Sunday, July 18, 2010

Smith: "THE USS CARONDELET: A Civil War Ironclad on Western Waters"

[The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Ironclad on Western Waters by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, ph. 800-253-2187, 2010). Softcover, 8 maps, 89 photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 233/288. ISBN:978-0-7864-4524-0 $55]

Reknowned for its daring nighttime run past the Island Number Ten defenses on April 4, 1862, the City Series ironclad gunboat U.S.S. Carondelet was perhaps the Union's most famous river gunboat in the western theater. In addition to authoring several major works on riverine warfare* before this one, Myron J. Smith published a design, construction, and personnel history of the vessel in 1969 (revised in 1982). Including even more operational history, The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Ironclad on Western Waters is a significant expansion of the author's previous work on the subject.

Smith begins his new study with a pair of background chapters summarizing the planning and construction of the City Series ironclads. His discussion of life on board these gunboats is enhanced by a cache of previously unused manuscript material written by an ensign (Scott D. Jordan) serving aboard the Carondelet.

The rest of the book is, like Smith's related works, a detailed operational history of the Carondelet's participation in many of the important campaigns fought in the western theater. It begins at Fort Henry and moves through Fort Donelson, Island Number Ten, Fort Pillow, Plum Run Bend, the action against the C.S.S. Arkansas, the Vicksburg Campaign, Red River, and Nashville. The final chapter discusses the vessel's 1865 decommissioning. It was laid up in ordinary before being finally sold and repurposed, ending its life as an undistinguished wharf boat on the Ohio River. Smith's text is supplemented by several published map reproductions, as well as numerous photographs and drawings of the ship in action.

The endnotes in The USS Carondelet are expansive affairs, densely packed with citations, source interpretation, supplementary text, and background material. The large bibliography contains the full range of expected sources (manuscripts, government documents, newspapers, books, articles, theses, dissertations, and interviews), and the index is of the more helpful kind, with numerous subheadings and cross references.

With four major works now published in as many years, Myron J. Smith has established himself as a leading authority on Union naval operations on the western waterways. None of these books are for the faint of heart, but, taken together, they comprise for the specialist a uniquely detailed and remarkably complete major operational history for the entire spectrum of Union gunboat classes. Additionally, the series provides much valuable insight into design issues, equipment, and personnel. The USS Carondelet and its predecessors are highly recommended.

* - Tinclads in the Civil War: Union Light-Draught Gunboat Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 (McFarland, 2009), The Timberclads in the Civil War: The Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler on the Western Waters (2008), and Le Roy Fitch: The Civil War Career of a Union River Gunboat Commander (2007).

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