Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Joiner: "Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy"

[Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron by Gary D. Joiner (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) Softcover, photos, maps, notes, bibliography. Page Total/Main: 212/189 ISBN: 0-7425-5098-2/978-0-7425-5098-8 $24.95]

The Mississippi Squadron was no mere junior partner to the U.S. army's efforts in the western theater during the Civil War. The navy was indispensable in a number of roles, and was a decisive factor in the success of many of the major Union campaigns. With Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy, Gary Joiner provides readers with a useful, up-to-date survey history of this celebrated naval organization.

As with many American Crisis Series volumes, Brown Water Navy successfully covers a broad swath of ground in a limited amount of space. From its inception as the Western Gunboat Flotilla to its complete dismantling shortly after war's end, Joiner chronicles all the major events and personalities involved in the history of the Mississippi Squadron. The author lauds the political and administrative capabilities of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and his assistant Gustavus V. Fox, granting the pair the lion's share of credit for laying the groundwork for success on western waters. He also conveys to the reader a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the various gunboats, especially the famous Eads/Pook designs. All of the major naval actions* are summarized, and the command abilities of officers John Rodgers, Andrew Foote, Charles Ellet, David Porter, and Samuel Lee are evaluated with a depth appropriate to the book's scope. At a similar level, there is some discussion of naval tactics and strategy.

Brown Water Navy is a richly illustrated volume as well. Ten maps help trace the myriad of inland waterways traversed by men and machine. Numerous photographs (many unfamiliar to me) of the ships that served in the squadron are also included. It's really a great visual record of the wild array of ironclad, timberclad, tinclad, and ram designs utilized by the U.S. Navy, either as original construction or converted civilian vessels. The only thing missing are pictures of some of the more specialized members of the squadron, like pump boats.

While Joiner's study relies heavily on published sources, the detriment is not significant for a work that is essentially one of synthesis. Thus, those readers primarily seeking a broad introduction to the subject based on the latest research will be most rewarded. However, others already steeped in the literature of the war on western waters should also be satisfied with the level of detail found in Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy, its content serving as a valuable quick reference guide.

* = Battles and campaigns include - Belmont, Forts Henry & Donelson, Shiloh, New Madrid, Memphis, Ft. Pillow, New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Red River. Various smaller actions along the Mississippi, Cumberland, Tennessee, White, Arkansas, Yazoo, Red, Black, and Ouachita rivers are also covered.


  1. Drew,
    I just finished reviewing this book for Civil War Book Review. I generally concur with your review, having waited to read it until I had finished the book myself. I did feel like the book bogged down a bit when it got to Vicksburg and beyond, but I attributed that to the author trying to explain a complex period of operations in as short a space as possible.

    Andrew Duppstadt @ Civil War Navy

  2. I don't envy anyone trying to cover that subject in a 200 page book. Almost all of his original works are similarly restrained in length and depth...I would love to see Joiner try an 'all out' approach someday.


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