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I propose to adopt a class of vessels hitherto unknown to naval services. The perfection of a warship would doubtless be a combination of the greatest known ocean speed with the greatest known floating battery and power of resistance … Stephen R. Mallory

Success is all that was expected : the South Atlantic blockading squadron during the Civil War    Washington, D.C. : Brassey’s, Inc., c 2002  Robert M. Browning, Jr. United States. Navy. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (1861-1865) Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xii, 497 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 449-473) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the finest tradition of taking fast ships in harm’s way the Confederate blockade runners defied the union fleet throughout most of the war.

Browning takes a comprehensive looks at the union blockade of the Confederacy, focusing on the South Atlantic Squadron, which covered the coasts of Georgia and Florida. As a US Coast Guard employee his perspective is pro union however his expertise on the technical aspects makes him worth a read.

While the book has a number of sea fights, many chases, and several, largely unsuccessful, attempts by the fleet in cooperation with the army to capture various Confederate coastal installations. The major portion of the work deals with the tediousness of the blockade, in which ships and men lay offshore for months on end in the furtherance of the union strategy to starve the civilian population and strangle the Southern economy.

A blockade runner being unloaded with pictures of some of her cargo – many of the ships were British built and sailed under the Union Jack and their illegal detainment nearly brought England into the war on the Southern side.

The study gives us an excellent look at the organization and management of the blockade, including the complex and surprisingly sophisticated logistical arrangements needed to keep the fleet supplied and effective.  It also touches upon the many important innovations in naval operations, from the development of specialized auxiliary vessels, such as refrigerator ships, repair ships, command ships, and, of course, ironclads, and also provides mini-profiles of a number of interesting naval officers, such as DuPont and Dahlgren.

The glaring omission of the book is the absolute absence of any record of the Southern abilities to run the blockade. Both the Bahamas and Bermuda – and for much of the war Havana – may as well have been Southern ports. The real naval history of the war is not the yankee policeman plod in his blockader but Semmes and his comrades under their stainless banner in their raiders and blockade runners.

The banality of evil and the triumph of bean counters may be less than satisfying for those in search of a moral object lesson or of a history of characters who have tread large upon the stage but this is none the less an important book for those interested in the maritime aspects of the Civil War or in naval warfare in general.

“Our Prize Fleet, consisting of British Vessels captured while trying to run the Blockade.” Engraving published in “Harper’s Weekly”, July-December 1862 volume. It depicts (from left to right) the blockade runners Petrel, Memphis, Elizabeth, Ella Warly, Patras, Alliance, Ann, Stettin, Circassian and Tubal Cain. Three of these vessels, Memphis, Stettin and Circassian later served in the U.S. Navy.


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