Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War
Eric Mills. Centerville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1995. 315 pp. Notes, Illus. Photos. Maps. $29.95 ($26.95).
Reviewed by Captain Kendall J. King, U.S. Navy (Retired)
In a book that is both interesting and provocative, author Eric Mills graphically portrays the excitement and importance of the Chesapeake Bay during the Civil War. Writing in a quick-hitting, concise style that is characteristic of his journalistic background, he immerses the reader into the numerous events, familiar sites, and key characters that dotted the bay area. The result is a book that provides solid summaries of the more familiar Civil War incidents and detailed accounts of lesser-known happenings as Union and Confederate forces operated in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
The centerpiece of the book is Baltimore—which was a hotbed of secessionists, smugglers, Union sympathizers, and freemen throughout the war. After the first Union soldiers were killed passing through the city streets, major efforts were exerted to keep Baltimore and Maryland in the Union.
Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War portrays the lesser-known accounts of Union and Confederate forces that operated in the bay area, such as these troops in Yorktown, Virginia.
In the 1861 elections, nine nonresident U.S. Navy sailors went ashore to vote for Union candidates. As a result, the secessionist Anne Arundel County senatorial candidate lost by six votes, and the secessionist running for the House of Representatives lost by four votes.
Mills’s narration of well-known events such as the Virginia-Moni- tor battle, Major General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and the destruction of the Navy Yard at Gosport is vivid and succinct. For instance, Frank Buchanan, a 47-year U.S. Navy veteran and Marylander, mistakenly resigned his commission when he thought the state would secede. Unable to withdraw his resignation, he joined the Confederacy (and later went on to command the Virginia). Another Virginia commanding officer offered a positive slant when he blew up his ship, “The Virginia no longer exists, but 300 brave and skillful officers and seamen are saved to the Confederacy.”
Among the most provocative visualizations is a scene in Annapolis when the Naval Academy class of 1861 bids farewell, and the Southerners march out the front gate for their long walk home. Another thought-provoking setting is the small-scale amphibious landing at Norfolk’s Ocean View. The author reflects on the previous night when President Abraham Lincoln went ashore to reconnoiter the beach before the troops actually landed.
Mills’s narration is best when he describes some of the colorful characters whose careers he associates with the Chesapeake Bay. Among these are Baltimore native Captain George N. Hollins, a 46-year Navy veteran, who returned to the United States to receive a “dismissal from the service of the Old Government— that by a fellow who was splitting rails in the West while I had been serving my country.” As Captain Hollins headed south, he concocted a plan to seize the steamer St. Nicholas and use it to capture a Union gunboat. Teaming with Richard Thomas Zarvona, who would travel on the ship with 60 men from Baltimore, Captain Hollins boarded the ship at Point Lookout to find the men, but no Zarvona. Madame La Force, a vivacious French lady embarked on the voyage, turned out to be Zarvona, complete with three hat chests filled with rifles.
At the start of the war, Naval Academy instructor Lieutenant John Taylor Wood also left his accomplishments on the bay. After joining his uncle, Jefferson Davis, Lieutenant Wood developed his own plan for capturing Union gunboats. Following orders to go after gunboats at the mouth of the river, his men moved four wheel-mounted raiding boats overland from Richmond to the Rappahannock. With a storm rising, they pushed their boats into the river toward two gunboats lying at anchor, the Satellite and the Reliance. With each Confederate boat heading for a side, the boarders surprised the two ships— rushing aboard to fight hand to hand. The capture was swift, and Lieutenant Wood’s two gunboats prowled the Chesapeake before eventually being penned up river by a Union flotilla.
Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War is a refreshing experience, whether readers seek enjoyment or to learn more about this critical body of water in the Civil War.
Silent Running: My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine
Vice Admiral James F. Calvert, USN (Ret.)- New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995. 282 pp. Illus. $27.95 ($25.16).
Reviewed by Fred M. Tannenbaum
Long before the U.S. Navy’s carrier task forces had free range across the broad Pacific during World War II, the Navy relied on its superb fleet submarines to take the fight to Japan’s doorstep. Though nearly 250 of these impressive submarines contributed to the final victory, the names of about two dozen immediately come to mind when discussing the heroic efforts of the undersea fleet. They are so remembered for daring exploits in battle or long, consistently brave service. One submarine remembered for both was the Jack (SS-259), which rightfully earned the title “Tanker Killer" by sinking four tankers in the South China Sea during one 24-hour battle.
The author is eminently qualified to discuss the Jack, having served on board for the first seven of her nine war patrols, eventually rising to executive officer. The reader gets a first-hand account of the Jack’s evolution—from untested shipyard product to a fighting machine with a personality all its own. The author uses visual imagery and explanation to enlighten readers unfamiliar with submarine operations, while keeping from insulting the intelligence of those who have studied the topic. Vice Admiral Calvert transports readers back in time and space—they smell the diesel oil, bilge water, body odor, feel the impact and euphoria of torpedoes reaching their targets, and hear the pinging of a destroyer’s sonar and the swishing of her propellers as she bores in for the attack. The work also has a considerable human element, with the author sharing thoughts and feelings as incidents unfold. His feelings toward the ship, his home, and his weapons, clearly come through.
Visual imagery in Silent Running is excellent from page one, where the author hauls us on board: “The sleek black bow of the ship stretched out ahead of me, and I watched it knife gracefully through the icy waters of Long Island Sound.” He does a superb job of taking unfamiliar readers through the trials and tribulations of helping prepare the Jack—and himself— for war. Photographic accounts paint a vivid picture of the Jack’s skipper, Thomas Dykers, of whom the author reflects: “Some men are born with what the Navy calls ‘command presence’ and what people in civilian life call ‘star quality.’ Dykers had it in spades. He looked, acted, and talked like a man accustomed to, and confident with, the authority and responsibility of command” (p.33).
Another enemy the Jack had to fight in addition to the Japanese was her own propulsion system—her troublesome Hooven, Owens, Rentschler diesel engines. We receive a firsthand account of the gut-wrenching struggle of trying to take the fight to a determined foe without knowing if the main propulsion would hold together well enough to bring the Jack and her crew safely home.
Silent Running is a human story as much as it is a submarine story. Whether from a journal or from memory, the author shares feelings and introspection not often seen to this degree in a submarine work. Through it, we learn that the author, his fellow officers, and enlisted men are people, not automatons. During one war patrol account, he shares the feelings of seeing the victims of Jack's first sinking in the water. “I felt a quick flash of pity and anguish for these men” (p. 69), but later reconciles the feelings with memories of viewing the carnage at Pearl Harbor. The author liberally shares with the reader his initial self-doubt—but subsequent confidence—in his ability to become a submarine officer. He also freely admits to a non- carnal extramarital affair during shore leaves in Fremantle, Australia, and describes the resulting emotional roller coaster he rode.
At 282 pages, Silent Running is not a lengthy work. Regardless, the book is fast- paced, largely because the author uses the transit time to and from patrols to discuss and educate the reader about a variety of related topics. The most prominent include: the development of the fleet submarine (pp. 46-54), resolution of torpedo difficulties (pp. 95-97), function of a submarine tender (p. 40), and the relationship with and loss of her sister ship Harder (SS-257) (pp. 184-87, 204-6). However, the reader’s appetite for how the submariners passed the time in between attacks does not go unnourished.
The wonderfully illustrated maps of Jack’s patrol areas drawn by William Mc- Cants also show approximate locations of sinkings. In an attempt to show the depth of the water in each of the areas where sinkings occurred, however, the maps become a bit “busy” and somewhat hard to read given the size of each page. Additionally, a photograph of five members from the three “Cat” wolf packs that raided the Sea of Japan in June 1945 misidentifies the Jack as being among the submarines pictured. The photo section would have been enhanced by more pictures showing the Jack.
This work not only is attractive to submarine veterans and buffs, but would be particularly interesting to anyone learning about U.S. Navy submarine operations during World War II, such as high school or college students. Only through these younger enthusiasts will the great feats of submarines such as the Jack live on.
Books of Interest
By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, US. Navy (Retired)
Vulture’s Row: Thirty Years in Naval Aviation
Paul T. Gillcrist, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, (Ret.). Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1996. 256 pp. Photos, $29.95 ($26.95).
Admiral Gillcrist spent more than 30 years in naval aviation, and now, in anecdotal format he recalls some of the more interesting moments in that long career. His recollections include the years in which jet aircraft made their debut on carriers and extend to the Vietnam era. The stories he shares are illuminating, humorous, hair-raising, and fascinating to anyone who has even a passing interest in naval aviation.
Dauntless Marine: Joseph Sailer Jr., Dive-Bombing Ace of Guadalcanal
Alexander S. White. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1996. 173 pp. Append. Bib. Illus. Ind. Notes. Photos. $24.95 ($23.70).
Sailer decided to be a pilot at an early age. His prewar experiences are a story in themselves, and his combat flying in World War II is a capstone to his unusual and interesting life. Drawing on Sailer’s personal papers, interviews with his squadron mates, and research in military archives, White has created a fascinating biography of a man whose short life is inspiring and played a significant role in the war in the Pacific.
A History of the Confederate Navy
Raimondo Luraghi. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996. 535 pp. Bib. Gloss. Illus. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $39.95 ($31.95).
Rejecting the widely held belief that much of the history of the Confederate Navy was lost forever by the burning of the archives in Richmond, world- renowned author and scholar Raimondo Luraghi searched the archives in four nations and discovered much to shatter conventional beliefs about this shortlived navy. Luraghi focuses on the South’s ironclads, commerce raiders, torpedoes, and mines in creating this important new work. Naval Academy history professor Craig Symonds, describes this work as “indespensable to all future consideration of the Confederate experience.”