Though there is no shortage of military histories of the Civil War, the vast majority of them focus primarily or exclusively on the campaigns on the land. This has the effect of unjustly minimizing the naval side of the war, which was decisive to its outcome. Faced with the North's industrial predominance the South hoped to offset it by importing goods from the factories of Britain and France, which made the naval blockade of the Confederacy an essential part of the Union's strategy. In this book, Robert Browning provides an operational history of the Union Navy's blockade of the Gulf Coast region. It's the concluding volume of a trilogy that originated with his doctoral dissertation over two decades ago, and in many respects he saved the best for last.
Blockading the Gulf Coast posed a number of challenges for the Navy, foremost among them being the disproportionate ratio between the vast amount of coastline and the limited number of ships available. Complicating matters even further was the location of Mexico to the south, the commerce of which could not easily be interdicted without creating diplomatic problems. To this was added the logistical difficulties of maintaining vessels on station far from sources of repair and replenishment, as the Southern states occupied or destroyed nearly all of the U.S. Navy's yards in the region at the start of the conflict.
In the face of these difficulties, the Union Navy rose to the occasion. Browning recounts the various efforts the navy took over the course of the conflict to maintain and support their efforts, from regular supply runs to recapturing and rebuilding lost bases. While their efforts to interdict blockade runners were often frustrated by the superior speed and higher draft of the rebel vessels, over time the efforts of the various squadrons began to tell. Aiding their effort was the gradual isolation and capture of the major Confederate ports in the region, starting with New Orleans in 1862 and culminating with the conquest of Mobile at the end of the war. These did not stop completely the efforts of the blockade runners, but they helped minimize the ability of the Confederacy to draw upon outside resources in their increasingly desperate cause.
To describe these efforts, Browning spent years reviewing the various records and accounts of the blockading squadrons, as well as the more fragmentary collections of the Southern forces. From them he has assembled a long overdue study of this often neglected aspect of the war, one that is even more valuable for his account of the squadron's operations on the lower Mississippi River. Though his prose would have benefited form a little polishing, this book combines with its companion volumes to provide a history of the Union blockade which will be the standard by which all future books on the subject will be judged. No student of the Civil War seeking a balanced understanding of the conflict can afford to bypass these important works.