“Porter is but a Commander. He has, however, stirring and positive qualities, is fertile in resources, has great energy, excessive and sometimes not over-scrupulous ambition, is impressed with and boastful of his own powers, given to exaggeration in relation to himself, - a Porter infirmity, - is not generous to older and superior living officers, whom he is too ready to traduce, but is kind and patronizing to favorites who are juniors, and generally to official inferiors. Is given to cliquism but is brave and daring like all his family... It is a question, with his mixture of good and bad traits, how he will succeed.” (Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy)
Americans have long been fascinated by the Civil War, marveling at the size of the battles, the leadership of the generals, and the courage of the soldiers. Since the war's start over 150 years ago, the battles have been subjected to endless debate among historians and the generals themselves. The Civil War was the deadliest conflict in American history, and had the two sides realized it would take 4 years and inflict over a million casualties, it might not have been fought. Since it did, however, historians and history buffs alike have been studying and analyzing the biggest battles ever since.
After the first year of the Civil War, the Confederacy was faced with a serious problem. While the South had enjoyed some stunning victories on land, they had been all but cut off from the world at sea. The more industrialized North had realized that in case of an extended war, the best way to defeat the Confederacy was to starve it of supplies. The rebels started the war with no real navy to speak of, and so the federal government quickly set up a blockade of all Southern ports and river mouths. By depriving the South of revenues derived from its main export, cotton, the North seriously injured the Southern economy.
Without European intervention and the ability to build a navy that could rival the Union’s, the Confederacy was mostly reduced to token resistance and using fast moving ships that could evade the blockade and import and export goods. Again, that was only partially successful, and today, the blockade runners are better known for their extracurricular activities; most notably, some of the crews also acted as privateers on the high seas, attacking US shipping and taking any loot for themselves. The daring exploits of these commerce raiders caught the imagination of Southern soldiers and civilians and buoyed up morale, even as the war news turned increasingly grim.
Meanwhile, the North managed to have spectacular success jointly coordinating operations between the Army and Navy, thanks in large measure to the leadership of officers like David Farragut and David Dixon Porter. While generals like Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman received the lion’s share of the credit for Union victories, especially in the Western Theater, naval forces were instrumental in the capture of New Orleans and Vicksburg, as well as at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry.
Porter was recognized throughout the Civil War for his service, even as he was subjected to the kind of politicking that marked the war effort in Washington, and he became just the second man in the history of the US Navy to attain the rank of Admiral. He would also have a distinguished career after the war as he helped reform the Navy.
David Dixon Porter: The Life and Legacy of the Distinguished Union Rear Admiral during the Civil War chronicles Porter’s upbringing and how it prepared him for his important service in the Civil War. You will learn about Porter like never before.