Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Success Is All That Was Expected: The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron During the Civil War"

Chief Historian for the U.S. Coast Guard Robert M. Browning's naval histories are recommended reading for those interested in the U.S. Navy's blockade and combined operations along the southern coastline. While I haven't read the award-winning From Cape Charles to Cape Fear: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War (U. of Alabama Press, 1993 - softcover reissue Fire Ant, 2003), its follow-up, Success Is All That Was Expected: The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron During the Civil War (Potomac Books, 2002), is superb. Browning is thorough in his coverage, detailing both strategic planning and operational history. Logistical difficulties and the never ending struggle for their solution comprise another major component of the study. Major themes are the lack of strategic coordination and interservice cooperation. Through the first two years of the war, Secretary Welles and squadron commander Du Pont never discussed strategy in person. Asst. Secretary Fox served as the go between, and his conniving efforts were almost disastrous as he, in service of his own agenda, directly and indirectly kept vital information from both Welles and Du Pont. I wonder what the upcoming Fox bio [Ari Hoogenboom - Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy: A Biography] will say about this. Readers used to the often cordial army-navy cooperation on the western rivers will find no such harmony within the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Informative and often fascinating sidebars (e.g. addressing manpower deficiencies, medical care, coaling problems, etc.) are sprinkled throughout the text. Browning brought up a significant point about the Gettysburg campaign that I'd never come across before, specifically that the Confederate incursion led to a month long shutdown of coal transshipment, severely curtailing blockading operations. Maps are fairly plentiful; however, none trace movements and only the most prominent place names are labeled, leaving the reader baffled as to the location of many points described in the text.

I don't know if Browning plans to continue his series to include the East and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons. I would certainly look forward to it.


  1. Drew,
    You really must read Browning's first book. It is every bit as good as the one reviewed here. He was the keynote speaker at a symposium I planned a few years ago, and indicated that he hoped to eventually write a volume or separate volumes on the Gulf Squadrons. Like you, I hope he does.

  2. Andrew,
    That's good to hear. The Buker book about the East GBS was good in its own way, but it would be great to get a Browning treatment. Thanks for writing.



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