(February/March 2013 Civil War News Book Review - Web Exclusive)

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American Naval History, 1607-1865: Overcoming the Colonial Legacy. By Jonathan R. Dull. Map, index, notes, 216 pp., 2012, Nebraska, www.nebraskapress.unl.edu, $27.95.


This relatively short book is hard to classify as a Civil War book because only one 36-page chapter actually deals with the war. Just as the title explains, the book covers the entire naval history of the country in quick chapters with entire wars sometimes covered in a few paragraphs.

On the plus side, the book does not seem to miss any naval engagement in American waters or any of our far-flung adventures in distant lands like the Barbary Coast at the turn of the 19th Century.

Jonathan Dull names the ships planned or built during these periods, even listing the number of guns mounted, and details when Congress was unwilling to support its own navy.

On the down side, the book is so short that readers wishing to know more about these often little-known engagements will have to find the details elsewhere. Even the nation’s major wars are blown by.

The Mexican War takes only a few pages with much of the chapter dealing with what other countries were doing with their shipbuilding programs at that time.

Also on the downside, because there are no illustrations of the types of ships described a neophyte reader can’t see the difference between a sloop and a frigate.

Sometimes there are references that may seem puzzling such as the paragraph that describes Southern rivers followed by an observation about two rivers in Prussia that were “impervious in the days before the steamship.”

There are some interesting tidbits in the book, such as the mention of a speech in 1862 by an otherwise little known senator who predicted with remarkable accuracy that the U.S. would not only win the war, but would become a world naval power.

People with a passing interest in naval history may like this pocket-reference book, but those wanting more depth will likely want to read much longer, detailed, and illustrated books.

Clint Johnson


Clint Johnson’s latest books are revised Touring The Carolinas’ Civil War Sites and Touring Virginia’s and West Virginia’s Civil War Sites.