by Rodman L. Underwood
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pp. viii, 248.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 0786422998
Albeit that he served the Confederacy, Stephen Russell Mallory (1812-1873) was one of the ablest naval secretaries in American history, and one of only two Confederate cabinet members to serve through the entire Civil War, yet has been surprising neglected by historians.
In this, the first biography of Mallory in over 50 years, Underwood, who also wrote Waters of Discord (2008), gives us a highly detailed, comprehensive look at the man’s life and work. Judah Benjamin aside, the ablest member of Jefferson Davis’ cabinet, Mallory entered the U.S. Senate from Florida in 1851. An attorney lacking prior experience in maritime matters, he was assigned to the Naval Affairs Committee, and quickly became an
expert in naval policy. Although not a secessionist, Mallory stayed with his state when the Civil War broke out, and became Davis’ Secretary of the Navy. Unlike most other Confederate cabinet members, he held his job through to the end of the war, proving a fine administrator, a master of improvisation and innovation, and a sound strategist. It was Mallory who created the Confederate Navy, pressed for the acquisition of ironclad warships, fostered the development of innovative weapons such as “torpedoes” (i.e. mines) and submarines, and, perhaps most importantly, established a shipbuilding industry for the South almost literally out of nothing.
Although some readers will be put off by the overly detailed look at Mallory’s family history with which the book opens, this should not deter any student of the Civil War or American naval history from reading it, as Underwood has done an excellent job .