Monday, January 16, 2023

Booknotes: "Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal South Carolina, 1861–1865"

New Arrival:
Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal South Carolina, 1861–1865 by Michael G. Laramie (Westholme, 2022).

Despite some of its idiosyncrasies [see my review], I rather liked Michael Laramie's Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal North Carolina, 1861–1865 (2020). Its very similarly titled companion volume, Gunboats, Muskets, and Torpedoes: Coastal South Carolina, 1861–1865, has just arrived. Unlike the situation in North Carolina, where heavy action occurred all along the state's lengthy and tortuously winding coastline, South Carolina's army-navy clashes rapidly concentrated on the Charleston area. From the description: "While the southern shoreline of the state would be dominated by Union amphibious raids to cut the Savannah-Charleston railroad and the establishment of a Union army and navy facility at Port Royal, the contest for coastal South Carolina burned the brightest at Charleston. One of the primary ports of the Confederacy, the siege of this city would last from early 1863 until the last months of the war."

Advancements in military engineering and technology were a major consideration in the North Carolina volume, and those themes carry into this book as well. More from the description: "It was during these operations that the industrial age first introduced elements of modern warfare at a scale that the world noticed. The ironclad, the newest of the wonder weapons, tested its abilities against the naval fortifications and the artillery of the day, while others such as the torpedo boat and the forerunner of generations beyond, the submarine, were demonstrated with stunning effect. Nor were these matters confined to just maritime affairs as the trench warfare, artillery barrages, bombproof shelters, wire obstructions, and one of the first minefields amply demonstrated."

While much of the focus is on operations and the military impact of industry and technology, Laramie's narrative never loses sight of the human experience in all its forms. "While these technological changes and the philosophies they spawned are easily discerned today, they are but part of a much larger story; one of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A familiar tale of foolishness and brilliance, of bravery and fear, and of mistakes and opportunity. From the soldiers that crouched in the shaking bombproofs of Fort Wagner and those who flung themselves against this fortress, through the monotonous routine of blockade duty and the incessant artillery duels on both sides, to the bravery of the first Black soldiers who fought for the Union, and those who refused to yield or looked to break the deadlock with a stroke of genius, this is their story."

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