Book Review: The Civil War on the Mississippi: Union Sailors, Gunboat Captains, and the Campaign to Control the River


by Barbara Brooks Tomblin

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. Pp. vi, 370. Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. . $50.00. ISBN: 0813167035

Riverine Operations on the Mississippi

Tomblin, the author of Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy, gives us a look at the riverine side of the Union’s effort to secure the Mississippi and adjacent streams from the start of the Civil War through the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid-1863. Although Tomblin’s primary interest is the organization and operations of the Union’s river fleet – “A Mongrel Service” in the words of one officer – and the role of the regular Navy in the campaign, she gives appropriate attention to land operations and to Confederate efforts to develop a riverine capability.

Tomblin discusses the origins of the riverine campaign, which was inherent in Winfield Scott’s so-called “Anaconda” plan to destroy the Confederacy by blockade and concentric advance. She discusses the problems of creating and manning a river fleet, a matter complicated by much interservice squabbling, as initially both the Army and the Navy began building riverine warcraft.

Of course, Tomblin devotes most of her treatment to operations, from Forts Henry and Donelson through Island No. 10, New Orleans, the gunboat battle at Memphis, operations in Arkansas, Confederate efforts to disrupte Union operations, a long look at Grant’s several attempts to secure Vicksburg, and on to the fall of Port Hudson, which secured effective control of the river, although security operations and raids continued to the end of the war. Tomblin weaves into her account the actions of many individuals – the Ellets, Grant, Pemberton, Farragut, Porter, and more – to help clarify the why of particular events.

Although she might have devoted more attention to the Confederate side of things, Tomblin has given us a good account of the war on the western waters for the novice, which may be read with profit by the more the serious student of the Civil War or riverine operations.

Note: The Civil War on the Mississippi is also available as a pdf, ISBN 978-0-8131-6705-3 and as an epub, 978-0-8131-6704-6.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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