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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Web-feet in the Civil War
In his breadth of knowledge, lucid writing, and passion for his subject, James McPherson remains among the best of Civil War historians, For many years Professor of history at Princeton University, McPherson has the rare gift of appealing to both academic and lay readers. In his latest book, "War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861 -- 1865 (2012),...
Published on October 12, 2012 by Robin Friedman

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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Concise intro to the naval history of the civil war
James McPherson's War on the Waters is a concise and informative introduction to the naval history of the civil war. This is the first book I have read that is dedicated exclusively to the civil war's naval history. McPherson primarily spends most of the book talking about the union effort during the war, but also touches on the confederate side. After reading this...
Published on October 26, 2012 by frrobinson


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Web-feet in the Civil War, October 12, 2012
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This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
In his breadth of knowledge, lucid writing, and passion for his subject, James McPherson remains among the best of Civil War historians, For many years Professor of history at Princeton University, McPherson has the rare gift of appealing to both academic and lay readers. In his latest book, "War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861 -- 1865 (2012), McPherson focuses on the role of the navies in the Civil War. He argues persuasively that students of the war tend to understate the importance of the navies in the war's outcome. This is particularly the case, he argues, for the Union Navy. The book enhanced my knowledge of a sometimes overlooked aspect of the war.

The focus of the book is on the Union Navy in that it was far larger than the Confederate Navy and ultimately more successful. Thus, McPerson begins by quoting Abraham Lincoln in 1863 on the navy's role in the Vicksburg campaign. "Nor must Uncle Sam's Web-feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins they have been present. Not only on the deep sea,the broad bay, and the rapid river, but also up the narrow muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp, they have been and made their tracks." In McPherson's book, the reader follows "Uncle Sam's Web-feet" in the oceans, rivers, swamps, and bayous.

McPherson also praises the Confederate navy for its ingenuity and spirit and for doing much with little. Without the industrial resources of the North, the Confederacy led in the development of ironclad ships, torpedoes, and submarines.In its Secretary of the Navy, Steven Mallory, the Confederacy had a gifted and innovative leader whom McPherson obviously admires.

In a relatively short book McPherson explores naval battles, large and small, on the sea and on the rivers. For both the Union and the Confederacy, he describes battles in which the navy had the sole responsibility as well as battles showing the cooperation, or its lack, between the navy and the army. The book describes naval leaders and heroes on both sides as well as the mixture of boredom and hard, dangerous fighting that awaited the sailors. McPherson also emphasizes the activites of the navies as they impacted politics and the conduct of foreign affairs.

The Union instituted a blockade of the South at the outset of the war, and the effectiveness of the blockade has long been a subject of debate among students. McPherson argues that the blockade was a major factor in the Union's success, concluding that by isolating and weakening the South and depriving it of supplies, the blockade "may have been just enough to tip the balance to Union victory."

The book is organized chronologically following, so to speak, the ebb and flow of battle. McPherson sees the history of the Civil War and of naval activity as falling into five overlapping parts, developed in his text: 1.a series of early Union naval victories in 1861-1862 on the Eastern seabord and the captures of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson which paved the way for Union success in the West, and Farragut's taking of New Orleans; 2.Successful Confederate resistance in 1862, including the construction of the Virginia, the development of torpedoes,and the use of commerce raiders, including the CSS Alabama, 3. The Union success culminating with the taking of Vicksburg, in which the navy played a critical role 4. Confederate victories in the Western theater and its development of the submarine. These successes were short lived given Farragut's dramatic victory at Mobile Bay, Alabama. 5. The final months of the war, including the fall of Fort Fisher on the North Carolina coast.

There is a good narrative thread in the story. For example, I always was puzzled about how the Union navy was able to run past the formidable batteries of Vicksburg prior to set up Grant's land campaign below the city. McPherson's discussion about running fortifications at Vicksburg and elsewhere earlier in the war, helped me understand what was at stake in this type of action. The book is also filled with details about naval actions I hadn't heard of before. For example, McPherson describes the Union's near disastrous 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Union Admiral Porter's fleet sailed up the Red River and almost became stranded when the water level of the river lowered. An Army Lieutenant Colonel, Joseph Bailey,who had built dams in logging operations in civilian life, was able to organize the building of a dam on the Red River which allowed the stranded ships to retreat safely.

McPherson writes with flair, treats the characters in his book with respect, and illuminates the role of the navies in the conduct and outcome of the Civil War. The book will have most appeal to readers with a good broad overview of Civil War military history. It is an impressive, readable account of the importance of the Union and Confederate navies.

Robin Friedman
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable informative read, September 3, 2012
This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
Civil War history tends to mention the Navy only at Hampton Roads and Vicksburg. The blockade, usually noted in passing, gets credit for cutting the Confederacy from Europe.
A person could forget that both sides spent considerable resources on their navy. This is a good introduction to naval operations during the war.
As expected, an introduction will not contain details and nuances. Rather an introduction will cover the major considerations, personalities, operations and events.
The author provides everything that we could reasonably expect in an introduction to Civil War Naval history.
He manages to convey this in an interesting, intelligent prose that is as easy to read as it is enjoyable.

Organization is a combination of theater, operations or years, which sounds confusing, but it works well.
Depending on the subject, the reader can expect a history that is stand-alone or integrated into the war. This is not all "Damn the torpedoes".
There is a good deal of technological, political and social considerations.
We see the movement from wooded ships to ironclads, the racially mixed crews and how politics influences operations.

With all of this, we still find time for the battles. Readers will not be disappointed with the military coverage.
The author captures all major and many smaller actions and firmly places them in the overall structure of the war.
We see how the result of past operations affects planning.

The University of North Carolina Press always presents a professional book.
This is no exception with a full set of maps, illustrations, endnotes, bibliography and index.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid and Concise, October 14, 2012
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R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
A very good concise survey of the naval history of the Civil War. Drawing on both primary research and a large body of secondary studies, this is a very well written book with decent illustrations and maps. McPherson covers both the broad contours of the war and all the major engagements/campaigns. Most of the book is about the Union Navy, but the Confederate efforts receive appropriate coverage. McPherson gives a particularly good idea of the challenges facing the Union Navy and its remarkable achievements. These include developing whole new riverine fleets and modes of warfare, the crucial blockade, and the equally crucial role in combined operations for the conquest of the South. The Confederate Navy receives its due coverage for its moderately successful commerce raiding and efforts to employ new technologies. I suspect that most, perhaps all, of the content of this book will be known well to the large body of readers interested in the Civil War, but this book covers the topic very well in a relatively short book. Excellent bibliography.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Concise intro to the naval history of the civil war, October 26, 2012
This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
James McPherson's War on the Waters is a concise and informative introduction to the naval history of the civil war. This is the first book I have read that is dedicated exclusively to the civil war's naval history. McPherson primarily spends most of the book talking about the union effort during the war, but also touches on the confederate side. After reading this book one would come away with a new appreciation of the impact the union navy had on the war. This is a nice addition to your civil war library and well worth your time to read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Naval War Between the States, April 13, 2013
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Manray9 (Easley, SC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
James McPherson's "War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865" is a thorough, well-written, and short (only 226 pages of text) history of the maritime and riverine operations of the Federal and Rebel navies during the Civil War. McPherson does his usual excellent job in elucidating the key strategic importance of naval contributions to Union victory and Confederate defeat. He does honor to the sacrifices of sailors on both sides. One fascinating aspect of the story is the role of African-American sailors in the U.S. Navy. Black sailors served in considerable numbers in the antebellum navy, unlike the all-white army, but during the Civil War African-American enlistments rose to comprise 17% of naval enlisted personnel as opposed to only 7% of the army. The cover art of McPherson's book is William Heysham Overend's well-known late 19th century oil painting entitled "An August Morning with Farragut: the Battle of Mobile Bay." Note the black gunner in the foreground.

I recommend McPherson's book to Civil War buffs and casual readers alike.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, November 24, 2012
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I have always wanted to know more about the brown water vessels of the Civil War. A time, or war, where the end of sail and beginning of steam overlap, with side wheel, screw prop, iron, timber and tin clad ships and monitors slug it out on the rivers of the interior, as well as the coasts. A great read, I just wish it had more pictures, as I had to jump to Wiki to view pictures of each belligerent ship. It should probably lose a star or two for this, but I am always in a generous mood after a good book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Civil war naval history, August 13, 2013
This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
Writing about naval action of the civil war McPherson extends his military history expertise to the naval arena. Much of the book is devoted to joint army navy operations, well integrated into the general history of the course of the war. There are accounts of how the US navy supported land operations of Grant during the civil war. The S couldn't match operations of the N's river navy.

McPherson covers the actions of naval commanders: Farragut, Porter, DuPont, Dahlgren and others, their army counterparts: Grant, Banks, Butler, Sherman and others and Inventors: Ericson (improved ironclad), Dahgren (gun) and the martyr Hundley (submarine). While written from a Northern eye view Southerners are not neglected. Of particular interest are Secy of Navy Mallory and the effective raider Capt. Raphael Semmes.

Largely about river expeditions on Mississippi, James, Red and Cape Fear rivers, the book also covers deep sea actions like the duel between CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge. Starting with Gustavus Fox's attempt to resupply Fort Sumter that touched off the war, Charleston Harbor, with forts Sumter, Moultrie and Wagner figures prominently in the subsequent action. There's a history of the blockade with S attempts to ship cotton, guns and other contraband with interesting economic considerations of transshipment via neutral nations.

Significant action was Farragut in NO where loyalists were fired on. We see the cooperation of Porter and Grant on the Mississippi in the reduction of forts Donelson and Vicksburg and the battle at Hampton Roads with the Monitor - Merrimac duel that shifted emphasis in naval warfare from wooden warships to ironclads. McPherson is careful to point out that the Merrimac was not the first ironclad. Also interesting is the Red River campaign and capture of Mobile by Farragut where he made his famous statement "Damn the torpedoes." The book ends with Union capture of Fort Fisher in Delaware. It's occasionally unclear on up/down river versus N and S directions
Local maps are good but theater wide maps are lacking.

For naval history the book is a great companion piece to 'American Naval History, 1607-1865' by Jonathan R. Dull, an excellent history to the civil war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars credit due, March 17, 2014
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This striking account of the Union Navy's crippling effect on the Rebel's attempts to supply and fund their cause is a masterful writing. Employing eyewitness testimony and USNavy documents, Mr.Mcpherson tells us the all - too truthful history of command, politics and personal feelings of those brave men who chose to fight for their freedoms on US waters, international ports and open seas. Cause and effect simplify way too easily the intrigues of this book; one which any reader of the Civil War must read for him or herself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing Civil War Naval History Up From Its Murky Depths, August 2, 2014
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This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
Literature on the American Civil War frequently overlooks and/or undervalues the contributions and importance of both the United States’ and the Confederacy’s Navies. Though the Confederacy’s naval efforts pale to that of the Union’s, both navies contributed to their respective war efforts and changed the course of naval warfare forever.

James M. McPherson, the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University, and the author of Pulitzer Prize-winning “Battle Cry of Freedom,” has resurrected the 150 year old wreckage of the Union and Confederate navies from their murky depths, and brings to the surface the history of Civil War naval warfare in his book “War on the Waters: the Union and Confederate Navies 1861-1865.”

Tracing from the meager beginnings of a nearly nonexistent United States Navy and the complete nonexistence of a Confederate navy Professor McPherson builds his narrative chronologically through the mobilization the opposing naval forces to the victory of the Union and the defeat of the Confederacy, and covers both river and sea operations. Discussed in detail is the Union Blockade, the capture of New Orleans, the battle between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor at Hampton Roads, as well as the joint operations between the Union Army and the “Brown Water” Navy, at Forts Henry and Donelson and operations during the Vicksburg Campaign as well as many other lesser known naval actions.

“War on the Waters, is well researched. A search through Dr. McPherson’s end notes and bibliography reveals a nice balance between his use of primary and secondary sources leaning more toward primary source documents. The book’s narrative is necessarily tilted to the victor’s side, not because of any perceived bias but rather from the sheer size of the United States Navy as compared to its Confederate counterpart. It is book well written and easily read, and would appeal to academics and the casual reader alike.
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5.0 out of 5 stars McPherson's Clear, Concise and Comphensive War on the Waters, March 18, 2013
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Civil War Librarian "Civil War Librarian" (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania metropolitan region) - See all my reviews
This review is from: War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) (Hardcover)
War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865, James M. McPherson, University of North Carolina Press, 23 illustrations, 19 maps, notes, bibliography, index $35.00.

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 is a clear and concise description and analysis of the Civil War's naval mobilizations, battles and diplomatic impacts. Within 250 pages, McPherson offers a primary source centered narrative that is enjoyable to read. Offering a chronological story, he places the navies' developments, successes and shortcomings within the context of the land campaigns and political conflicts. Within eleven chapters, McPherson describes the brown water and blue water fleets and the significant engagements of both navies.

Much of McPherson's story may be new to Civil War enthusiast who regularly reads army and land battle narratives. Admiral Farragut's cannon, recently employed in the Mississippi Delta in late April 1862 challenged Vicksburg on July 1 of the same year; Farragut asks for Vicksburg's surrender and is refused.

International law and diplomacy are set within the context of Europe's approach and avoidance policies toward the Confederacy. The earth's oceans the scene of commerce raiding, near piracy, and chases. The destruction of a segment are of the North's merchant marine by Confederate commerce raiders cause repercussions that lasted beyond the end of the war and settled by international courts.

McPherson offers thorough evidence that the U.S. Navy was a major factor in the success of the Union's war effort and that the C.S. navy was, without a doubt, innovative and a considerable impact on the length of the war. With a meager 5% claim on the Union's military budget and assets, the U.S. Navy produced results disproportionate the expenditure. With even less funds available the C.S. challenged in a dramatic fashion the North's blockade and commerce. His narrative frequently is moved forward by the personalities of the inventors, sailors, and politicians.

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies is a pleasure to read and accessible to general readers including high school student working in advance placement courses. The 19 maps are uncluttered and offer details relevant to the narrative.
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War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era)
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