Monday, November 17, 2008

Smith: "The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters"

[The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland - ph.800-253-2187, 2008). Hardcover, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 482/552. ISBN: 978-0-7864-3578-4 $75]

Until the first major employment of ironclad gunboats in February 1862, the timberclads [U.S.S. Lexington, Tyler, and Conestoga] comprised the front line naval power of the U.S. Navy along the inland waterways of the western theater. Myron J. Smith, author of Le Roy Fitch: The Civil War Career of a Union River Gunboat Commander, continues his extraordinary chronicling of gunboat operations with his new book The Timberclads in the Civil War.

Smith devotes the first half of his study to a narrative history of timberclad organization, construction, and naval operations. Commensurate with their important placekeeping role as the riverine capital ships for the early war period, almost 200 pages [nearly half the text] are devoted to this relatively short period. Operations along the Ohio and upper Mississippi rivers, to include reconnaissance and anti-guerrilla missions along with demonstrations against Columbus, KY and support for Grant's Belmont campaign, are recounted in minute detail.

With the completion of the first group of heavy ironclads, and the addition of the tinclads to the fleet, the timberclads took on more supporting roles, such as river patrol, reconnaissance, and convoy duties. However, participation in significant direct combat operations did not cease. The latter half of Smith's book details the timberclad contribution to the Henry/Donelson, Island No. 10, Shiloh, White River (1862), Arkansas Post, Helena, Red River, and NE Arkansas (1864) campaigns. The detail is unprecedented, and many obscure actions are presented here as published narratives for the first time.

As with his previous book, Smith's research is exhaustive, and supported by expansive explanatory endnotes. The bibliography lists a wide range of primary and secondary source materials, including manuscripts, official documents, newspapers, online sources, dissertations, and published books and articles. At almost 500 pages of main text, packed tightly into a large trim hardcover, the amount of information is staggering. Timberclads is also handsomely illustrated, with numerous photographs, many rare. Unfortunately, some of the same flaws remain present in the form of typographical errors and inadequate maps. Fortunately, the book's many strengths far outweigh any of its weaknesses.

With this book, Myron Smith has once again provided readers with a definitive naval history. Encyclopedic in scope and remarkably detailed, the information contained in The Timberclads in the Civil War is a boon for serious students and researchers of the Brown Water Navy. Both as a highly original narrative history and an invaluable reference, this book is a significant contribution to the Civil War naval literature.

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