Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: The Civil War Navy in Florida

Mattson, Robert A. The Civil War Navy in Florida. Self published, Palatka, FL. 2014. 194 pages, 161 pages of text. 2 appendices, bibliography, index. B/w photos. ISBN 9780692258743, $18.99.

The Civil War in Florida is an area that is starting to receive more and more interest. In the past few years there have been several major academic works to be published including those by Zach Waters and also by Jonathan Sheppard. I have made my own small contribution to the literature on the state during the war. Historians often find source material thin and many times interest low. "Oh, nothing happened there" is often heard.

An area that has been often ignored is the role of the Navy, both Union and Confederate, during the War. George Buker has written a very good book but it deals strictly with the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Living historian and blogger Rob Mattson has written a book that helps fill in some of the gaps.

The book starts out with a chapter outlining Civil War navies including a look at the major players, a listing of ranks and a discussion about integration in the US Navy; 16% of enlisted sailors were black according to Mattson. The second chapter gives a general overview of the Navies at the start of the war and their role in Florida. The Confederates really had none while the Union was taking over major ports and yards while attempting to impose a blockade.

The next four chapters discuss various geographic points in Florida and the actions that took place there: the Panhandle, Northeast, South and Tampa Bay. These chapters generally run chronologically. The final chapter covers 1865 and Mattson's concluding thoughts.

The book concludes with an appendix covering the major ships including type, dimensions and known armaments. This information is compiled from the ORN. A second appendix covers historical sites associated with the Navies that can be visited. The bibliography is broken down by books, articles and web resources.

As with many self published (and for that matter traditionally published) books there are some editing issues. On page 11 James McPherson is referred to as Bruce McPherson. Later on the Union ship Ethan Allen is spelled both Ethan and Ethen. These are really minor quibbles in an otherwise fine book.

While certainly not the final word on naval actions in the state of Florida this is a very good start and one that anybody studying the subject, or Florida in the War, should considering owning.

By way of full disclosure: Mr. Mattson has provided a review copy of this book and will also be speaking at the museum where I am employed.

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