About Billy Whyte

Hello my name is William Whyte. I live in Nazareth, Pennsylvania with my wife, Susan, and my two children, Kylie and William. I am currently enrolled at East Stroudsburg University and scheduled to graduate with a Masters of Arts degree in History in the fall of 2008. I count the American Civil War, nineteenth century America, and World War II among my specific areas of historical interest. I hope to pursue a doctorate degree in history upon successful completion of a Masters Degree. I am currently employed with a major bank in the financial district of downtown New York and as an Adjunct Professor at a local community college. I’m a member of the OAH, AHA, and the Society for Civil War Historians. I love spending time with my family and traveling to Civil War battlefields, as well as other historical sites. I also enjoy fishing, hunting, reading, film, and New York Giants football. I hope to one day be a professor of history at a university or small college and to publish historical works.

Society of Civil War Historians – Call for Papers

The Society of  Civil War Historians is calling for papers for their conference June 17 -19, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.


Deadline for paper proposals is September 15, 2009.


The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia


Military History Series


March 17, 2009


Dear Colleague:


Once more, we are at the beginning stage of a new military history project, The Naval Civil War Encyclopedia.  Attached is an entry list of topics for which we seek authors.  Our goal is to assign these subjects out and have them written and submitted as soon as possible. 


These essays will be used in a variety of products beyond the printed book, including interactive web sites, workbooks, chronologies, handbooks, etc.  They are designed to appeal to a broad audience, including academics, students, and general readers alike. 


ABC-CLIO has more than 50 years of experience in historical reference publishing, and has won many awards for its books and publications.  It has also recently acquired Greenwood Press and Praeger Publishing and now controls over 18,000 titles.  Our Military History Series has earned the Editor’s Choice Award from Booklist for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and the Distinguished Achievement Award for 2006 (United States at War database), among many others. 


I hope you will consider taking on as many topics as you can.  The due dates are flexible, but I prefer to have essays completed within 60 days of their assignment.  ALL must be submitted by no later than July 15, 2009.


If you are able to contribute, please send me an e-mail at wwhyte@rcn.com with a list of the entries you would be willing to write along with any specific time constraints you might have in completing them.  I will get back to you ASAP to make formal assignments.


If you have any ideas for entries you believe are important to this project (such as individual ships) please suggest them. Thank you.


Best wishes,


Billy Whyte

Assistant Editor


Civil War Naval Encyclopedia


ABC-CLIO publishers have initiated a project for a Civil War Naval Encyclopedia.  Spencer Tucker is the lead editor on the project.  Paul Pierpaoli and myself are assistant editors.

We should have the final headword list completed this week.  If you know of any scholars or graduate students interested in working on this project please contact me for details.

Federal Baked Ovens – Life on Union Gunboats

Here is a brief excerpt on some research I have been doing on the Union river sailors and they’re experiences aboard the gunboat fleet.

Tight quarters surrounded by iron plating, boilers with an insatiable appetite for coal, poor ventilation, little wind and a lot of sun earned the river ironclads the handle of “federal baked ovens.”[1] Life in the river navy was fundamentally different from life aboard men-of-war performing blockade duty. Sailors, also referred to as bluejackets or jacks, of the regular navy enjoyed fresh air above deck and little danger; although monotonous and uneventful, save the occasional chase of smugglers, the deep water sailor enjoyed a much higher standard of living than his cousin in the brown water navy. The river sailors cruised close to land and became choice targets of confederate guerillas. The southern climate bred mosquitoes and disease, and particularly irksome to river jacks was the fact that blockaders were entitled to prize money from captured vessels while they were not. Naval officers frowned upon river service; even  Flag Officer Foote confided to his wife that he would rather be commanding in the Atlantic.[2] River navigation created another distinction between the two naval sectors.

The rivers of the Mississippi Valley were circuitous, shallow, narrow and constantly changing due to weather and floods. The weight of the gunboats caused them to frequently run aground; the constant scraping along the river’s bottom weakened the boats’ hulls causing leaks. Trees damaged the tall smokestacks or obstructed navigation. While the blockade sailor learned how to mend sails or navigate by the stars, the river tar became adept at: repairing boilers and smoke stacks, fixing leaks, and freeing their vessels from river bottoms.[3] The narrowness of the rivers also meant that crews spent most of their time within site of land.

Not only did gunboat crews come into contact with confederate guerillas but their closeness to land brought them in direct contact with southern civilians and slaves. As the war progressed and the boats descended further south, southern plantations were freed of their cotton as well as their slaves. Many of the contraband, the union term given to former slaves, would serve aboard gunboats. Castoffs from blockade duty, transfers from the army, contraband and even some confederate prisoners-of-war would man the boats in this new navy.[4] Although still short of manpower, enough crews existed to support the federal army advance into confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s precarious defensive line in early 1862.

[1] Michael J. Bennett, Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 78. Dennis J. Ringle. Life in Mr. Lincoln’s Navy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 47. River ironclads consumed 2000 pounds of coal per hour when cruising at 6 knots.

[2] James M. Merrill, “Cairo, Illinois: Strategic Civil War Port,” Journal of Illinois State History 76 (winter 1983): 251-52; Bennett, Union Jacks, 94-95. Gunboat crews became adept at stealing cotton throughout the war. Cotton became prize money for the river sailors.

[3] Bennett, Union Jacks, 83-85. A gunboat sailor described the Cumberland River as, “so crooked that sometimes a steamer a half mile ahead of us would be apparently coming directly in the opposite direction and suddenly turn around a bend and lo’ she proves to be going up the river.”

[4] Bennett, Union Jacks, 80. Merrill, “Cairo, Illinois,” 251;255.

Get published for the New Year

Authors are needed for a  new encyclopedia on military history and propaganda.  The work will cover U.S. military history from colonial times to the present.  There are Civil War entries still available.

The encyclopedia is being published by ABC-Clio, a very prestigious academic publisher.  Here is the announcement on Hnet.


Lincoln and His Admirals

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!




I am currently reading an excellent account of the Red River Campaign titled, Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaign, 1863 -1864.  The book, part of the Voices of the Civil War Series, is edited by Gary D. Joiner.  I will be writing a review of it for The Southern Historian next month.  Joiner gives a perspective of the campaign from a very personal level using both civilian and military sources.  I’ll have more on the book once I’m finished.

On to another matter that vexes me, this is my second semester teaching history at two local community colleges.  This past summer I taught a Civil War and Reconstruction class; currently, I am teaching two America since Reconstruction classes.  This past Wednesday, 17 September 2008, I asked a class of twenty-five students if they could tell me what took place on this day – even offering not to give a quiz if one person could respond.  Not one student could answer the Battle of Antietam or America’s bloodiest day.  A couple of weeks ago a student commented that she never knew Lincoln was assassinated.  Now I understand that history is not for everyone, especially in community colleges where most students take history as a mandatory elective rather than an interest in the subject.  However, this lack of basic American history knowledge must stem from the grammar/high school level. Are high school students still required take American history?  Are students just being pushed through?

Coincidentally, this week I was lecturing on J.P. Morgan and the rift between capitalists and the labor force that formed in the late nineteenth century.  I was able to tie this in with the current crisis on Wall Street.  I could not think of a better example as to how history is so relevant to today’s world.  History needs to become a more integral part of our education system perhaps that is an issue the current presidential candidates should be debating.