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Publisher's Summary

Although previously undervalued for their strategic impact because they represented only a small percentage of total forces, the Union and Confederate navies were crucial to the outcome of the Civil War. In War on the Waters, James M. McPherson has crafted an enlightening, at times harrowing, and ultimately thrilling account of the war’s naval campaigns and their military leaders.

McPherson recounts how the Union navy’s blockade of the Confederate coast, leaky as a sieve in the war’s early months, became increasingly effective as it choked off vital imports and exports. Meanwhile, the Confederate navy, dwarfed by its giant adversary, demonstrated daring and military innovation. Commerce raiders sank Union ships and drove the American merchant marine from the high seas. Southern ironclads sent several Union warships to the bottom, naval mines sank many more, and the Confederates deployed the world’s first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. But in the end, it was the Union navy that won some of the war’s most important strategic victories - as an essential partner to the army on the ground at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Mobile Bay, and Fort Fisher, and all by itself at Port Royal, Fort Henry, New Orleans, and Memphis.

James M. McPherson taught US history at Princeton University for 42 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the Civil War era. His books have won a Pulitzer Prize and two Lincoln Prizes.

©2012 the University of North Carolina Press (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"McPherson, professor emeritus of Princeton and dean of Civil War historians, enhances our knowledge with this history of the conflict’s naval aspects. As definitive as it is economical, the work establishes beyond question the decisive contributions of maritime power to Union victory." (Publishers Weekly)
"With martial verve, McPherson’s prose dramatizes their battles and places those within strategic contexts, such as the US Navy’s campaigns to control the Mississippi River. As always, McPherson’s latest is a sound collection-development investment." (Booklist)
"With all the narrative grace, original scholarship, and equal grasp of both big picture and telling detail, Civil War historian nonpareil James McPherson has provided his admirers with another authoritative entry in his roster of essential books. McPherson never argues that the Union navy won the Civil War, but readers will argue that no Civil War library will ever be complete without this volume." (Harold Holzer, award-winning author and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • alex
  • deltona, FL, United States
  • 09-30-16

excellent starting off point

excellent starting off point for those with an interest in Civil War naval ops. Well written and briskly narrated, I highly recommend this for the casual civil war buff.

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Good study on naval civil war influence

This a great, somewhat concise study in the navy's influence on tw civil war, the maritime technology that came out of the conflict, and the responsiveness of each side to the complications of a country fighting itself: mainly becoming a naval war largely on the rivers instead of the seas. I intend on reading(listening) to another of McPherson's books.

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Mainly Union. Good Info. Enjoyable Reader.

Would you consider the audio edition of War on the Waters to be better than the print version?

I didnt read the print version

What did you like best about this story?

I enjoyed learning about how Lincoln and his admirals interacted. And how the evolution of the ships of war changed the landscape

Have you listened to any of Joe Barrett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is my first

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

How technology & good Leadership won a war

Any additional comments?

I wouldnt get this book if the idea of a history book might seem boring to you. I knew nothing about the naval histories of the Civil War's belligerents outside of the Monitor and the Merrimac. So, most of the book was a learning experience for me. And, since history is one of my favorite subjects, it was an enjoyable experience.

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  • J
  • 10-09-15

An Entertaining & Informative Look

An engaging and extremely interesting look at the American Civil War on the water I found this extremely illuminating as it was a subject I had heard very little about. Indeed before listening to this audiobook my, like I’m sure many peoples, knowledge of civil war naval warfare was the well documented fight between the Confederate and Yankee Ironclads in Hampton Roads.

This book was let down slightly by the focus being mostly aimed at the Yankee side of the story however as the author acknowledge this had occurred more due to the lack of documentation and evidence remaining from the confederate navy rather than any bias on the authors part. Despite this it was an entertaining and informative look at the naval war during the American Civil War and certainly raised my interest levels enough to seek additional information.