose a better reason is that the Federals simply didn’t realize it was possible at this stage of the war. It wasn’t until Grant bypassed Vicksburg to come at it from the rear that Sherman realized it was possible to operate in the deep south without a supply line. No Federal general in 1861 or 1862 would have risked a force without a supply line and flank guards.

As the war went on, the south got better at coastal defense and administrators in the north began expecting more from the Navy than was possible. In particular, the his failure to capture Charleston led to the dismissal of Flag Officer Du Pont; he was accused of having “the slows”, like McClellan, but despite pointing out repeatedly that the situation at Charleston was different than New Orleans or Port Royal – steaming past the outer forts wouldn’t work because it would just leave the fleet trapped between them and the inner forts, and the forts themselves were no longer brick and masonry that shattered under cannon fire but sand and earth that absorbed shells. Charleston wasn’t taken until Sherman arrived from the land side.

There’s no capsule biography to give Dougherty’s background; he makes a couple of errors of fact, describing the Sharps as a “repeating rifle” and calling the New Ironsides a monitor. There are photographs of various personalities mentioned. The maps aren’t really adequate, generally too large a scale to illustrate what’s discussed in the text. As mentioned , the bibliography is mostly secondary sources. I can give it a half-hearted recommendation; worthwhile from the library or if you are a compulsive Civil War book collector.


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