While the outcome of the war was ultimately decided on land, all too often its naval aspects are reduced to several ship duels. Our gatefold, “Naval Power’s Broad Reach,” depicts the expansive and innovative roles played by the Union and Confederate navies. Chief credit for this bonus feature goes to design director Kelly Erlinger and graphic artists James Caiella and Karen Erlinger.
Beginning with “The Sumter Conundrum,” a recurring character in our gatefold package—and one of the war’s greatest naval heroes—is an officer who later exerted a paternal influence on the U.S. Naval Institute. Outspoken, ambitious David Dixon Porter rose meteorically through the officers’ ranks during the Civil War—from lieutenant in 1861 to the Navy’s sixth-most senior admiral in ’65.
Along the way he served on blockade duty, chased the commerce raider CSS Sumter, led naval forces on the Mississippi, and helped conquer Fort Fisher. Porter was also the war’s foremost naval practitioner of jointness, working efficiently with professional Army officers including Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman—but displaying little patience for political generals such as Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks.
An innovative commander, Porter relied on iron and steam to patrol Confederate waters and subdue enemy strongpoints. But, ironically, during a three-month period in 1869 when he was the de facto chief of the Navy Department, he oversaw the service’s regression to reliance on sail power. The next year Porter succeeded his foster-brother, David Glasgow Farragut, in the largely ceremonial position of Admiral of the Navy.
Despite being the service’s highest ranking officer, Admiral Porter had little power to halt the Navy’s slide into the “dark ages” of the 1870s. But according to historian Charles Oscar Paullin, he “vigorously and insistently declared the country’s need of a new navy.” And when a group of naval officers also concerned about the direction of the Sea Service met in 1873 to form the Naval Institute “for the advancement of professional and scientific knowledge of the Navy,” the venerable admiral agreed to serve as the organization’s first president.