Thursday, October 8, 2020

Booknotes: Defending the Arteries of Rebellion

New Arrival:
Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 by Neil P. Chatelain (Savas Beatie, 2020).

A few Confederate local successes could not disguise the fact that the naval war along the Mississippi was a resounding Union victory that made the U.S. Army's task of conquering the West immeasurably easier. While there are certainly books addressing prominent Confederate naval officers, individual ships, and even squadron-level operations on the river, Neil Chatelain's Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 nevertheless represents "the first modern full-length treatment of inland naval operations from the Confederate perspective" that covers the entire war.
Of course, controlling the Mississippi River Valley was a vital war aim of both sides. The Confederates correctly assumed that they could not rely solely on land fortifications and adopted an integrated army-navy defensive strategy that would include a fleet of gunboats obtained through either construction or conversion. However, many factors (both internal and external) intervened to render the execution of this plan ineffective overall. From the description: "Different military branches,..., including the navy, marine corps, army, and revenue service, as well as civilian privateers and even state naval forces, competed for scarce resources to operate their own vessels. A lack of industrial capacity further complicated Confederate efforts and guaranteed the South’s grand vision of deploying dozens of river gunboats and powerful ironclads would never be fully realized."
However, in their losing effort, the "(s)outhern war machine introduced numerous innovations and alternate defenses including the Confederacy’s first operational ironclad, the first successful use of underwater torpedoes, widespread use of army-navy joint operations, and the employment of extensive river obstructions. When the Mississippi River came under complete Union control in 1863, Confederate efforts shifted to the river’s many tributaries, where a bitter and deadly struggle ensued to control these internal lifelines. Despite a lack of ships, material, personnel, funding, and unified organization, the Confederacy fought desperately and scored many localized tactical victories—often won at great cost—but failed at the strategic level."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, Drew. I have a soft spot for this sort of thing and this is one of my favorites this year. It's good.


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