War On the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 by James McPherson *****

This was my Mother’s Day gift from waronthewatersmy spouse last May, and boats are HIS thing. I thought, Psssh. RIGHT. But since I strive to be a scholar of the American Civil War and the navy is about the only stone (as opposed to gravel, metaphorically) that I’ve left unturned, I started in. No, I FELL in.

First of all, it has to be recognized that McPherson is undeniably the USA’s #1 living Civil War scholar. His status as professor emeritus at Princeton has been well earned. When he decides to delve into some aspect of Civil War history, he finds his primary sources wherever he has to go. So, though he is an old man, he went on those waters. He walked where soldiers trod in order to get to the forts he, too, visited. He believes that in order to understand how any battle unfolded, on land or sea, you’d better get a sense of the geography. This is what a serious scholar looks like.

Then he tracked down the letters and journals of the key players. Once his tools were out and he was ready to go, he stated his bold thesis and then methodically proved it. And it is something of a startling thesis to me. He says that without the navy’s contributions, the war could not have been won.

When Grant says it, one wonders if it was a diplomatic gesture toward the seamen who so tenaciously pounded away during the siege of Vicksburg. How many times have you heard someone who is receiving an award say, “I would not be here tonight if it were not for the support of…” (whoever)?

When McPherson says it, I sit back and say, “Whoa.”

He takes his case and spins it into an enjoyable narrative, for those interested in the American Civil War. There are maps with just exactly the right amount of detail to prove the point. Photographs are clear as a bell (remember that this is the first U.S. war in which photography was available, though not so much for action shots…but for a naval battle? Certainly!).

So although my husband never reads anything on this site, Honey? Sorry to have misjudged you. And I forgive you for stealing it back to read when I was thirty pages from the end. Do you forgive me for stealing it back? You can finish it now if you like!

And to other readers who are Civil War buffs: why are you still on this page? You should be on another screen, ordering the book!

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