Friday, June 26, 2020

Booknotes: Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes

New Arrival:
Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 by Michael G. Laramie (Westholme, 2020).

At least when it came to the publication of detailed book-length studies, the military history of the Civil War in the Old North State stagnated over the decades following the Centennial release of John Barratt's now classic overview The Civil War in North Carolina. Though works of merit occasionally popped up (the best being Richard Sauers's unsurpassed history of the 1862 Burnside Expedition), intensive coverage of the campaigns and battles fought in the state slowly but steadily took off only after the 1996 publication of Mark Bradley's wonderful Bentonville study Last Stand in the Carolinas. Since then nearly every important operation has received standalone attention (one example of a remaining gap being Foster's 1862 Goldsboro raid). Perhaps now is a good time for another major synthesis to update Barratt. 

Michael Laramie's Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 isn't quite that (as its title states, it focuses on the coastal plains where most the action occurred), but the regional treatment is comprehensive (from Butler's 1861 barrier islands expedition through the final link up with Sherman's advance after the capture of Wilmington). I like what I've read so far after sampling the first couple chapters.

From the description: Laramie's study "chronicles both the battle over supplying the South by sea as well as the ways this region proved to be a fertile ground for the application of new technologies. With the advent of steam propulsion, the telegraph, rifled cannon, repeating firearms, ironclads, and naval mines, the methods and tactics of the old wooden walls soon fell to those of this first major conflict of the industrial age. Soldiers and sailors could fire farther and faster than ever before. With rail transportation available, marches were no longer weeks but days or even hours, allowing commanders to quickly shift men and materials to meet an oncoming threat or exploit an enemy weakness. Fortifications changed to meet the challenges imposed by improved artillery, while the telegraph stretched the battlefield even further. Yet for all the technological changes, many of which would be harbingers of greater conflicts to come, the real story of this strategic coast is found in the words and actions of the soldiers and sailors who vied for this region for nearly four years. It is here, where the choices made—whether good or bad, misinformed, or not made at all—intersected with logistical hurdles, geography, valor, and fear to shape the conflict; a conflict that would ultimately set the postwar nation on track to becoming a modern naval power."


  1. There is someone who has done the research necessary to write a history of Foster's 1862 raid; whether he ever will is another story. I'm hoping that Wade Sokolosky can cajole him (or maybe even coauthor). Given time, I'd even be willing to assist him, as I curated the exhibit on the raid in the CSS Neuse museum. Maybe one day...

    1. I seem to recall that Hampton Newsome expressed some interest in the subject. Wade (like you say) and Mark Moore would be great candidates to write about it, too.


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