Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Booknotes: The Union Blockade in the American Civil War

New Arrival:
The Union Blockade in the American Civil War: A Reassessment by Michael Brem Bonner & Peter McCord (UT Press, 2021).

From the description: "Throughout the war, Lincoln’s blockade and attempts to breach it touched nearly every aspect of the war effort. The Union prevented crucial material from reaching Confederate forces, while blockade runners smuggled hundreds of thousands of guns to rebel armies. No other military campaign lasted as long or had as many long-term consequences on the outcome of the Civil War." Undeniably, the scale of the blockade and the amount of resources devoted to it were incredible. "Covering more than three thousand miles of Southern coastline and employing the services of 100,000 sailors, the blockade was a massive undertaking largely dictated by two Atlantic powers: Great Britain and the United States."

Michael Bonner and Peter McCord's The Union Blockade in the American Civil War "build(s) on the extensive scholarship of the blockade and incorporate(s) previously unexamined British primary sources to deliver a fresh analysis of the Union blockade, blockade-running, and a reassessment of the blockade’s effectiveness. Their multifaceted study reassesses several key aspects of a “critical component of Union strategy,” including diplomatic and legal issues and the significance of the Confederacy’s reliance on European supplies to sustain the war effort." With the 'works cited' list populated entirely with published primary and secondary sources, it appears that the book is of the synthesis variety.

Finally, "(t)he authors present statistics showing that the blockade was not nearly as effective as is commonly believed; moreover, its successes against steam-powered blockade runners actually decreased as the war went on." It will be interesting to see how the writers present this kind of raw numbers information, as many commonly cited statistics (ex. the percentage of runners that safely made it into port over a certain interval) often neglect the bigger picture. For example, if 99 out of 100 blockade runners are successful that looks bad for the blockaders but unmentioned in that analysis are the thousands of ships that might have entered southern ports over that same period had the blockade by its very existence not extinguished ordinary trade. There are many other considerations as well. The description touts "diversity and comprehensiveness of coverage," so I'm looking forward to reading the entirety of this reassessment.

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