Monday, February 18, 2019

Booknotes: Confederate Ironclads at War

New Arrival:
Confederate Ironclads at War by R. Thomas Campbell (McFarland, 2019).

Back during the 1990s peak in popular interest in the Civil War, bookstore shelves across the country overflowed with new and used titles of all kinds (even in places where I lived far removed from any Civil War hotbed). At least from my experience, one thing you could count on seeing in stores was an array of Civil War books from White Mane/Burd Street, up to that time one of the most prolific publishers of Civil War books. Filling a large proportion of their naval catalog were works from R. Thomas Campbell, and it's probably safe to say that many new readers were introduced to Confederate ships and sailors through Campbell's many popular books. And he's still active. His latest title is Confederate Ironclads at War.

From the description: "Hampered by lack of materials, shipyards and experienced shipbuilders, even so the South managed to construct 34 iron-armored warships during the Civil War, of which the Confederate Navy put 25 into service. The stories of these vessels illustrate the hardships under which the Navy operated--and also its resourcefulness. Except for the Albemarle, no Confederate ironclad was sunk or destroyed by enemy action. Overtaken by events on the ground, most were destroyed by their own crews to prevent them from falling into Union hands. This account covers the design and construction and the engagements of the Confederate ironclads and describes the ingenuity and courage, as well as the challenges and frustrations of their "too little, too late" service."

While Campbell does not appear to address the Civil War careers of every Confederate ironclad that went into service, his overall treatment of the subject matter is still fairly comprehensive. The book's fourteen chapters (two of which were first published in Campbell's 1997 book Southern Fire) are a mixed collection of single vessel and squadron histories. Visual aids are abundant, with photographs, previously published maps, newspaper illustrations, and line drawings of the ships spread liberally  throughout. The appendix section contains crew rosters for six of the vessels covered in the book (the Virginia, Arkansas, Albemarle, Neuse, North Carolina, and Raleigh).

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