Book Review: Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865


by Neil P. Chatelain

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2020. Pp. x, 324. Illus., maps., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1611215102

Confederate Riverine Operations on the Western Waters

Although many people, both North and the South, believed that the war would be a short one, some, such as Winfield Scott, the Union’s General-in-Chief, of Mexican American War fame, though otherwise. He proposed what was quickly called ”the Anaconda Plan”, to blockade the South, seize its coastal areas, and then send armies into its interior using the Mississippi and other great rivers. Although the plan was never formally adopted, indeed was ridiculed by many, it was essentially the Union’s ultimate strategy. Control of the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean ports took time, however – over four years – but proved very effective in suppressing secession and preserving the Union. In Defending the Arteries of Rebellion is the story of the Confederacy’s efforts to prevent the Union for seizing control of the Mississippi valley and .

Chatelain does an excellent job describing how the Confederacy went about setting up defenses along the coasts and in the Mississippi River system, with its many tributaries in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana, with hastily erected fortifications and improvised riverine and coast defense. He offers looks at the work of many individuals, from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Secretary of the Navy, and Lt. Gen. John Pemberton down to ordinary soldiers and sailors trying to do everything in their power to defend these waterways from the Union.

Chatelain covers the many Union moves to seize control of the rivers, the surprising initial success on the Tennessee and Cumberland in early 1862, and the seizure of New Orleans just weeks later, U.S. Grant’s several attempts to take Vicksburg, culminating in its fall on July 4, 1863, and then the protracted strangling of river and maritime traffic which greatly contributed to the Union victory after four years of war.

Chatelain concludes that the Confederacy’s loss was due to a combination of a lack of assets, particularly ships and the ability to build them, not enough of time, a shortage of trained personnel, and the problem of trying to defend everywhere.

The book is a fast paced read, well written, and demonstrating careful research, with extensive documentation. There are several excellent maps by Edward Alexander and a useful glossary.

This reviewer strongly recommends Defending the Arteries of Rebellion, it’s a great read.

 Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. He earlier reviewed The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, Civil War Places, The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863, America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War, The Women's Fight: The Civil War's Battles for Home Freedom, and Nation, A Republic in the Ranks, An Environmental History of the Civil War, Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America, Arguing until Doomsday, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, and Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign



Note: Defending the Arteries of Rebellion is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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