William H. Roberts - Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy: The Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 242-243

Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy: The Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke. Edited by George M. Brooke, Jr. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 1-57003-418-4. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Pp. xv, 257. $39.95.

This publication of portions of the privately held Brooke papers is a boon to students of Civil War naval history, providing scholarly access to much valuable material that has not been readily available. It mixes entries from John M. Brooke's diary and letters that he sent or received with occasional illustrative excerpts from other sources such as the papers of Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory and Admiral Franklin Buchanan, and the collections of the National Archives.

The bulk of the work is from Brooke's journal and papers, with an introduction that traces his pre-Civil War career and a brief summary of his life after the war. The material is rich in technical detail that gives a glimpse of the difficulties the Confederacy faced in simultaneously mobilizing its nascent industrial base, adopting new technology, and fighting a war. Besides providing details of the Confederate Navy's ordnance program, Brooke's papers illuminate the organization itself. The widespread frustration of Confederate junior officers with "old fogeyism" (p. 96), a Navy bureaucracy "about as poorly officered as possible" (p. 92), and a hopeless promotion system (pp. 98, 111, 113) is evident. Brooke's continuing correspondence with [End Page 242] his friend Catesby ap R. Jones reveals much about the trials Jones endured in establishing the Naval Gun Foundry in Selma, Alabama.

Notwithstanding its title, however, this work appears to be not "the journal and letters" but "selections from the journal and letters." It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a particular entry or letter has been given in full, and the mode switches from transcription to editorial comment without warning. The overall value is diminished by the lack of explanation of the principles by which items were chosen or elided. After its beginning summary of Brooke's pre-Civil War career, the book is practically void of editorial analysis, and even the controversy between Brooke and John L. Porter over the credit for the USS Merrimack-CSS Virginia conversion is relegated to a footnote.

The proofreading is erratic enough to be annoying, with Roman and Arabic numerals mixed (1X or X1 for IX or XI inch guns) and "if" substituted for "is," "or" for "of," and "1963" for "1863." The promised editorial correction of proper names is inconsistently applied, and some names change between text and footnotes.

All in all, though, the value of the material here is well worth any annoyance. Serious students of the Confederate Navy will want this book.


William H. Roberts
Columbus, Ohio

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