UNDER TWO FLAGS: The American Navy in the Civil War by

UNDER TWO FLAGS: The American Navy in the Civil War

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Overshadowed by tumultuous land bloodfests, Civil War naval battles have not received the same sustained attention as such earlier and later engagements as Lake Erie, Midway, or Leyte Gulf. Yet ""without a powerful navy the North could not have won the war,"" contends this sound maritime history from Fowler (History/Northeastern Univ.), the managing editor of the New England Quarterly. Fowler, whose Rebels Under Sail (1976) examined the Navy during the American Revolution, is remarkably fair and evenhanded in summarizing the successes and errors of the two sides. He is particularly shrewd in assessing their able Navy secretaries: the South's imaginative Stephen Mallory, who gambled that the Confederacy's ""inequality of numbers may by compensated by invulnerability"" with ironclads; and the North's indefatigable Gideon Welles, who worked with single-minded concentration to exploit the Union Navy's many logistical advantages. Familiar heroes like David Farragut, David Dixon Porter, and Raphael Semmes also get their due. Yet it is not the smoke of battle or the face of command that fascinates Fowler, but how ironclad technology and new strategies affected four major naval spheres: the Union blockade of southern ports, combined operations with the Army, riverine operations, and Confederate high-seas raiders. Sometimes, this balanced coverage gives greater prominence to unjustly neglected aspects of the war, such as the crucial bombardment by northern brown-water forces at Vicksburg, New Orleans, and Forts Henry and Donelson: other times, it challenges conventional wisdom (e.g., the blockade was far less effective than generally thought). Readers looking for in-depth scholarship or exciting narrative may not like this bare-facts account. Still, Fowler offers a succinct, on-target introduction to the naval side of the Civil War.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1990
Publisher: Norton