What was the most important naval engagement or campaign of the war? Why?
I think it was the Northern campaign to close the mouth of the Mississippi and the battles around Vicksburg which effectively choked off the Western Confederacy from the rest of the South in 1863. This was a crushing blow to the Confederacy, one from which they were unable to ever recover.
Farragut’s taking of New Orlreans.
The fall of New Orleans, because it basically consummated Winfield Scott’s anaconda plan.
I have to agree that in terms of strategic impact for a purely naval operation, New Orleans takes the cake. Monitor/Merrimack ranks pretty high too. If we consider combined army/navy campaigns, Vicksburg would be a good bet; Grant could not have done it without his sailors. On blue water, the cruise of CSS Alabama was highly successful in causing consternation in the North and exacerbating tensions between Great Britain and the United States.
When I hear “naval engagement” I think of clashes between opposing warships. My vote: the sinking of the Housatonic by the Hunley.
The most strategic naval engagement of the war was the years long battle of the tin & timberclad’s that kept the Western rivers open. Without their unglamorous, constant efforts, none of the war winning campaign from Perryville to Atlanta would have been possible. Keeping the rivers open for an entire corps transported from St Louis to Nashville In November 1864 was a major strategic victory. It was appropriate that the USS Moose & her sisters were among the gunboats that smashed Hood’s attempt to interdict the Cumberland River during the opening phase of the Battle of Nashville.
As a famous French official famously said, most naval battles are just so much piff-poof. The brown water war campaign in the West was all smash-bang victory.
With a tip a’ the hat to all who previously commented on the many engagements along the Mississippi (two tips to Mr. Cole’s excellent insight), I will argue for the Henry-Donelson Campaign: Foote’s seizing of Ft Henry and destruction of the Tennessee River RR bridge while sailing to the Muscle Shoals seems to have so upset the calculations of GEN A.S. Johnston that his Army of Central Kentucky was withdrawing toward Nashville even before Ft Donelson was attacked from the land and river. The loss of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and Nashville placed the Confederates on the defensive for the rest of the war in the west.
i agree with ncatty the Hunley .while it did not change things at the time the courage, in sight and ideal were some thing not to forget.
New Orleans is clearly first in strategic importance. The Naval battle of Memphis, however, on June 6th was almost as significant. The smaller Confederate fleet was crushed, and, just like at New Orleans, Landing parties from the Federal fleet then occupied the city. Memphis was the 5th largest city in the south, a critical seat of manufacturing, and, just like NO, irreplacable in the CSA war effort.
I agree with all the above. Alas, no one mentions the amphibious invasion at Roanoke Is. that began a new era with sea-borne invasions.
The attempt by Captain Semmes to interrupt the gold shipments to NYC from California via the Panama route and the Straits of Florida. He captured a passenger ship, the Ariel, and took her to port and thereby missed the ship, Champion, with the gold. The U.S. Navy then instituted a convoy system for the gold ships and the gold helped finance the Union effort during the CW. Wayne Shortridge firstname.lastname@example.org 404.388.2448
I’ll add a contrarian view, only because I view what happened along the western rivers as somewhat inevitable (especially given Jeff Davis’s strategic myopia). I’d opt for the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. I think that an opportunity to win the war in Virginia was frittered away and the consequences were enormous. But then I admit to a strong dislike of Mac. 🙂
Just reading each of these replies brought so many pictures to mind. My initial vote, however goes to Foote and Forts Henry & Donaldson. It set a precedent of combined forces ops that continues today.
A fantastic question and one I’ve enjoyed reading the responses. It’s probably no great surprise that I’d say New Orleans 1862 – an opinion echoed by Gideon Welles and David Dixon Porter. To my mind, New Orleans and Mobile Bay both cemented David G. Farragut as one of the greatest sailors the United States has ever produced.
In terms of joint Army-Navy expeditions, which some people have brought up, there are several key ones (NC 1862, Island #10, Peninsula, and Henry/Donelson come to mind). Vicksburg/Port Hudson without question was the greatest of these because of its impact on the war. I’d like, however, to throw in Port Royal 1861, which established an important base for coastal and blockade operations along the Atlantic Seaboard for the rest of the war. All subsequent operations between the Virginia line and the southern tip of Florida were in some way made possible by the presence of the Port Royal base.
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