Book Review: Ironclad Captains of the Civil War


by Myron J. Smith Jr.

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018. Pp. viii, 254. Illus., append., notes., biblio., index. $75.00. ISBN: 1476666369

Iron Men on Iron Ships

Myron J. Smith, Jr, the author of many works on the naval side of the Civil War, such as The Timberclads in the Civil War, Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters, and Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia, gives us biographical profiles of the men who commanded ironclads, tinclads, timberclads, and the like on seas, coastal, and interior waters, bot Union and Confederate.

Typically, each of the roughly one hundred entries cover a man’s early life, education, wartime service, and later life. These entries, which as often as possible are accompanied by an image of the man in question, and often of one of his commands as well, vary considerably in length. Some run to several pages, due in part to the relative fame of the man in question, though Smith wisely only outlines the careers of the most well known among them, such as Franklin Buchanan or John Winslow, the importance of the actions in which they took part, and, most importantly, the availability of evidence. For a number of these men, the paper trail can be surprisingly thin, most notably that for one John Rogers, who barely gets 200 words, a man for whom there seems to be no evidence of his life before or after the war, despite an excellent service record and several mentions in dispatched while commanding the “tinclad” Naumkeag on the western rivers.

As Smith addresses the careers of these men, he also imparts a great deal of information about the operation of the early ironclads, the course of the war, and naval service during it. One of the most revealing lessons to be learned is the extent to which the respective navies relied on acting officers; men drawn from civil life who had no prior naval service, but perhaps some experience in the merchant marine or as riverboatmen -- and in some cases not even that -- were remarkably numerous among the ironclad commanders.

Ironclad Captains of the Civil War is valuable reference for anyone working on the Civil War.


Note: Ironclad Captains of the Civil War is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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