Gunfire Around The Gulf: The Last Major Naval Campaigns Of The Civil War, by Jack D. Coombe
This book has a horrible title, and its front cover text is full of a great deal of false advertising. For one, the title of this book would make one believe that it dealt with the end of the Civil War, but instead it takes a chronological look at the naval history of the Civil War from start to finish. Additionally, it claims to be the authoritative history of the Civil War’s most crucial naval battles, but it looks mainly at the Gulf naval war, with short discussions of the naval war on the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Coast, without much detail, and while it covers in some depth the early naval efforts that saved Florida’s main forts in Key West and Pensacola for the Union, the seizure of Ship Island and New Orleans, the unsuccessful efforts to take over Galveston, and the Mobile Bay campaign, it is not as if this book is complete when it comes to the Gulf of Mexico either, totally ignoring the First And Second Battles of Ft. Brooke (now Tampa) as well as the pivotal role of the Gulf Squadrons in moving troops around for the Rio Grande Campaign and Natural Bridge Campaigns at the very end of the Civil War.
In terms of its organization and structure, the book is very straightforward. It is about 200 pages of solid reading material, a good length, and it goes into a great deal of detail about the efforts to hold and seize New Orelans and Mobile, which are the core of the book. There are some chapters on other military endeavors relating to blockading and blockade running and commerce raiding, some comments about the unjust nature of post-battle decisions on both the Union and rebel side, and even some references to primary source material about poetic Confederate officers and bored sailors tired of doing the same drills over and over again. Even those who have never been involved with naval campaigns can relate to that, as well as to the complicated way that people received positions of honor and glory, and how defeat meant that someone needed to to be affixed with the blame. None of that will be unfamiliar to many readers as well.
At its core, this is a book that argues that the talent between the Union and Confederate side was close to even (the author makes an implicit contrast between Welles and Mallory as being roughly equal in sheer administrative talent, and between Semmes and Farragut being on the same level), but that the immense superiority in logistical capacity for the North is what led to victory. This seems a fair conclusion to me, yet it neglects the reality that the Confederacy was aware of its logistical shortcomings vis-a-vis the North before engaging upon their course of rebellion, believing that their superior military talent and general military culture would trump the obvious advantages in men and materiel possessed by the North. The rebels were wrong; the logistical advantage of the Union was too great for the rebels to overcome, especially as the North was at least the equal on a general by general and soldier by soldier level, given the nearly equal casualties despite the fact that the South was fighting on home terrain and had interior lines, where one would expect the attacker to have twice the casualties of the defenders. This book is merely more evidence to demonstrate the importance of logistics in warfare, a lesson that military readers and leaders forget at their peril. For that alone, despite its flaws, it is a worthwhile book.
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