U.S. Navy and the Civil War

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U.S. Navy and the Civil War
Union Navy and the American Civil War

Federal Navy History
Summary of the Union Navy

As a result of operations on the high seas, on rivers, and in bays and harbors, the Navy was a decisive factor in the Civil War's outcome.

The Union Navy blockaded some three thousand miles of Confederate coast from Virginia to Texas in a mammoth effort to cut off supplies, destroy the Southern economy, and discourage foreign intervention. The Navy joined with the Army to launch a series of major amphibious assaults, including those at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, under Flag Officer Samuel F. DuPont, and Wilmington, North Carolina, led by Admiral David Dixon Porter. These successful actions sealed off Confederate blockade-runner havens, and assured blockading ships essential coaling stations and bases on the Southern coast.

          Admiral David Glasgow Farragut's victory at New Orleans denied Confederate egress from the Mississippi, and opened that mighty river to penetration northward by Union forces. In a giant pincers campaign, river gunboats moved north and south along the Mississippi and her tributaries.

Following the capture of strategic Fort McHenry by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote, one Confederate river stronghold after another fell to the combined attack of the Union Navy and Army. Vicksburg, the final bastion, was battered into submission 4 July 1863, and the Confederacy was mortally split along the vital Mississippi artery. Meanwhile in the east, the historic USS Monitor-CSS Virginia (ex-Merrimack) battle, first combat between ironclads, marked the dawn of a new era in naval warfare. The most famous of Confederate commerce raiders, CSS Alabama, Captain Raphael Semmes, played havoc with Northern shipping until being brought to bay off the French coast and sunk in a ship-to-ship duel with USS Kearsarge, Captain John Winslow.

Although Confederate forces fought valiantly throughout the war, control of the sea by the Union Navy isolated the South, and gave Northern military forces the added dimension of mobility which sea power provides.

Navy Battle of Hampton Roads
Navy Battle of Hampton Roads.jpg
Battle of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (aka Merrimack or Merrimac)

Civil War Medal

 

          This medal was issued to officers and enlisted personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps who served in the naval service during the Civil War, between 15 April 1861 and 9 April 1865. (Special Orders No. 81 and 82 of 27 June 1908.)

 

          United States Navy Battle Streamers

 

          Although no ‘service stars’ were issued for the various engagements during the Civil War, below is a listing of the recognized campaigns. (Source: 1948, 1953 U.S. Navy Awards Manual.)


          3 Silver Stars

1. Blockade operations
2. Capture of Hatteras Inlet, N.C. (29 August l861)
3. Capture of Port Royal Sound, S.C. (7 November 1861)
4. Capture of Fort Henry, Tennessee River (6 February 1862)
5. Capture of Roanoke lsland-key to Albemarle Sound (7-8 February 1862)
6. USS Monitor-CSS Virginia (ex-Merrimack) (9 March 1862)
7. Battle of New Orleans (24 April 1862)
8. Capture of Vicksburg (4 July 1863)
9. USS Kearsarge-CSS Alabama (19 June 1864)
10. Battle of Mobile Bay (5 August 1864)
11. Destruction of CSS Albemarle (27-28 October 1864)
12. Capture of Fort Fisher, Wilmington, N.C. (13-15 January 1865)
13. Operations on the Mississippi and tributaries
14. Campaigns in the Chesapeake and tributaries
15. Atlantic operations against commerce raiders and blockade runners

          Civil War Casualties: U.S. Navy and Marine Corps

Civil War (Union forces only)
15 Apr. 1861 - 26 May 1865

Navy
KIA      WIA    
2,112   1,710

Marine Corps
KIA      WIA
148      131

Key:
KIA = Killed-in-Action
WIA = Wounded-in-Action

Reference: Department of the Navy, Naval History & Heritage Command, 805 Kidder Breese SE, Washington Navy Yard, Washington D.C., 20374-5060

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.

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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. 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: Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology). Description: "In this impressively researched and broadly conceived study, William Roberts offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding, the Union's ironclad program during the Civil War. Perhaps more importantly, Roberts also provides an invaluable framework for understanding and analyzing military-industrial relations, an insightful commentary on the military acquisition process, and a cautionary tale on the perils of the pursuit of perfection and personal recognition." - Robert Angevine, Journal of Military History "Roberts's study, illuminating on many fronts, is a welcome addition to our understanding of the Union's industrial mobilization during the Civil War and its inadvertent effects on the postwar U.S. Navy." - William M. McBride, Technology and Culture"

 

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: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

A cabinet-level Department of the Navy followed in 1798. The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy. Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era's political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.

 

Recommended Reading: John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. Description: Evan Thomas’s John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy grounds itself on the facts of Jones’s life and accomplishments to bolster his place among the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes while also working to deflate the myths that have circulated about his name. Jones, we learn, was confronted throughout his life with controversy and was crippled by ambition. But Thomas lauds Jones for early innovations as an American self-made man who rose from Scottish servitude. Continued below…

Jones, despite his too brisk manner, was a true success, if not genius, as a naval captain. Early in the Revolutionary War, he captured a shipload of winter uniforms destined for General Burgoyne’s army in Canada, which instead warmed General Washington’s troops as they swept across the Delaware to defeat British at Princeton and Trenton. Later, Jones helped formulate the Navy’s plan of psychological warfare on British citizens. And Jones’s strategy to cut off the British fleet via the French Navy was arguably the most decisive strategic decision of the War. In the end, Thomas makes a good case for a renewed appreciated for Jones’s role in the broader revolution, citing his many connections to the Founding Fathers and his contributions to the broader war effort. While it may be that the John Paul Jones who proclaimed "I have not yet begun to fight" never existed, the real man behind the textbook legend is every bit as compelling a figure in Thomas’s hands. This temperate biography situates Jones in what will likely prove durable fashion among portraits of Adams, Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson.

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