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Book Review, NRJ 59.1

February 15, 2014 12:00 PM | David Eddy

The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861-1862

John K. Driscoll

Much has been written about America’s entry into the Civil War, including the inept Buchannan administration that sought to ignore any hostilities until the Lincoln administration took over. When all attempts at reconciliation and appeasement failed, the separation was complete with the bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter in South Carolina by Confederate forces. However, there was one other major fortification that the Confederates needed but failed to capture: Fort Pickens that guarded Pensacola Bay. In this work, Driscoll explains how, in the months leading up to and throughout the war, the Federals were able to hang onto such a vital asset.

What makes this work so communicative is the focus on the importance of Pensacola Bay, and its naval and military infrastructure: the naval yard and the ring of forts built to protect Pensacola Bay from foreign intrusions. Driscoll successfully brings out the political and military machinations by both Federal and Confederate government officials and officers, both in their respective capitals and on scene at Pensacola. Pensacola Bay was vital to anybody who could possess it, especially in conjunction with the subsequent fortifications. While Confederate forces secured the naval yard and two of the three forts guarding Pensacola Bay, they failed to take Fort Pickens; a thorn in their side which would come to haunt them in the years to come.

In a prologue and through twelve subsequent chapters Driscoll effectively describes the slow roll out of secession and hostilities and how they led to a standoff in the only southern port that remained in Union hands throughout the entire war. Through the use of primary sources, such as personal letters, journals, communications between the local officers and officials in both the Federal and Confederate capitals, he is able to portray a period of time of confusion and missed opportunities as well as inept Federal administrations. Indeed, many of the tribulations that the officer who assumed command of Fort Pickens and those commanding the United States Navy ships on station suffered through were due to an ineffectual Buchanan administration and two conflicting federal departments: the Navy department and the Army department, which refused to work together. This focus by Driscoll is one of the strengths of his book as it presents a vision of how the war evolved, of which many people may not be aware.

The book is thoroughly researched and presents over seventy illustrations, including pictures and drawings of people, military camps and military installations, fortifications, and ships. As for any criticism of the work, one that quickly comes to mind is the lack of an overall site plan of Pensacola Bay and its features. An extended site plan would be extremely beneficial to readers as it would help develop a good mental picture as events occurred.

The work may not be meant for a general audience, I would, however, recommend it to a number of readers including those interested in understanding how the war unfolded overall, and especially along the Gulf Coast. In the end, it is evident that Driscoll put effort into research and writing, thus producing an informative product. The work covers a specific part of part of the Civil War that perhaps has not been covered to such a degree in any other work or study, and would be an appropriate addition to anybody’s library.

  • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013
  • 7” x 10”, softcover, 234 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
  • ISBN: 99780786473124

Reviewed Wayne Abrahamson, University of West Florida

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