Civil War Naval History Presentations

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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 Confederate commerce raider 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. This thirteen-month cruise (October 1864-November 1865) was a watery form of asymmetric warfare in the spirit of John Mosby, Bedford Forrest, and W. T. Sherman. These Rebel Americans created a sensation in Melbourne, Australia. They enjoyed a tropical Pacific island holiday as guns fell silent at Appomattox, and finally, six weeks after the surrender, they invaded the north, the deep cold of the Bering Sea. Shenandoah fired the last gun of the conflict and set Arctic waters aglow with flaming Yankee whalers. Months later, she limped into Liverpool where Captain Waddell lowered the last Confederate banner without defeat or surrender. The observations of these Confederates 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).


Unvexed Waters: Mississippi River Squadron
History offers few examples other than the Civil War and Vietnam War 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.


The following presentations are under development

War in the Arctic: Twilight of New Bedford’s Golden Age of Whaling

(To be presented at the North American Society for Ocean History Annual Conference New Bedford, Massachusetts, 15-18 May 2019)
Sixty seagoing colonies of New Bedford, Massachusetts, “The Whaling City,” cruised the Bering Sea near the Arctic Circle in June 1865. A third of them would never return; all would be imperiled. For a century, intrepid New England whalemen had conquered every menace of sea and storm as they pursued the leviathan to the ends of the earth, bringing immense wealth and renown to their hometown. Then the Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah materialized in their midst. Shenandoah was a clipper ship with a steam engine converted to a warship with a few guns. Sailing whaleships had no chance. Cannon echoed across frigid waters; boats scuttled; whale carcasses floated loose; sails flapped (when there was wind) in frantic attempts at escape through ice and fog or into neutral Russian waters. Giant pillars of black smoke smudged crystal air and towers of flame glowed through fog or illuminated midnight dusk. Four of the oldest captures were dispatched to San Francisco crammed with eight hundred prisoners of war. Those still afloat scattered like pigeons, not to return for weeks while many abandoned their cruise. The Civil War severely wounded New Bedford’s economy, more than most Northern communities. Insurance rates soared. Whalers were lost, repurposed, or sold shrinking the fleet by nearly half. Entrepreneurs turned to the burgeoning industries of the machine age; potential sailors turned west to the opening frontier. This dramatic episode highlights the decline of the New Bedford global whaling industry and its effects on a historic town and people.


Burnside’s Sand March: The Forgotten North Carolina Expedition
(To be presented at the Emerging Civil War Annual Symposium, Spotsylvania, VA, Aug 2-4, 2019)
Poor General Ambrose Burnside. He gets no respect. Bumbling his way across Burnside Bridge at Antietam, through the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg and the Mud March. But before all that, Burnside’s innovative planning and effective leadership brought significant victory, catching the attention of the commander-in-chief. We tend to think not much happened in the East between First Bull Run and the Peninsula Campaign. However, a series of engagements from February to June 1862 in the sounds and along the barrier islands of North Carolina produced long-term consequences. It was the first and ultimately one of the few operations effectively integrating the respective strengths of army and navy forces. With aggressive follow up, it might have shortened the Civil War. Much can be learned from a look at the “Burnside Expedition.”

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.

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