Civil War Navy Homepage

Thomas' Legion
American Civil War HOMEPAGE
American Civil War
American Civil War Domains
Causes of the Civil War : What Caused the Civil War
Organization of Union and Confederate Armies: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery
Civil War Navy: Union Navy and Confederate Navy
American Civil War: The Soldier's Life
Civil War Turning Points
American Civil War: Casualties, Battles and Battlefields
Civil War Casualties, Fatalities & Statistics
Civil War Generals
American Civil War Desertion and Deserters: Union and Confederate
Civil War Prisoner of War: Union and Confederate Prison History
Civil War Reconstruction Era and Aftermath
American Civil War Genealogy and Research
Civil War
American Civil War Pictures - Photographs
African Americans and American Civil War History
American Civil War Store
American Civil War Polls
NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY
North Carolina Civil War History
North Carolina American Civil War Statistics, Battles, History
North Carolina Civil War History and Battles
North Carolina Civil War Regiments and Battles
North Carolina Coast: American Civil War
HISTORY OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
Western North Carolina and the American Civil War
Western North Carolina: Civil War Troops, Regiments, Units
North Carolina: American Civil War Photos
Cherokee Chief William Holland Thomas
HISTORY OF THE CHEROKEE INDIANS
Cherokee Indian Heritage, History, Culture, Customs, Ceremonies, and Religion
Cherokee Indians: American Civil War
History of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation
Cherokee War Rituals, Culture, Festivals, Government, and Beliefs
Researching your Cherokee Heritage
Civil War Diary, Memoirs, Letters, and Newspapers
American Civil War Store: Books, DVDs, etc.

American Civil War: Union and Confederate Navy and Marines History Homepage

Civil War Navies
 
Introduction
 
As the Civil War raged on the land, the two national navies— Union and Confederate —engaged in another war on the water. The naval war was one of sudden, spectacular lightning battles as well as continual and fatal vigilance on the coasts, rivers, and seas.  The Southern states had few resources compared to the North: a handful of shipyards, a small merchant marine, and no navy at all. Yet the Confederates needed a navy to break the Union blockade and to defend the port cities. Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory, scrambled to find ships and even initiated offensive operations: attacking Union merchant shipping on the high seas.
 
By Civil War’s end the Confederate Navy managed to place 130 ships into service, but it was well short of the 670-vessel US Navy. The manufacturing might of the North included its shipbuilding capabilities, but the South had to start from scratch. Although the Confederacy lacked the industrial capability of the North, it improvised on a grand scale and produced several ironclads, such as the ironclad ram CSS Albemarle, which was designed and built by a 19 year old North Carolinian in a cornfield. The Albemarle was credited for destroying an unprecedented 29 Union ships before her demise.
 
President Abraham Lincoln set the Union’s first naval goal when he declared a blockade of the Southern coasts. His plan was to cut off Southern trade with the outside world and prevent sale of the Confederacy's major crop, cotton. The task was daunting; the Southern coast measured more than 2,500 miles and the Union navy numbered less than 40 usable ships. The Union also needed a “brown water navy” of gunboats to support army campaigns from the rivers.
 
Civil War Navy Warfare and Naval Inventions and Innovations
 
The Civil War (1861-1865) was an era of several major naval innovations and inventions that altered naval warfare on a global scale. Consider the following Civil War milestones.

Union and Confederate Navy History
Civil War Navy History.jpg
First Battleship Duel in History was Fought between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862

(Left) CSS Virginia was merely a product of raising and rebuilding the scuttled USS Merrimack. The Merrimack was a wooden frigate powered by sail and a single steam engine and was scuttled in 1861 to avoid being captured by the Confederacy. The casemate ironclad CSS Virginia was powered by two steam engines and single screw. Her casemate had 14 gun ports, three each in the bow and stern, one firing directly along the ship's centerline, the two others angled at 45 from the center line; these six bow and stern gun ports had exterior iron shutters installed to project their cannon. There were four gun ports on each broadside; their protective iron shutters remained uninstalled during both days of the Battle of Hampton Roads. Virginia's battery consisted of four muzzle-loading single-banded Brooke rifles and six smoothbore 9-inch Dahlgren guns salvaged from the old Merrimack. Two of the rifles, the bow and stern pivot guns, were 7-inch caliber and weighed 14,500 pounds each. They fired a 104-pound shell. The other two were 6.4-inch cannon of about 9,100 pounds, one on each broadside. The 9-inch Dahlgrens were mounted three to a side; each weighed approximately 9,200 pounds and could fire a 72.5-pound shell to a range of 3,357 yards at an elevation of 15. The two amidship Dahlgrens nearest the boiler furnaces were fitted-out to fire heated shot. On her upper casemate deck were positioned two anti-boarding/personnel 12-pounder Howitzers. (Right) The USS Monitor was an iron-hulled steamship powered by a single steam engine and propeller, and it had a revolving turret that housed two massive guns. The Monitor was intended to mount a pair of 15-inch smoothbore Dahlgren guns, but they were not ready in time and 11-inch guns were substituted. Each gun weighed approximately 16,000 pounds. Monitor's guns used the standard propellant charge of 15 pounds specified by the 1860 ordnance for targets "distant", "near", and "ordinary", established by the gun's designer Dahlgren himself. They could fire a 136-pound round shot or shell to a distance of 3,650 yards at an elevation of +15.

Union and Confederate Navy History
Civil War Torpedoes.jpg
Civil War Navy History

Battleships
 
The Battle of Hampton Roads (1862) was the first combat between ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. The great battleships of the first and second wars were descendants of these two ironclads. The battle received worldwide attention, and it had immediate effects on navies around the world. The preeminent naval powers, Great Britain and France, halted further construction of wooden-hulled ships, and others followed suit. A new type of warship was produced, the monitor, based on the principle of the original. The use of a small number of very heavy guns, mounted so that they could fire in all directions was first demonstrated by Monitor but soon became standard in warships of all types. Shipbuilders also incorporated rams into the designs of warship hulls for the remainder of the century.

Torpedo and Mine
 
(Right) Harpers Weekly, January 1863, illustration of naval torpedoes moored to the river bottom (the predecessors of modern naval mines).
 
During the Civil War, the term torpedo was used for what is now known as the contact mine, floating on or below the water surface using an air-filled demijohn or similar flotation device. These devices were very primitive, and were apt to prematurely explode. They would be detonated on contact with the ship, or after a set time, although electrical detonators were also occasionally used. The USS Cairo was the first warship to be sunk, in 1862, by an electrically detonated mine. A spar torpedo was a mine attached to a long pole and detonated when the ship carrying it rammed another one. The H. L. Hunley used one to sink the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864. The Spar torpedo was an explosive device mounted at the end of a spar up to 30 feet long projecting forward underwater from the bow of the attacking vessel, which would then ram the enemy vessel with the explosives. These were used by the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley to sink the USS Housatonic although the weapon was apt to cause as much harm to its user as to its target.
 
Submarine
 
H. L. Hunley was a submarine of the Confederate Navy that played a small but revolutionary role in the Civil War. Hunley demonstrated the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare and was the first combat submarine to sink a warship. Although Hunley was not completely submerged during her successful attack, she was lost along with her crew while returning to port.

Civil War and USS Cairo
USS Cairo.jpg
USS Cairo sank after being hit by the first naval mine in warfare history

On December 12, 1862, while clearing mines from the Yazoo River preparatory to the attack on Haines Bluff, Mississippi, USS Cairo struck a torpedo detonated by volunteers hidden behind the river bank and sank in 12 minutes. Although to casualties were reported, the Cairo made history by being the first ship sunk by a naval mine.
 
USS Cairo was a steam driven City-class ironclad gunboat constructed for the Union Navy by James Buchanan Eads during the Civil War. She was the lead ship of the City-class gunboats, also known as the Cairo class, and was named for Cairo, Illinois. Commissioned on January 25, 1862, and with a complement of 251 officers and men, the Cairo sank with less than one year service. Fitted with 16 guns, she was upgraded to 14 more reliable -- less prone to muzzle bursting -- rifled guns in November 1862. The change removed some of its 42-pounders, which, according to numerous accounts, were known to burst and injure the crew.

Union Navy
USS Monitor.jpg
USS Monitor (1862-1862)

 
Confederate Navy
CSS Virginia.jpg
CSS Virginia (1862-1862) (ex-USS Merrimack)
Civil War Navy
USS Merrimack (1856-1861) CSS Virginia (1862).jpg
USS Merrimack (1856-1861) (CSS Virginia in 1862)

(Continued below)

Site search Web search

Recommended Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…

About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center (opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history, and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.

 

Recommended Reading: Civil War Navies, 1855-1883 (The U.S. Navy Warship Series) (Hardcover). Description: Civil War Warships, 1855-1883 is the second in the five-volume US Navy Warships encyclopedia set. This valuable reference lists the ships of the U.S. Navy and Confederate Navy during the Civil War and the years immediately following - a significant period in the evolution of warships, the use of steam propulsion, and the development of ordnance. Civil War Warships provides a wealth and variety of material not found in other books on the subject and will save the reader the effort needed to track down information in multiple sources. Continued below…

Each ship's size and time and place of construction are listed along with particulars of naval service. The author provides historical details that include actions fought, damage sustained, prizes taken, ships sunk, and dates in and out of commission as well as information about when the ship left the Navy, names used in other services, and its ultimate fate. 140 photographs, including one of the Confederate cruiser Alabama recently uncovered by the author further contribute to this indispensable volume. This definitive record of Civil War ships updates the author's previous work and will find a lasting place among naval reference works.

 

Recommended Reading: Naval Campaigns of the Civil War. Description: This analysis of naval engagements during the War Between the States presents the action from the efforts at Fort Sumter during the secession of South Carolina in 1860, through the battles in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River, and along the eastern seaboard, to the final attack at Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina in January 1865. This work provides an understanding of the maritime problems facing both sides at the beginning of the war, their efforts to overcome these problems, and their attempts, both triumphant and tragic, to control the waterways of the South. The Union blockade, Confederate privateers and commerce raiders are discussed, as is the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Continued below…

An overview of the events in the early months preceding the outbreak of the war is presented. The chronological arrangement of the campaigns allows for ready reference regarding a single event or an entire series of campaigns. Maps and an index are also included. About the Author: Paul Calore, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, was the Operations Branch Chief with the Defense Logistics Agency of the Department of Defense before retiring. He is a supporting member of the U.S. Civil War Center and the Civil War Preservation Trust and has also written Land Campaigns of the Civil War (2000). He lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

 

Recommended Reading: Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the Civil War (Hardcover). Description: Naval Battles of the Civil War, written by acclaimed Civil War historian Chester G. Hearn, focuses on the maritime battles fought between the Confederate Rebels and the Union forces in waters off the eastern seaboard and the great rivers of the United States during the Civil War. Continued below...

Since very few books have been written on this subject, this volume provides a fascinating and vital portrayal of the one of the most important conflicts in United States history. Naval Battles of the Civil War is lavishly illustrated with rare contemporary photographs, detailed artworks, and explanatory maps, and the text is a wonderful blend of technical information, fast-flowing narrative, and informed commentary.
 

Recommended Reading: A History of the Confederate Navy (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: One of the most prominent European scholars of the Civil War weighs in with a provocative revisionist study of the Confederacy's naval policies. For 27 years, University of Genoa history professor Luraghi (The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South) explored archival and monographic sources on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a convincing argument that the deadliest maritime threat to the South was not, as commonly thought, the Union's blockade but the North's amphibious and river operations. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, the author shows, thus focused on protecting the Confederacy's inland waterways and controlling the harbors vital for military imports. Continued below…

As a result, from Vicksburg to Savannah to Richmond, major Confederate ports ultimately were captured from the land and not from the sea, despite the North's overwhelming naval strength. Luraghi highlights the South's ingenuity in inventing and employing new technologies: the ironclad, the submarine, the torpedo. He establishes, however, that these innovations were the brainchildren of only a few men, whose work, although brilliant, couldn't match the resources and might of a major industrial power like the Union. Nor did the Confederate Navy, weakened through Mallory's administrative inefficiency, compensate with an effective command system. Enhanced by a translation that retains the verve of the original, Luraghi's study is a notable addition to Civil War maritime history. Includes numerous photos.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1861-65 (Hardcover). Review: Naval historian Donald L. Canney provides a good overview of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, describing life at sea, weapons, combat, tactics, leaders, and of course, the ships themselves. He reveals the war as a critical turning point in naval technology, with ironclads (such as the Monitor) demonstrating their superiority to wooden craft and seaborne guns (such as those developed by John Dahlgren) making important advances. Continued below...

The real reason to own this oversize book, however, is for the images: more than 200 of them, including dozens of contemporary photographs of the vessels that fought to preserve the Union. There are maps and portraits, too; this fine collection of pictures brings vividness to its subject that can't be found elsewhere.
 

Recommended Reading: Submarine Warfare in the Civil War. Description: Many people have heard of the Hunley, the experimental Confederate submarine that sank the USS Housatonic in a daring nighttime operation. Less well known, however, is that the Hunley was not alone under the waters of America during the Civil War. Both the Union and Confederacy built a wide and incredible array of vessels that could maneuver underwater, and many were put to use patrolling enemy waters. Continued below...

In Submarine Warfare in the Civil War, Mark Ragan, who spent years mining factory records and log books, brings this little-known history to the surface. The hardcover edition, Union and Confederate Submarine Warfare in the Civil War, was published to wide acclaim in 1999. For this new paperback edition, Ragan has revised and updated the text to include the full story of the Hunley's recovery and restoration.
 

Recommended Reading: The Rebel Raiders: The Astonishing History of the Confederacy's Secret Navy (American Civil War). From Booklist: DeKay's modest monograph pulls together four separate stories from the naval aspects of the American Civil War. All have been told before but never integrated as they are here. The first story is that of James Bulloch, the Confederate agent who carefully and capably set out to have Confederate commerce raiders built in neutral England. The second is that of the anti-American attitudes of British politicians, far more extreme than conventional histories let on, and U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams' heroic fight against them. The third is a thoroughly readable narrative of the raider Alabama and her capable, quirky captain, Raphael Semmes. The final story is about the Alabama claims--suits for damages done to the U.S. merchant marine by Confederate raiders, which became the first successful case of international arbitration. Sound and remarkably free of fury, DeKay's commendable effort nicely expands coverage of the naval aspects of the Civil War.

 

Recommended Reading: The Confederate Navy in Europe. Description: The Confederate Navy in Europe is an account of the Confederate officers and officials who went on missions to Britain and France to buy ships for the CS Navy, and to support CSN operations on the high seas, such as commerce raiding. Spencer tells the story of how some officers rose to the occasion (some did not) and did a lot with limited resources. Continued below...

The majority of the ships ordered never reached America. Shipbuilding takes time, and as the war dragged on the European powers were persuaded by Confederate battlefield misfortunes and US diplomatic pressure that it was most expedient to deny the sales of such innovative designs as ocean-going ironclads. Like other out-manned and out-gunned powers, the CSA did have to resort to ingenuity and innovation.
 

Recommended Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart, Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's (quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy dictated by the White House. Continued below...

The naval blockade of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and His Admirals (Hardcover). Description: Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "little about ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by prize-winning historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history. Continued below…

Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter--a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience--Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "little about ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age. A unique and riveting portrait of Lincoln and the admirals under his command, this book offers an illuminating account of Lincoln and the nation at war. In the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, it offers a memorable portrait of a side of his presidency often overlooked by historians.

Return to American Civil War Homepage

Return to top

Best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

Site Meter