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Book Review, NRJ 64.2

May 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Ironclad Captains of the Civil War

Myron J. Smith, Jr.

Myron J. Smith, Jr., emeritus library director and professor at Tusculum University in Tennessee is best known for the wealth of scholarship he has contributed on the Civil War navies in the western theater. In this, his latest volume, he has produced an excellent reference source for anyone interested in the history of the navies and ironclads of the period. In the Introduction, he acknowledges that his forty-five years of research and eight previous books, especiallyCivil War Biographies from the Western Waters(MacFarland, 2015), established the basis for this most useful encyclopedia.

In the foreword, Mark F. Jenkins establishes the importance of this volume, stating “in many ways, these men were at least as interesting as the strange new ships they served aboard,” and “As fascinating as the ironclads themselves undoubtedly are, the men deserve at least as much attention.” Jenkins and Smith both speak to the appeal the ironclads have for both serious scholars and amateur enthusiasts of the war, mainly due to their uniqueness. Over the broad span of naval history, they are a quickly fleeting moment in the evolution of ship design. Bringing into focus the human element helps to put these ships into a broader context.

The biographies contained in the volume are typical of this type of work. Each entry includes name, dates of birth and death, service (USN or CSN), the name(s) of the ironclad(s) commanded, and as full a biography as possible. In a useful appendix, Register of Ironclad Captains, the author lists each ship in alphabetical order (Confederate followed by Union), and a list of the commanders for each. The volume is well-illustrated throughout; if there is no image of the person, an image of the ship they commanded is included. Concluding each biography is a list of sources used. One need only look at the extensive bibliography to see how well-researched this book is, and the author gives credit to many institutions in his acknowledgements.

While this volume will prove useful to any student of the Civil War navies, the price is likely to be prohibitive. The paperback version is listed at a price of $75, and even the Kindle edition is over $30. Given the cost, many readers will have to look for this volume in their nearest library.

  • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2018
  • 7” x 10”, softcover, 262 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $75.00
  • ISBN: 9781476666365

Reviewed by Andrew Duppstadt, North Carolina Division of State Historic Sites


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