War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861–1865
James M. McPherson. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. 288 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Bibliog. Index. $35.
Reviewed by Noah Andre Trudeau
A book covering the sprawl and layering of naval events of the American Civil War in 227 pages of text qualifies as a compact history, though its publisher doesn’t advertise it as such. There are challenges aplenty in writing such a succinct work: what to include and leave out, who to emphasize and who to diminish, and, most important (for me, at least), how to balance the large sweep of events against individual stories that humanize the saga. This book adds one more dimension. Its author is not an acknowledged naval expert; rather, he is the most distinguished living U.S. historian of this war. Having read my share of Civil War studies by respected military writers whose expertise clearly lay elsewhere, I didn’t know what to expect.