How Decisive Was the Naval War to Union Victory?

wausaubob

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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.
It could have worked in France. Many investors there were interested in getting to the front of the line when cotton exports resumed.
But there were complex reasons why the French could not act on their own.
 

wausaubob

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Its easy to see how the naval war was disregarded by contemporary journalists. There was much more freedom in reporting on army operations, and the horror of the battles produced compelling stories.
Its harder to understand why historians under played the constricting affect of the US navy's operations. I think one factor was that the railroad industry became dominant in the US between 1865-1890. Shipping and naval power were not paramount and historians forgot how much of the US economy was conducted on the coasts and the rivers.
For some reason people forgot that Sherman was marching to a coast patrolled by the US navy. His army was met by Schofield's force, and a resupply effort in North Carolina, and both factors were based on complete naval domination.
In Virginia, Grant's campaign involved moving from one depot to another, each supplied by water borne transport.
People forgot that one advantage of the City Point depot was that it was easy for politicians to visit, by steamboat.
 

wausaubob

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Take an incident like the Trent affair. The US navy was ever present in Havana and the Bahamas. It wasn't that hard for the administration to catch Slidell and Mason and hold them until the US was willing to rebut their argument for recognition of the Confederacy.
 

Lubliner

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I always thought the naval war was pretty well covered in newspapers. In the Evening Star for instance, they are always mentioning vessels in with shipments of cargo, naming prizes taken, up for adjudication, etc. Even the events of Hampton Roads shed light on the newspaper coverage occurring with the Monitor. Granted, all these were not so gory, but events like the taking of New Orleans made major papers across the U. S.
Lubliner.
 

wausaubob

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I always thought the naval war was pretty well covered in newspapers. In the Evening Star for instance, they are always mentioning vessels in with shipments of cargo, naming prizes taken, up for adjudication, etc. Even the events of Hampton Roads shed light on the newspaper coverage occurring with the Monitor. Granted, all these were not so gory, but events like the taking of New Orleans made major papers across the U. S.
Lubliner.
Those journalists may have been like contemporary journalists. The naval contests did not support a close contest story line. The land battles were gruesome affairs with much closely contested outcomes. The land war stories were effective in keeping people upset and buying newspapers.
 

Lubliner

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Still the local news was keeping the people aware of available imports. Different theaters of the war were discussed in column. Of course all major events would take precedence, but the Naval coverage though small in comparison was still consistent, and allowed families to know when certain vessels came into port and left for blockade duty. The Navy was not ignored by the journalists. Neither was the casualty record, being the result of major land campaigns.
Lubliner.
 

jackt62

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On the subject of the Navy, I'm wondering what percentage of US sailors were regulars, as opposed to volunteers. I am not familiar with whether civilians did or could enlist in the Naval service as volunteers, similar to the massive land armies that were raised.
 

wausaubob

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On the subject of the Navy, I'm wondering what percentage of US sailors were regulars, as opposed to volunteers. I am not familiar with whether civilians did or could enlist in the Naval service as volunteers, similar to the massive land armies that were raised.
I'd rely on @Pat Young , but I think a very high percentage of sailors were international in character. The British maritime industry had taken a distinct dislike to the slave trade and the African coast, and that carried over into most of maritime ports of the Atlantic. I think most of the sailors were volunteers. And they probably had good stories to tell friends and family when they circulated back to port.
 

Johhny Quest

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I can't help but thinking that the role of the Union Navy might have been one of the most decisive in attaining victory for the North.

I've seen a lot of criticism on this website and elsewhere that the South "lacked a unified command system."

The problem for the South was that except for Arkansas and Tennessee, every state had a coastline that made it wide open to attack from the sea. The South had to maintain coastal security over an impossibly long border. It's simple geometry. Suppose a Southern fishing vessel spotted a huge Yankee fleet, off the east coast. Assuming the ship could get back with the news, who do you tell? How do you determine where the fleet is going? Will it attack the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida? Who makes the final decision on where to send troops? The ships could move much faster to their intended target than the Confederate land forces. So where do you concentrate your defensive force?

This really was very similar to the problem the Germans faced prior to the Normandy invasion. Rommel's answer was to stop them at the water's edge because he could not rely on the reserves to get to the coast in time. The Confederacy had the same problem. (Of course, in Rommel's case the issue was allied air power while for the Confederacy it was inadequate communications, roads and transportation.)

I wouldn't call coastal defense a "decisive" factor but it was certainly a very important factor in muddling up the Confederate military organization and command and control.

The other issue had to do with the ability to use the ports themselves for import and export, especially as the Confederacy ran short of resources.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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On the subject of the Navy, I'm wondering what percentage of US sailors were regulars, as opposed to volunteers. I am not familiar with whether civilians did or could enlist in the Naval service as volunteers, similar to the massive land armies that were raised.

There was no real change in the method or system of enlisting sailors-- essentially, they were all 'regulars' and all 'volunteers'. The manpower needs of the Navy being very much smaller than the Army, no resort to a draft was necessary. In a number of cases, often due to disease or other factors of attrition, some ships found themselves running short of crew; but this was usually made up from new sailors shipped to them or (especially on the inland rivers) the enlistment of 'contrabands'.

(When bounties were offered for Army recruits, the naval recruiters often had a hard time matching them, though. On the other hand, there was a lower incidence of 'bounty jumping' in the Navy.)

The prewar U.S. civilian shipping industry was a large one, and a deep reservoir of potential recruits.

Because the growth of the Navy outstripped the rate of production of new naval officers, a volunteer officers' corps was established, with initial ranks assigned in proportion to prior service as a civilian skipper or mate. They were commissioned for the duration of the war and were mostly discharged at the end (with a few outstanding examples being offered permanent naval commissions).

ETA: With regard to manpower, it's worth considering that, by and large, a ship is something maintained by specialists in one technique or another; when crews were large, it was because there was a lot to work on. There's not much correlation with an Army regiment needing scores of identically-trained men to do essentially the same job. (ETA--- perhaps an artillery unit would have the most in common with a ship.)
 
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edfranksphd

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I can't help but thinking that the role of the Union Navy might have been one of the most decisive in attaining victory for the North. To support that position, I maintain that the key to northern victory was the conquest and control of the western riverine system in 1861 to 1863, in which the Union accomplished key objectives of reaching into the Confederate heartland, capturing and controlling important southern transportation and commercial hubs, and splitting apart the trans-Mississippi region. While federal armies and commanders carried out much of the hard work (and received the lion share of credit), it was the Navy that enabled the land forces to do so. The creation of the Western Gunboat Flotilla and the US Ram Fleet (notwithstanding the fact that the army had technical control), were instrumental in opening up the Mississippi from Island No. 10 in the North to Memphis, and in supporting army operations at Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Vicksburg. Concurrently, the blue-water navy was mainly responsible for running Fts. Jackson and St. Philip, thereby achieving the seizure of New Orleans. Beyond the western riverine system and along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, naval operations (sometimes with army cooperation), established beachheads at Hatteras Inlet, Roanoke Island, Port Royal, Fernandina, and Ship Island. Not only did these landings assist the blockading fleet by providing it with necessary coal and supply depots, but inroads (particularly in North Carolina), were effective in pinning down scarce Confederate manpower and threatening further advances inland. While the Navy had renowned commanders (Farragut, Porter, Foote, Walke), it sometimes seems as if the army gets most of the attention. But without the Navy, the outcome of the war might have been very different.
Navy and it's transport capability was certainly crucial to numerous Yankee victories, all over the South. W/o it Grant would never have taken Vicksburg; McClellan's 125K troops would've been captured entire post the 7 days battle. DC would've fallen to Rebs in July of 1864; etc, etc.
 

Lubliner

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Navy and it's transport capability was certainly crucial to numerous Yankee victories, all over the South. W/o it Grant would never have taken Vicksburg; McClellan's 125K troops would've been captured entire post the 7 days battle. DC would've fallen to Rebs in July of 1864; etc, etc.
Never having thought of it before, putting the whole of the Civil War as a land based operation with no boating ability, I don't think a success would be imminent.
Lubliner.
 

jackt62

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Navy and it's transport capability was certainly crucial to numerous Yankee victories, all over the South. W/o it Grant would never have taken Vicksburg; McClellan's 125K troops would've been captured entire post the 7 days battle. DC would've fallen to Rebs in July of 1864; etc, etc.
Yes, Grant was one of the earliest commanders to appreciate and cooperate with the Navy; most of his movements in the west from Belmont through Vicksburg, had some degree of naval support. Without that support, Grant would not have been able to achieve the success that he did.
 

wausaubob

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There were more soldiers than sailors. The top general became President, while naval power waned until Theodore Roosevelt. The naval battles took place in remote locations. But most of the navy's work was the slow grinding work of deterring, intercepting and adjudicating blockade runners. Most the navy's work was quietly protecting naval born logistics, and key transportation routes to and from California.
The navy mostly did its work so well that it went unnoticed, which was exactly what people like S. Phillips Lee intended. And he quietly made a lot money doing it.
 

edfranksphd

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Well, McClellan would never have been there without naval support. The entire Peninsula Campaign concept was founded on waterborne movement.
good point about Peninsula Campaign; as with grant at Jackson, MS, which required naval assist. And i forgot to mention the BLOCKADE, which was very effective within 12 months after wars inception and got better as war wore on. Yes, the frequency of running the blockade was never severely reduced (maybe 25% reduction of trans-shipping), but the TONNAGE of the small, fast blockade running steamships was tiny in relation to normal ocean shipping, which meant that the supply of critical commodities that got into the South was still severely restricted, even in the rate of running it remained as high as 75%. This high rate makes it seem as if the blockade wasn't very effective, but this is the wrong conclusion. They key is to look at the reduction in the tonnage of trans-shipment, which could have been as high as 90%, given then small size of the blockade running steamships. Captains and crews of these blockade runners made fantastic profits, but frequently the ships were filled with luxury goods for the wealthy, not with supplies for the military. The military, very late in war, did buy or build there own blockade runners, but, it wasn't enough.
 
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