Civil War Naval History Presentations

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Presentations for your audience (45-50 minutes with PowerPoint images.)

“They really enjoyed your presentation, were blown away by your expert use of graphics, and learned a lot about the CSS Shenandoah and the men who sailed in her.” (Richmond Civil War Roundtable)

Rebel Odyssey: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah

The CSS Shenandoah carried the Civil War to the ends of the earth through every extreme of sea and storm pursuing a perilous mission in which they succeeded spectacularly after it no longer mattered. Shenandoah‘s commerce-raiding cruise was a watery form of asymmetric warfare in the spirit of John Mosby, Bedford Forrest, and W. T. Sherman. Shenandoah created a sensation in Melbourne, Australia, enjoyed a tropical Pacific island holiday as guns fell silent at Appomattox, and invaded the north, the deep cold of the Bering Sea. She fired the last gun of the conflict and set Arctic waters aglow with flaming Yankee whalers. Months later, she limped into Liverpool. Captain Waddell lowered the last Confederate banner without defeat or surrender. The observations of these Rebels looking back from the most remote and alien surroundings imaginable, along with the viewpoints of those they encountered, provide unique perspectives of the Civil War. Based on the book A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Naval Institute Press, 2015).


The Naval Civil War in Theaters Near and Far

Civil War military history occurs in the context of “theaters” including the Eastern, the Western, and the Trans-Mississippi with sub-theaters within each. This framework organizes operations in terms of discrete location, environment, interacting events, influences, and consequences. The naval side of the war consisted of distinct theaters also and these warrant independent definition and consideration. They can be defined as The Offshore Blockade, Peripheral Coasts and Harbors, Heartland Rivers, and the Wide Oceans. The Civil War was principally a land conflict but it was not only that; naval operations were more than just peripheral or supporting. Navy theaters of operations complete the picture, providing fascinating and enlightening perspectives on the conflict. This presentation explores similarities and differences between land and naval theaters in organizations, strategies, tactics, technologies, leadership, and personnel. See Emerging Civil War blog post.


Unvexed Waters: Mississippi River Squadron

History offers few examples other than the Civil War and Vietnam of extensive operations on inland shallow waters involving specialized classes of war vessels commanded and manned by naval personnel conducting joint operations with land forces. The struggle for the Mississippi River was one of the longest, most challenging and diverse campaign of the Civil War. Strategically, this was an extension of the maritime blockade, an outgrowth of the Anaconda Plan. However, in technology, tactics, and command structure, riverine warfare was a fundamentally new concept empowered by the industrial revolution in steam propulsion, armor, and armaments. This presentation reviews the unprecedented conflict along the watery spine of America. (Presented at the North American Society for Oceanic History Annual Conference, May 2018.) See Emerging Civil War blog post.


From Shenandoah to Seeadler: The Legacy of Civil War Commerce Raiders in WWI
Rebel raiders Alabama, Florida,Shenandoah, and their sisters wreaked havoc on powerful Union shipping and whaling industries. Confederates applied new industrial technologies to advance ancient concepts of commerce warfare and to develop innovative cruiser warships while the U.S. Navy struggled to combat them. These controversial weapons disrupted economies, exacerbated international tensions, diverted critical resources, and threatened the Union war effort. Early in World War I, German naval planners consciously applied Confederate precedents but with less success. This presentation explores the legacy of Civil War commerce raiders leading up to submarine warfare and beyond. (U. S. Naval Academy McMullen Naval History Symposium, Annapolis, MD, September 2015.)


Rebels Down Under: A Surprise Confederate Visitor Makes Mayhem in Melbourne
January 1865: Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah invades the bustling port of Melbourne—the most remote and most British imperial outpost with intriguing parallels to dynamic U.S. frontier cities. The citizenry (including a sizeable American expatriate community) split into contentious political camps over crucial issues of international law, trade, neutrality, and independence. Reflecting deep worries concerning the distant war, Australians mirrored the prejudices and misperceptions of their British cousins. Shenandoah officers were feted as heroes by one faction but were denounced as pirates and nearly lost their ship to the other. This is the outsiders’ view of the conflict, dramatically illustrating international issues that were potentially decisive for the Civil War. (U. S. Naval Academy McMullen Naval History Symposium, Annapolis, MD, September 2011.) 


Rebels and Aliens: Confederates on the Far Side of the World
Towering verdant peaks sprouted from aquamarine seas as the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah approached the Island of Pohnpei on April fool’s day, 1865. While the country they served lay dying, this microcosm of the Confederacy carried the conflict to the remotest Pacific. There they encountered a courageous, resourceful warrior culture that seemed totally alien. But was it? Neither party saw into the heart of the other’s society but looking back, we find similarities as striking as differences, highlighting fundamental issues of the Civil War. While lonely Rebels slept under tropic stars, guns fell silent at Appomattox. This presentation reviews these strange events, concentrating on commonalities and contradictions of diverse peoples separated by vast reaches of ocean but inextricably linked by human nature, maritime technology, trade, and war. (U. S. Naval Academy McMullen Naval History Symposium, Annapolis, MD, September 2013.) See Emerging Civil War blog posts here and here.

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