How Decisive Was the Naval War to Union Victory?

Lubliner

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Both Navy Secretaries were very interesting and capable men.

Stephen R. Mallory was as well-prepared as any man I can think of to become Secretary of the Navy. He had served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs and had been involved in most of the naval reform efforts of the late antebellum era. His background was in the area of salvage and maritime law, and he knew many of the top officers of the Navy personally.

Gideon Welles was a newspaper editor and administrator whose sole contact with the Navy Department had been a stint in the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing during the Mexican War. He was intending to become Lincoln's Postmaster General; it is something of a historical curiosity that he was named Secretary of the Navy instead.

Both men proved to be very well-suited to their positions. Mallory, charged with creating a navy out of nothing (apart from a large number of naval officers who 'went South'), plunged into the immense task with great energy and skill. He had an uphill battle on every front-- scarce resources, influential personal enemies, and above all an opponent whose superiority he knew as well as any other man could. He was one of two of Jefferson Davis's Cabinet secretaries to serve the entire war in his position.

Welles, seemingly ill-prepared for his role, instead proved to be an effective and capable administrator; his lesser familiarity with naval affairs was quickly remedied by the appointment of former naval officer Gustavus Fox as chief clerk of the Navy Department, soon elevated to the newly-created post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The two made an excellent team, and Welles himself became one of Lincoln's inner circle of trusted advisors, alongside Secretary of State Seward (with whom Welles often tangled in the early years but became more accommodated to as time went on... in my view, as Seward learned his own position).
I understand Welles kept a diary covering much of is time in the Cabinet that is a wealth of candid information. It is published and available, last I heard. That is one on my 'wish list'.
Lubliner.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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I understand Welles kept a diary covering much of is time in the Cabinet that is a wealth of candid information. It is published and available, last I heard. That is one on my 'wish list'.
Lubliner.

I have the Beale edition-- a little harder to find (and consequently more expensive) but it's well-annotated, including noting where Welles later went back and edited sections of it.
 

jackt62

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I understand Welles kept a diary covering much of is time in the Cabinet that is a wealth of candid information. It is published and available, last I heard. That is one on my 'wish list'.
Lubliner.

It is available and I did read it. It is a good way to get an inside look into the workings of the Navy Department and Lincoln's cabinet, described of course, through Welles' particular viewpoint.
 

lurid

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The Confederates were dug in(fortified) in era were it was quite onerous to push them out, so the navy could cut off movement and amongst other factors. Therefore, the navy was decisive on putting the squeeze on Confederates.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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I have always found a few of Robert E. Lee's statements and (especially) his actions to indicate that he had a very realistic estimation of the threat posed by Union naval power.

"We have no guns that can resist their [ships'] batteries, and have no resources but to prepare to meet them in the field." (8 Nov 1861)

"Wherever [the enemy's] fleet can be brought no opposition to his landing can be made except within range of our fixed batteries. We have nothing to oppose to its heavy guns, which sweep over the low banks of this country with irresistable force." (8 Jan 1862)

[both quotes noted in the Civil War Naval Chronology's quotes appendix, volume VI, p. 387]

To my knowledge, after the Seven Days and especially Malvern Hill, Lee never voluntarily operated anywhere close to where the Union Navy could operate. I attribute this to his accurate perception that his army had a greater relative advantage over the Union forces where he didn't have to be watching a coastal flank as well.
 

mobile_96

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I have the Beale edition-- a little harder to find (and consequently more expensive) but it's well-annotated, including noting where Welles later went back and edited sections of it.
After reading the review of the 2 Gienapps issue of Gideon's diary, I'll take Beale's book over theirs anytime.
Beale's 3 vol. contains a lot of material that is ignored, IMHO, in the lastest version of the diary.
Although Beale's publication can be hard to read because of all the insertions, it nevertheless is vital to understand Gideon. Unless, of course, one only wants a partial view of Gideon and the times.
I searched a long time and paid a lot of money for the set, but very glad I got Beale's books instead of the original 1911 printing.
 

wausaubob

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I have always found a few of Robert E. Lee's statements and (especially) his actions to indicate that he had a very realistic estimation of the threat posed by Union naval power.

"We have no guns that can resist their [ships'] batteries, and have no resources but to prepare to meet them in the field." (8 Nov 1861)

"Wherever [the enemy's] fleet can be brought no opposition to his landing can be made except within range of our fixed batteries. We have nothing to oppose to its heavy guns, which sweep over the low banks of this country with irresistable force." (8 Jan 1862)

[both quotes noted in the Civil War Naval Chronology's quotes appendix, volume VI, p. 387]

To my knowledge, after the Seven Days and especially Malvern Hill, Lee never voluntarily operated anywhere close to where the Union Navy could operate. I attribute this to his accurate perception that his army had a greater relative advantage over the Union forces where he didn't have to be watching a coastal flank as well.
He was very careful to stay away from the navigable portion of the rivers. I believe he made sure the James was blocked with obstructions and other defenses.
 

wausaubob

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I have always found a few of Robert E. Lee's statements and (especially) his actions to indicate that he had a very realistic estimation of the threat posed by Union naval power.

"We have no guns that can resist their [ships'] batteries, and have no resources but to prepare to meet them in the field." (8 Nov 1861)

"Wherever [the enemy's] fleet can be brought no opposition to his landing can be made except within range of our fixed batteries. We have nothing to oppose to its heavy guns, which sweep over the low banks of this country with irresistable force." (8 Jan 1862)

[both quotes noted in the Civil War Naval Chronology's quotes appendix, volume VI, p. 387]

To my knowledge, after the Seven Days and especially Malvern Hill, Lee never voluntarily operated anywhere close to where the Union Navy could operate. I attribute this to his accurate perception that his army had a greater relative advantage over the Union forces where he didn't have to be watching a coastal flank as well.
When the US fought land battles, especially in Virginia, it was playing to a Confederate strength. When the US used its steamships and steamboats to create mobility, the Confederates were under great pressure to respond. Sometimes they were successful, but in the end the US captured all its objectives, except Charleston which was evacuated due to Sherman's advance.
 

wausaubob

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When the US Civil War began, the US did not have the ships and boats they needed to conduct the war. But they did have the harbor cities and the naval bases. And that's where the engineers and trained mechanics lived. It was an enormous advantage.
 

wausaubob

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In the start of the war, the US response took days and weeks, not months and years. That was because the US was fully wired for telegraph communication.
After the initial contest for the border states ended, the US did not have to build industrial capacity to create naval forces, the capacity already existed, it only needed to hire workers and managers. They only had to outfit and build ships.
 

jackt62

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When the US Civil War began, the US did not have the ships and boats they needed to conduct the war. But they did have the harbor cities and the naval bases. And that's where the engineers and trained mechanics lived. It was an enormous advantage.
Particularly New England, which was always a maritime center that had the historical expertise to build, outfit, navigate, captain, and man shipping of all kinds.
 

wausaubob

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The technical situation had changed. It wasn't 1787 any longer. By June 1862 both sides knew conditions had evolved.
After September 1862 every explanation reaches back to @DaveBrt thesis. The Confederacy did not have enough working age men, and it was losing men both to the war, to shrinkage and to people vacating the fought over areas. Railroads require thousands of workers. And the Confederacy was losing workers, especially black men, and the US was hiring and enlisting them.
 

leftyhunter

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The technical situation had changed. It wasn't 1787 any longer. By June 1862 both sides knew conditions had evolved.
After September 1862 every explanation reaches back to @DaveBrt thesis. The Confederacy did not have enough working age men, and it was losing men both to the war, to shrinkage and to people vacating the fought over areas. Railroads require thousands of workers. And the Confederacy was losing workers, especially black men, and the US was hiring and enlisting them.
Indeed the blue water CSN craft had to be built overseas.
Leftyhunter
 

Dead Parrott

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It is obvious (in both hindsight and likely at the time) that the CSA alone could not compete with the USA in a naval conflict.

Was the CSA counting on the British Navy instead? Was their delusion regarding the power of King Cotton carried over to Britain becoming their Naval Savior?
 

wausaubob

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It is obvious (in both hindsight and likely at the time) that the CSA alone could not compete with the USA in a naval conflict.

Was the CSA counting on the British Navy instead? Was their delusion regarding the power of King Cotton carried over to Britain becoming their Naval Savior?
Its difficult to understand how they deceived themselves with that hope. The British were not fond of Yankees of any type. They had ended slavery in their empire and were rapidly suppressing the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The British were already heavily invested in northern railroads and had already notified Texas of what would have to happen for the British to recognize Texas' independence.
It does not even make sense from the trend in cotton prices. While Hammond was making his bold pronouncements, the price of cotton was falling. The world demand for factory produced cotton fabric was beginning to ease off. The rate of increase, which had been incredible, was slowing.
With respect to the British, there is little logical justification. Regarding the French, it definitely made sense. But the French were at that time too weak to contradict British policy.
 
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Dead Parrott

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Its difficult to understand how they deceive themselves with that hope.

Agreed it was likely delusional - but that delusion may explain many things.

Many in South clearly thought King Cotton would drive foreign nations to support the CSA. That support would likely be diplomatic and economic rather than military (initially). But once such intervention occurred - once that door was opened - the potential for putting military backbone behind that intervention (threatened or actual) was there. If the CSA expects to get Foreign support, they have less need to dedicate their limited resources to a navy (beyond port defense and the occasional monitor).

Again, not arguing the CSA was correct in their assessment. Merely that, if the CSA expected that Foreign intervention could be obtained (via King Cotton, battlefield success or both), then the naval imbalance could be offset by the threat of foreign resources - hence that CSA addresses its naval imbalance. Again, NOT to say it was likely - but it WAS one theme discussed - and pursued - by CSA leadership.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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There was not a great deal of support for or experience with naval power in the Confederacy (certain individuals like Stephen R. Mallory excepted). As a whole, the section's representatives tended to vote down naval bills in the antebellum Congress, as being too central-government and not enough states'-rights; philosophically, they were the heirs of Jefferson's "gunboat navy," which imagined the navy as a sort of local militia that could be called up when needed but not maintained as a large standing force.

There was also the romantic (but mistaken) notion that the U.S. had beaten Britain twice without a large navy, so why was one needed? (Mistaken because in both cases the U.S. did have, in effect, a large navy--- France's. Explicitly and formally in the Revolution and as a massive distraction in the War of 1812.)
 

wausaubob

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Naval officers from the Chesapeake states were less likely to be deceived. And in the interior states, people on both sides of the Ohio River knew that the US was mostly likely to control river and ferry traffic right from the start.
People in the deep south did not have information sources to remind them of naval facts.
Several Confederate commands gave up or suddenly retreated when they witnessed directly what naval artillery could do.
 
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Lubliner

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Personally I believe the confederacy was trying to strong-arm Europe into submission by extortion. Their idea of 'friendly power recognition' was by devious means to control a viable and valuable market.
Lubliner.
 

Dead Parrott

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Personally I believe the confederacy was trying to strong-arm Europe into submission by extortion. Their idea of 'friendly power recognition' was by devious means to control a viable and valuable market.
Lubliner.

Agreed - though the veneer of 'filial affection' was presented. That's partly why Jefferson's cotton embargo wasn't a formal thing. Better to let the culprit appear to be the USA blockade.

Yup - it was a misplaced attempt at economic strong arming, no doubt.
 
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