UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2017 - 2018
|Oct 5||John Fox||The Great Train Heist|
|Nov 2||Barb Mallory
Paul Van Nest
|A Great Great Uncle Edgar Wylie Potter and his brother Stanley Noble Potter in the American Civil War|
|Dec 7||John Moyer||1861-65 "A Horse's Tale"|
|Jan 11||Paul Van Nest||Brandy Station: Largest Cavalry Battle in North America|
|Feb 1||Tarun Roy||A Visit to City Point|
|Mar 1||Murray Hogben||Col. Starkweather Holds On at Perryville|
|Apr 5||Bruce Cossar||Kingstonians and the Civil War|
|May 3||Gord Sly||Guerrilla War in the Civil War|
|Jun 7||Dr. Cheryl Wells||The Civil War from a Global Perspective|
Last June's Presentation
"Build-Up of the Union and Confederate Navies
and the Naval War as it Progressed 1861 - 1865"
presented by Brady Hennigar, CWRT-GK
The Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston ended its current year on June 1, 2017 with a talk by first-time presenter Brady Hennigar who spoke to us on the topic of the U.S. and Confederate States Navies during the American Civil War. Brady's presentation gave us an overview of the naval aspects of the Civil War and the role that maritime strategy played in determining the outcome of the conflict. Brady also described the resources available to the North and South at the beginning of the war and how naval commanders on each side exploited recent technological advances in their efforts to achieve victory. As well, Brady touched upon the role that control of the rivers and other inland waterways played in shaping military strategy, particularly in the Western Theatre.
Before beginning his talk, Brady briefly described how he came to be interested in the American Civil War and military history in general. The recent 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and our area's local connection with that crucial conflict played a role in sparking Brady's curiosity, as did witnessing a few historical battle re-enactments. Brady described how his reading spread to other subjects including the Second World War and then eventually to the American Civil War, which was Brady's chosen topic for this evening.
For a nation of its size and extensive coastline, it is surprising to learn that the United States had only about forty ships in commission when Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861. With the coming of war, there was an immediate demand for ships and sailors. Brady described how the Union Secretary of War Gideon Welles ordered new warships to be built and hundreds of merchant ships commandeered and converted for naval purposes.
One of the main purposes of the U.S. Navy, Brady told us, was to enforce a blockade of Southern ports to stop the rebels from shipping cargoes of cotton to foreign buyers in exchange for arms, ammunition, and other war supplies so desperately needed by the Confederacy. The author of this Union blockade strategy was General Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Army. Scott foresaw that the war would be a long one and that the surest way of subduing the South was to isolate from the outside world and starve it of the armaments of modern war that it lacked the manufacturing facilities and infrastructure to provide for itself. Scott's idea was derided as "The Anaconda Plan" by members of the press and public who were pumped up with the idea of crushing the Confederacy on the battlefield. But the old veteran of Lundy's Lane was essentially correct and Brady emphasized the importance that Union naval superiority played in securing eventual victory for the North.
Turning to the Southern war at sea, Brady described how Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory faced an even greater challenge than his Union counterpart. There were only a few dozen naval vessels in Southern ports at the start of the war and Mallory quickly realized the Confederacy would never be able to challenge the U.S. Navy with a line of battleships ready to slug it out broadside to broadside in a classic fleet action. Instead, Brady explained, the Confederates States Navy sought to compensate for its numerical weakness by making use of recent technological developments in the area of steam engines to eliminate dependence on the wind, armour plate to protect vulnerable hulls, and even rudimentary submarines that lent a new dimension to naval warfare.
To illustrate his point, Brady gave us a brief outline of the Battle of Hampton Roads fought on March 8-9, 1862. This naval engagement featured a clash of iron-clad ships, between the C.S.S. Virginia and the U.S.S. Monitor. The Virginia was originally the U.S.S. Merrimac, a steam frigate that the Union scuttled at the Gosport Navy Yard the previous spring when the Confederates captured Norfolk. Looking for any means to break the Union blockade that threatened to strangle Southern overseas trade, said Brady, the rebels raised the Merrimac and converted her into an iron-clad vessel. Gone were her masts, spars, and sails and in their place was a slope-sided, flat-roofed, armour- plated superstructure housing a combination of rifled and smoothbore cannon in addition to a ram installed on her prow. Re-named the C.S.S. Virginia, she steamed out into Hampton Roads on the morning of March 8, 1862 and with a combination of ramming tactics and old-fashioned broadsides sent the wooden-hulled U.S.S. Cumberland and U.S.S. Congress to the bottom.
Brady then described how the North responded the next day with its own revolutionary iron-clad ship. This was the U.S.S. Monitor, a flat-decked vessel with a pair of powerful rifled cannon mounted inside a rotating turret. In the ensuing battle, both ships hammered away at each other with their cannon for several hours but layers of armour plate prevented either the Monitor or the Virginia from doing any serious damage to its opponent. Although the outcome was a draw, Brady noted that the battle itself was a decisive demonstration that the wooden-hulled sailing ship navies of the world were now obsolete.
Turning our attention inland, Brady made some observations on the way in which Union control of the nation's rivers contributed to eventual Northern victory. First, transport ships could convey troops to where they needed much more quickly and with fewer physical demands on the men than marching overland. Secondly, gunboats could provide mobile artillery support against enemy troops and fortifications. Brady referred to the Union victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862 as an outstanding example of this type of combined operation, particularly the level of mutual trust and cooperation between General U.S. Grant and Commodore Andrew Hull Foote.
Brady then described how the Union made use of its growing naval power to attack Confederate ports and other important coastal areas as the war progressed. In April 1863 a squadron of Union iron-clads under Admiral Samuel Du Pont sailed into the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina and bombarded the Confederate defenses. The rebel shore-based batteries repulsed the naval assault but the Federals were undeterred and continued to lay siege to Charleston by land and sea until the end of the war. In August 1864 Admiral David Farragut had more success at Mobile Bay, Alabama when his fleet of wooden frigates and iron-clad monitors overwhelmed the defending Confederates and captured the city, thus depriving the South of its last remaining seaport on the Gulf of Mexico.
Brady also noted how the Confederates made use of technological innovations such as floating mines-then called torpedoes-to bolster the defenses of Mobile, while at Charleston an experimental submarine called the Hunley succeeded in sinking the U.S.S. Housatonic in February 1864, although the crew of the Hunley paid for their success with their lives.
Besides developing new weapons for the war at sea, the Confederacy also looked to more traditional ways of countering the Union blockade. Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, knew he did not have the ships or men to face the U.S. Navy in a head-on naval battle, so he turned to the idea of using small lightly armed but fast sailing ships propelled by steam and sail to use as commerce raiders against Union merchant vessels. The Confederate Navy had only a few such ships-the C.S.S. Sumter, the C.S.S. Florida, the C.S.S. Alabama, and the C.S.S. Shenandoah were the most famous-and there was never any possibility that they could pose what we would call today an existential threat to the Northern merchant marine. Nevertheless, their successes on the high seas were a tremendous boost to Southern morale and helped sustain the idea that the Confederacy was still a force to be reckoned on the international stage. More importantly, the fact that a few Confederate raiders were sinking dozens of Northern merchant ships around the globe meant that the U.S. Navy was forced to divert naval vessels from important blockade duty to hunt down these Southern seagoing marauders.
Brady rounded out his presentation with a quick sketch of the wartime career of the most famous Confederate sea-fighter, Admiral Raphael Semmes. Semmes was a Marylander, born in 1809, who started his naval career in 1826 as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy. After service at sea and on land during the Mexican War, Semmes settled in Mobile, Alabama and practised law. By the time of the secession crisis of 1861, Semmes had attained the rank of Commander. He followed his state and resigned from the U.S. Navy in February 1861 in order to serve in the fledgling Confederate States Navy.
Brady described Semmes' first exploits at sea in command of the C.S.S. Sumter. This was a peacetime steamship that Semmes converted to war work and with which he eluded the Union blockade and slipped out of New Orleans in June 1861. During the next six months, Brady said, the Sumter ranged over the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean capturing eighteen Northern merchant ships.
Semmes' next command was his most famous, as Captain of the British-built sloop-of-war C.S.S. Alabama. For almost two years, from August 1862 to June 1864, Semmes and his crew sailed the Alabama from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope and into the East Indies and the Pacific Ocean before returning to the Atlantic. Along the way, noted Brady, the Alabama captured and destroyed sixty-five Northern merchant vessels, a record for a commerce raider that is likely never to be surpassed.
Eventually, however, the Alabama needed repairs and a refit and so Semmes put in to the port of Cherbourg, France. A Union warship, the U.S.S. Kearsarge, soon appeared outside the harbor and on June 14, 1864 Admiral Semmes steamed out to meet her. In the ensuing battle, the slower timed but better aimed gunnery of the Kearsarge soon had the advantage of the Alabama, a tired ship whose stores of gunpowder had deteriorated over her long months at sea. But Semmes was not done yet, Brady told us, and rather than surrender his sword to the captain of the Kearsarge he pitched it into the drink and made his escape along with forty-one of his crew aboard a British steam yacht while the Alabama went down by her stern. Brady then described how Semmes made his way back across the Atlantic and rejoined the Confederacy, this time fighting on land as a Brigadier General in the last few days of the war.
As is often the case in war, the pressure to gain an edge over the enemy and develop more effective weapons results in rapidly paced technological advances that would not have taken place in peacetime. This was certainly true of the Civil War at sea. Brady's presentation highlighted the increasing reliance upon steam as opposed to sail, the introduction of iron-clad warships and even the first primitive submarines, not to mention the widespread use of new defensive measures such as floating mines. There was also the Union blockade of the Confederate coastline, which slowly strangled the South's trade and economy and isolated the rebel nation from the rest of the world. This was made possible by a U.S. Navy that, according to Brady, had grown by about 600% over the course of the war and which, in the next century, would become an important factor in world affairs.
Written by Tom Brzezicki
Latest Achievements of Civil War Trust
Recognition of our donations to the Civil War Trust
However, that is not the case for our contribution towards the lands saved at Gaines Mill. My problem there was that I couldn't find the marker. Again, her response: "Yes we do have a marker there. CWRT of Greater Kingston is under the $500 + list. The donor sign we installed in 2013 is located as indicated on the map on the Watt House Road. It's National Park Service property now." And here we are!
EXECUTIVE - 2016-17
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