Question of the Week: 1/31-2/6/22

If you had to time travel and had to serve in a Civil War navy…would you choose to serve in the blue water navy (sea) or brown water navy (river)?

19 Responses to Question of the Week: 1/31-2/6/22

  1. Going to sea on ships is an experience like nothing on land or lake or river. It’s what navies do. In those days, most ships still were tall square riggers. Even with an auxiliary steam engine, they were sailors first. Seamen “maneuver huge, complex machines through all Neptune’s moods in a masterful choreography of wind, sea, and sky. Their open-air attention was always upward and outward, sustaining a tenuous equilibrium with the elements, often with uncertain progress.” I would love to do that.

  2. I just finished reading a very exciting biography called “Civil War Commando”, written by Jerome Preisler. This book dealt with the exploits of William Cushing, a daredevil and perhaps even a reckless sailor who was assigned to the Brown Water Navy. He was the commander ,who at 22, lead a team of sailors that sunk the CSS Albemarle in 1864. If this story represents the action faced by the Brown Water Navy, this Branch gets my vote.

    1. Same here–I know you can drown in both, but my chances at making shore seem better in brown water.

    2. i agree, within site of land is good … unfortunately it didn’t help those ~1,200 Union soldiers and sailors who died, most from drowning, when the steamship SULTANA’s boilers exploded and the ship went down in the Mississippi on 27 April 1865 … worst maritime disaster in US history.

  3. I am fascinated by the monitors. I used to think there was only one – the original that fought at Hampton Roads. I now know there were numerous monitors with various designs and multiple turrets . I would love to read a book that covers all the monitors during the civil war. Does anyone know of such a book?

    1. Bob: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a reference dedicated to monitors as a class except Angus Konstam, “Union Monitor 1861-1865” (Osprey Publishing, 2002), which is a short but interesting illustrated overview. Most books focus on the Battle of Hampton Roads, for which I recommend my (Dwight Hughes) just published “Unlike Anything that Ever Floated” (Savas Beatie, 2021). It contains a summary appendix on ironclads and recommended reading. For more technical studies on ironclads, including monitors, see William H. Roberts, “Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) or Donald L. Canney, “The Old Steam Navy, Volume Two: The Ironclads, 1842-1885” (Naval Institute Press, 1993). The operational history of monitors during the war must be extracted from numerous general naval and campaign studies. Hope that helps.

  4. During the “ACME Time Travel Experience: Civil War” this author would prefer to be involved with Federal brown water operations; and in particular, the plum opportunity would be assignment aboard the “aircraft carrier” (actually a towed barge, carrying a balloon, its support personnel and equipment) hauled down the Mississippi River from Cairo to the scene of action at Island No.10 in March/ April 1862. Most desired experience: going aloft in Professor Steiner’s balloon and acting as “artillery spotter” for 13-inch mortars lobbing 216- pound explosive shells towards the Rebel gun emplacements. And I would make sure to pack a camera.

  5. I would have to say brown. Endless sea without visual variety of land and “critters” is less appealing. Also leaves me with options in a dire situation. Swim to shore or float downriver and double back by land depending on circumstances.

  6. Brown water navy. The opportunity to command my own vessel and captain my own crew as a young naval officer was more likely due to the number of brown water ships. Waiting years to gain seniority for command of a blue water steam vessel would be frustrating. Command of a ship, any type of ship is the reason I’d have joined the navy

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