Saturday, December 29, 2012

War on the Waters – How the Navy Saved the Nation

by Bill Doughty

When the USS Monitor was lost in a storm Dec. 31, 1862, exactly 150 years ago, the future of the nation hung in the balance.

In his insightful new book, “War on the Waters,” James M. McPherson shows how Union naval leaders, technology and strategies combined to overcome setbacks and losses to the Confederacy – and eventually win the war.

Civil War SECNAV Gideon Welles
“To say that the Union navy won the Civil War would state the case much too strongly.  But it is accurate to say that the war could not have been won without the contributions of the navy,” concludes McPherson.

The Pulitzer Prize winning author writes about the wisdom of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, the courage of Rear Adm. David Glasgow Farragut and the power of working jointly.  General Ulysses S. Grant worked hand-in-hand with Rear Adm. David D. Porter, the son and namesake of the War of 1812 hero.

Rear Adm. David D. Porter
We also meet Cmdr. John Rodgers (another son and namesake of a War of 1812 Captain) and Cmdr. George H. Preble (grandson of one of the Navy’s greatest leaders, Capt. Edward Preble).  The ties to the War of 1812 – in people, foreign alliances and brown-water naval tactics – are enlightening.

President Lincoln ordered the Army to provide its fleet of vessels to the Navy but promoted the idea of one-two punches by the Navy and Army from river ports to river forts. McPherson describes the fearless leadership of 19-year-old ship driver Colonel Charles Rivers Ellet.

Quoting letters, diary entries, first-person reports and dispatches, the author presents a broad history of naval warfare on both sides of the Civil War.  He describes “asymmetrical war on the waters” in blockades and blockade running, riverbank guerrilla warfare, subterfuge at sea, and night attacks, and he follows the development of ironclad ships, submersible vessels and mines (torpedoes).

Civil War gunship USS Commodore Perry.
The Civil War saw the watershed shift from wooden ships of previous centuries that would lead to the development of battleships by the end of the century.  Innovation would continue.  Less than 50 years after end of the Civil War the era of naval aviation would begin.

Well-worn strategies of blockading commerce and targeting blockade runners would be expanded into the next century.  A naval embargo against Imperial Japan in 1941 led to the beginning of the War in the Pacific.

Against the Confederacy in the 1860s, blockades were important in preventing the exporting of cotton and importing of salt.  The role of salt in the southern economy and the targeting of salt production in the south by the Union Navy are fascinating side notes showing the importance of a healthy economy to a strong military.

McPherson describes the overall sociological effect of naval strategies on people in the north and south, too.

“Modern historical scholarship has shown how the Union army became a powerful force in the liberation of slaves, and how the 180,000 liberated black Union soldiers (most of them liberated slaves) in turn helped the Union army win the war.  Less well known is the role of the Navy in freeing slaves and the vital contribution of black sailors to the navy’s campaigns.  In 1861-1862 the Navy penetrated earlier and more deeply than the army into tidewater regions of the South Atlantic coast and into the valleys of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries...”

“War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865” starts as a dry treatise but picks up steam.  With nearly two dozen photos and illustrations and 19 easy-to-read maps, this book is filled with information, details and insights.  It deserves a place on every military historian’s book shelf.

McPherson proves his conclusion: The Navy played a key role in winning the Civil War and saving the United States – a mere 150 years ago.

Photos courtesy of National Archives and Naval History and Heritage Command.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Senator Inouye - Passing of an American Hero

by Bill Doughty

When Senator Daniel K. Inouye was a young man going to war in 1943 to fight in Europe his father told him, “...if you must die, die with honor.”  After a lifetime of honorable service, Medal of Honor recipient Inouye passed away Dec. 17, 2012.

A statement from his office conveyed the loss.  President Obama issued a statement, calling Inouye “a true American hero” who  “worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve.”

A Navy Reads post, “Honor by Fire,” describes the commitment and sacrifice of Inouye and his compatriots and the saga of Americans of Japanese Ancestry in World War II in a review of "Honor by Fire" by Lyn Crost.

Ten days prior to his death Sen. Inouye, an eyewitness of the attack on Pearl Harbor, reflected on the “magnitude and cost of the war.”

Statement by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Dec. 7, 2012:
“In 1941, the date December 7th was a day that evoked anger, fierce patriotism and dangerous racism. Soon after that day, I suddenly found myself, pursuant to a decision by the government and along with thousands of Japanese Americans declared 4C, enemy aliens. It was a difficult time. I was 17.”
“I joined many of my classmates and sent petitions to the government, pleading for the opportunity to fight. We wanted to affirm our loyalty and pride of citizenship. The request was granted in the final days of 1942.”
“The government decided to form a combat team made up of young Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA), the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In Hawaii, they asked for 1,500 volunteers. About 10,000 signed up, more than 85 percent of the eligible Japanese American males in Hawaii.”
“The day I rushed down to the draft board to volunteer, I was a freshmen in college. I was a pre-medicine major. There were 36 AJA’s in my class, 34 volunteered, and all were wounded or killed. As a result, after the war, there were very few AJA doctors in Hawaii.”
Inouye, front left, and AJA buddies.
“During one of our first fights, my best friend, Jin Hatsu Chinen, was killed in an artillery barrage. We were to open a clinic in Honolulu together after the war. He was teaching me to play the guitar. His death, reminded me, reminded all of us, of the magnitude and cost of the war we were fighting.”
“The 442nd went on to become the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the United States Army, but we suffered horrific losses and those of us lucky to survive the fight swore we would live life for our brothers who did not come home. I shall always be grateful to President Roosevelt for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate our love of country.”
“On this day, let us remember all those who have had the courage to put on the uniform and sacrifice for our great nation. Our way of life has always, and will always be, protected and preserved by volunteers willing to give their lives for what we believe in. I thank each of you for your service to the nation, I thank you for your many sacrifices, and I thank you for being an American patriot.”