- West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay
The Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864, was certainly the most important naval engagement of the American Civil War. Other battles, like Hampton Roads between the Monitor and the Virginia, had been more spectacular; yet, the size of the naval forces engaged on both sides, the momentous consequences (the sealing up of the only major port still in Confederate hands on the Gulf of Mexico after the loss of New Orleans and Pensacola), and, last but not least, the direct confrontation between the first Admiral of the U.S. Navy and the only one of the Confederacy, all explains the outstanding importance of that battle.
Still, up to now, no full-scale book had ever been dedicated to the Battle of Mobile Bay. Now, Jack Friend has fulfilled the task of producing such a complete narrative, with a book that, if also addressed to general readers, will certainly be welcomed by scholars in the field as well.
The author states clearly the strategic (and logistical!) importance of the Mobile seaport. This importance did not escape the attention of the Union strategists (first of all, President Lincoln); therefore they started thinking about the capture of Mobile even before the fall of New Orleans. Jack Friend analyzes carefully the evolution of the Federal strategy, both from land and sea, against Mobile, and explains why several compelling reasons forced an almost continuous deferral of the operation.
The preparation of the attack (and the whole campaign) is also well covered—more, indeed, from the Union side: Confederate problems, like the excruciating difficulties of shipbuilding, the never-ending question of finding in time the necessary iron plates, the scarcity of coal and the difficulties of getting it, are only hinted at (and the last one all but overlooked). Yet, since the initiative of giving battle at Mobile Bay was from the Union side, the author might be right in not entering into such details.
The book discusses in broad terms (and with precision) the unfortunate decision by the Union authorities to withdraw the bulk of the military forces which should have cooperated with Admiral Farragut from the land side, by sending them to the ill-fated Red River Campaign, which almost ended in a military disaster for the Union and deprived the Admiral of the possibility of causing the fall of the city of Mobile together with the sealing of the bay.
The narration of the battle proper starts from page 161. This shows how complicated the preparatory phase had been, well analyzed by the author. The exposition of the battle is clear and concise; the only fault, according to this reviewer, is that, in narrating the sinking of the monitor Tecumseh, the book follows the old version, which attributes the responsibility for it to the rashness of Captain Craven, who had his ship cut across the torpedo field, to disaster.
Certainly, Captain Craven will never come back to give us his version; yet, in 1967, a maritime archaeological expedition, sponsored by the Smithsonian [End Page 240] Institution and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reached the remains of the Tecumseh. The divers discovered, under what had been the waterline of the ironclad, two big holes, caused certainly by perforating shots from the big Brook guns of the Confederate Water Battery. Therefore, a valid hypothesis is that the monitor did not run into the torpedoes because of the imprudence of poor Captain Craven, but because she lost her steering as a result of the two mortal shots she received. By the way, the entire question is discussed by this reviewer in his History of the Confederate Navy (pp. 324-25, and endnotes 66-67). But the author does not even note the existence of this book (which, incidentally, is listed by the publisher on the dust-jacket of West Wind, Flood Tide).
Yet, this is a minor fault. In the main, the book is good and useful...