Civil War literature is copious. This is both a blessing and a curse for civil war buffs and scholars. One facet of civil war historiography that is attracting more attention is naval operations. This is a subject I am very much interested in; my master’s thesis focuses on the river ironclads of the west.
Craig L. Symonds’, Lincoln and His Admirals, is an excellent new book on the Union naval campaigns throughout the war. As the title implies, Symonds focuses on Lincoln’s relationships with the U.S. naval high command and how they affected the outcome of naval policy and maneuvers. It is a political history as well demonstrating, as so many Lincoln scholars have argued before, that Lincoln became such a strong commander-in-chief through trial and error during our nation’s greatest crisis.
One of Lincoln’s first dilemmas upon taking office was how to handle the Fort Sumter situation. Secretary of State Seward argued to have Fort Sumter surrendered to South Carolina, hoping rather naively, that there was still time for reconciliation. Lincoln, through the urging of soon-to-be Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox, opted to re-supply Fort Sumter with a naval expedition. Meanwhile, in a series of peculiar actions on the part of Seward, Lincoln allowed his Secretary of State and two junior officers, Captain Meigs of the army and Lieutenant Porter of the navy, to undermine the Sumter expedition. Seward had the U.S.S. Powhatan diverted from the Sumter operation and sent to Pensacola, Florida to secure Fort Pickens. All of this was done without Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welle’s knowledge. Ultimately, the relief expedition was too late since Lincoln had warned South Carolina of the supply mission and the Confederacy began bombing the fort on 12-April-1861. Lincoln, as he so often did throughout his presidency, learned from this episode and took full responsibility.
Lincoln’s trust in both Secretary of the Navy Welles and his assistant Gustavus V. Fox proved invaluable. The Welles-Fox adept administration of naval affairs throughout the war allowed Lincoln to focus on other matters, mainly the army and its long list of incompetent political officers. Lincoln and His Admirals is a welcome addition to Civil War navy historiography.
Some other Civil War naval books on my shelf waiting to be read are:
Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy: A Biography – Ari Hoogenboom
The Timberclads in the Civil War – Myron J.Smith Jr.
Blue and Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat – Spencer C. Tucker
Island No.10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley – Larry J. Daniel
Happy New Year to everyone and I concur with Dan lets resolve to do more research and writing on the Civil War!