Mr Lincoln's Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron
At the outset of the Civil War, the Lincoln Administration understood the importance of gaining control of the major rivers in the western part of the Confederacy. These rivers, including the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and especially the Mississippi and its tributaries, were not only
important shipping routes for commerce, they were important militarily as transportation routes into the south for Union Army operations in the region. In Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy historian Gary D. Joiner tells the story of the vital role the United States Navy played in securing these inland waters for the Union.
There were significant obstacles to overcome before the western rivers could be secured. First of all, the U.S. Navy had oceangoing ships (the "blue water" navy) but no vessels suitable for operations in the shallower river waters; in other words, a "brown water" navy did not exist. (Joiner does discuss the role of the blue water navy on the lower Mississippi as far north as Vicksburg, Mississippi but the ocean going vessels were unable to operate in the other shallower, narrower rivers). Second, the army claimed jurisdiction over all inland operations, even those operations on waterways.
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles acted quickly in building the brown water navy. River craft of all types were purchased and converted into gunboats and support vessels, and new ships were built. Joiner introduces the reader to James Buchanon Eads and Samuel Pook, who designed and built a fleet of seven shallow draft ironclad ships and had them all commissioned by January 1862. These ships and the others were organized into what was called the Western Gunboat Flotilla. The army insisted that the Flotilla was under its control, but Welles and others lobbied President Lincoln and Congress to transfer control to the navy. Congress was convinced and the Flotilla was transferred to the navy as of October 1, 1862. The...