The Civil War on the Mississippi
Union Sailors, Gunboat Captains, and the Campaign to Control the River
Barbara Brooks Tomblin
Book published by The University Press of Kentucky
Flowing from its source in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River borders or passes through ten different states and serves as one of the most important transportation systems in the United States. During the Civil War, both sides believed that whoever controlled the river would ultimately be victorious. Cotton exports generated much-needed revenue for the Confederacy, and the Mississippi was also the main conduit for the delivery of materials and food. Similarly, the Union sought to maintain safe passage from St. Louis, Missouri, to Cairo, Illinois, but also worked to bisect the South by seizing the river as part of the Anaconda Plan.
Drawing heavily on the diaries and letters of officers and common sailors, Barbara Brooks Tomblin explores the years during which the Union navy fought to win control of the Mississippi. Her approach provides fresh insight into major battles such as Memphis and Vicksburg, but also offers fascinating perspectives on lesser-known aspects of the conflict from ordinary sailors engaged in brown-water warfare. These men speak of going ashore in foraging parties, assisting the surgeon in the amputation of a fellow crewman’s arm, and liberating supplies of whiskey from captured enemy vessels. They also offer candid assessments of their commanding officers, observations of the local people living along the river, and their views on the war.
Barbara Brooks Tomblin taught military history at Rutgers University and is the author of several articles, as well as G.I. Nightingales: The Army Nurse Corps in World War II.
“Tomblin has made good use of several diaries and collections of letters by common sailors that provide glimpses and insights into their experiences and actions on the Western rivers that goes beyond anything in the existing literature on the river navy.”
—James M. McPherson, author of The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters
“Barbara Brooks Tomblin provides a fascinating and detailed look at everyday life aboard the ships of the Union navy charged with securing control of the Mississippi River.”
—Spencer C. Tucker, author of Blue and Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat
“The Civil War literature is well known for producing a multitude of overview histories of varying size and quality for its grandest subjects, and even for many smaller events and themes. Among those dealing with the naval war on the Mississippi and its major tributaries, Tomblin's book is especially remarkable for its comprehensive coverage and depth of detail.”
—Civil War Books and Authors
“This well-written, fast-paced narrative belongs on your bookshelf, even if you think you have read the last word about this innovative naval force. ”
—Civil War News
“The Civil War on the Mississippi is a well written, logically organized and clear account of the naval war on the Mississippi. Its coverage is thorough, and its research is impressive.”
— Civil War Book Review
“This is a good account of the war on the western waters for the novice, which may be read with profit by the more serious student of the Civil War or riverine operations. ”
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