Voices of the Confederate Navy: Articles, Letters, Reports and Reminiscences
By R. Thomas Campbell
Illustrated, notes, bibliography, index, 366 pp., 2008. McFarland, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, $55 plus shipping.
Reviewer: Joseph A. Derie
Prolific Civil War naval historian R. Thomas Campbell has assembled a number of writings from Confederate naval sources to give us eyewitness accounts of the trials and tribulations of the Confederate Navy as seen through the eyes of its civilians, officers and men.
These writings range from contemporary pieces, written immediately after the events and frequently to be found in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, to pieces written many years later for such publications as the Southern Historical Society Papers, Confederate Veteran, Century Magazine and Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.
The author leads with a preface citing some sources and locations, bewailing the dearth of official reports and records after their destruction at the fall of Richmond, and cautioning readers about the accuracy of articles written many years after the fact, sometimes due to failing memories and sometimes due to what can kindly be termed “misremembering.”
Campbell ends with an afterword, “Some final thoughts,” that among other things decries the lack of records pertaining to the Confederate Marine Corps.
He also reminds us that although “the desperate struggle endured by Southern naval forces was long, bitter, painful, and sometimes humiliating,” it was Confederate naval forces operating on the high seas, on the coastal and inland waterways and in the harbors, that served the cause and allowed the struggle to go on.
The volume consists of 16 chapters, the first 10 arranged by geography, such as “The James River and Hampton Roads, Virginia,” “Charleston, South Carolina,” “Columbus, Georgia,” and “Louisiana Waters.” The last six are arranged by subject such as “Torpedo Bureau,” “Blockade Runners,” “The Marine Corps” and “The CSN in Europe.”
The author gives a short introduction for each chapter, generally from published sources, and the participants are allowed to tell their stories. Some of them relate to battles and some refer to the everyday happenings, the preparation and waiting around for something to happen that one forgets was so much of the Civil War.
Voices of the Confederate Navy is an interesting read. Confederate Navy aficionados will probably have read many of its reports and articles, but there is always something new. The way the chapters are structured makes it easy to research or reread items about particular areas and interests.
The book will be of especial interest to Civil War Navy enthusiasts. It is also highly recommended for those who want to learn more about the Confederate Navy.