Monday, October 18, 2021

Booknotes: The Laird Rams

New Arrival:
The Laird Rams: Britain's Ironclads Built for the Confederacy, 1862-1923 by Andrew R. English (McFarland, 2021).

From the description: "Built in Birkenhead, England, in 1862 to 1865, the "Laird rams" were two innovative armored warships intended for service with the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. The vessels represented a substantial threat to Union naval power, and offered the Confederacy a potential means to break the Union blockade of the Southern coastline. During 1863, the critical year of the Confederacy's last hope of recognition by the British and French, President Lincoln threatened war with Britain if the ships ever sailed under Confederate colors. Built in some secrecy, then launched on the River Mersey under intense international scrutiny, the ships were first seized, and then purchased by Britain to avoid a war with the United States."

Aided by an effective monitoring of British ports and shipyards, the blocking of the Laird rams being delivered into Confederate hands represented a notable success in US diplomacy and foreign intelligence gathering that has been covered in numerous works. However, the full history of the ships, at least as addressed in US Civil War studies, typically ends there. Andrew English's The Laird Rams: Britain's Ironclads Built for the Confederacy, 1862-1923, however, endeavors to provide the "first complete history of these once famous ironclads that never fired a shot in anger yet served at distant stations as defenders of the British Empire."

English's book recounts their design, construction, seizure, and repurposed deployment by the Royal Navy as HMS Scorpion and Wivern. The technological advances and drawbacks of their masted, double-turret design is fully discussed as is their long service in a variety of roles after refits and recommissionings.

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