Monday, February 26, 2024

Booknotes: The Old War Horse

New Arrival:

The Old War Horse: The USS Benton on Western Waters, 1853-1865 by Myron J. Smith, Jr. (McFarland, 2024).

Though they looked roughly similar from afar and shared a common construction thread in the personage of talented and successful engineer, inventor, and businessman James B. Eads, the origins of the ironclad gunboat USS Benton were very different from those of the famous City Class ironclads. In contrast to the City Class vessels, which were purpose built from the keel up, the Benton was one of the Civil War's great many naval conversion jobs, it being an Eads-owned riverboat salvage catamaran prior to the war. Its full story is the subject of Myron Smith's latest comprehensive Civil War ship history The Old War Horse: The USS Benton on Western Waters, 1853-1865.

A major part of the study, four chapters, is devoted to the prewar history of what would become the Benton, including its original design and purpose, its "tumultuous government acquisition process," and the hull's conversion into a powerful ironclad. Of course, everyone steeped in the literature of the Mississippi River Valley campaigns will have encountered the Benton on innumerable occasions during their readings. Smith's study has lengthy chapters discussing the Benton's involvement in the Island No. 10, Memphis, Vicksburg, and Red River campaigns along with its role in opposing the wild breakout run of the CSS Arkansas. The book ends with the Benton's decommissioning and ultimate scrap yard dismantlement.

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