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Book Review, NRJ 59.4

November 15, 2014 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Voices of the Confederate Navy: Articles, Letters, Reports and Reminiscences

Edited by R. Thomas Campbell

Since 1996, R. Thomas Campbell has authored or edited more than fifteen books on Confederate naval history. His books have always been written to appeal to a general, rather than an academic audience. While his earlier works were compilations of the most sensational stories from the Civil War, later works focused on particular topics, individuals, or theaters of the war. Voices of the Confederate Navy, his most recent  book returns to the compilation format, but in a much more comprehensive way than in earlier works. Campbell aims to use sources written by the participants themselves in order to allow their voices to be heard.

The breadth of this book is impressive. Campbell includes a chapter on every theater of the war, as well as chapters on special topics such as the Confederate States Marine Corps, the Naval School, blockade runners, cruisers, and the Torpedo Bureau. Most theaters receive equal treatment, but Campbell gives the most space to the chapters on Eastern North Carolina (32 pages), the Mississippi River (37 pages) and the Confederate cruisers (53 pages). The chapter on the Confederate Marine Corps is not surprisingly the shortest, at only 5 pages. Within each chapter the expected, familiar material is covered, but Campbell also includes information on little-known ships, battles, and people, which keeps things interesting.

 Within each chapter, Campbell includes selected documents. These documents come from various sources such as the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Southern Historical Society Papers, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Confederate Veteran magazine, and memoirs written by Confederate naval officers after the war. Thomas J. Scharf’s History of the Confederate States Navy (1887) is also used quite extensively. Preceding each document is a brief overview, sometimes written by Campbell himself and sometimes lifted from another source. These introductory statements place the documents within context and familiarize the reader with the topic. For seasoned Civil War naval historians, much of this is common knowledge, but to the general reader the introductory statements are very helpful.

In the Preface, Campbell acknowledges that his sources are not perfect. Much of this material was written after the war, sometimes decades afterwards, and therefore might not be completely accurate. Memories fade or men consciously try to influence their own legacy when writing memoirs or reminiscences. Many of the Confederate Navy’s records, including all those pertaining to the Confederate States Marine Corps were destroyed during the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. Therefore, researchers are left with what is available and must use their best judgment. Campbell is not trying to break new interpretive ground with this book, nor does he claim to do so. This is a compilation of documents with some brief explanation, no more and no less. It is a useful reference for general readers who want an overall history of the Confederate Navy, as well as more serious historians who want to easily lay their hands on the documents contained therein. As with all books published by MacFarland, the price of this book is rather steep. However, Campbell sells discounted copies through his personal website; type his name into any search engine to find his site.

  •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.
  • 2008 7” x 10”, softcover, 366 pages
  • Photographs, maps, bibliography, index. $35.00

Reviewed by Andrew Duppstadt, NC State Historic Sites

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