During the American Civil War, both the Northern Union and the Southern Confederacy’s navies were very important for the war. Without the navies, the war might have ended up very different. The two navies completely changed the way that the United States thought about naval warfare. The Union Navy’s First step in the war was to set up a blockade of every single Confederate Port (Veit). At first, the North’s navy only consisted of about thirty steam ships (Davidson and Stoff The American Nation p. 92).
The blockade set up by the North was mainly successful, and forced them into capturing southern forts to use as bases and to supply the blockade (Veit). As the war progressed, the Union started using captured blockade runners to capture other blockade runners (Veit). The navy of the Union did not always work on the water; sometimes, sailors volunteered on the front lines. At one point of the war, two Northern generals badly needed to share information and needed volunteers.
To many surprises, a small group of navy sailors, under Acting Master Howard Grimnell volunteered to carry encoded dispatches through enemy territory (Navy Acting Like Army). One of the Unions most famous and important ships was the USS Monitor, commanded by Captain John Worden. The actual idea of the ship was designed by the Swede, John Ericsson, who presented the prototype to Gideon Welles. On its deck, it had a round, rotating turret that housed two Dahlgren Guns. The ship was first launched, with a joyous crowd, on January 30, 1862 (The Story of the USS Monitor). To start off the war, the Confederacy barely even had a navy.
At first, all that the South’s navy had to do, was to break through the iron grip of the Union blockade. However, attempting to run the blockade was risky, and required very fast ships to slip through with essential supplies. As the war dragged on, the northern blockade began to take its toll on the Southern economy (The Navies of the Civil War). The, now dangerous, blockade caused a food shortage in the poorer regions of the South. However, the Confederate Navy didn’t have the numbers necessary to destroy the blockade. Luck was on the South’s side when they captured Norfolk Navy Yard.
They found the partly destroyed, abandoned USS Merrimack. They turned the previously Union ship into the well-known monster, the CSS Virginia. It was armored with iron plates and wielded an incredible arsenal. It had ten guns in all, as well as an iron ram mounted on its bow. It was commissioned in early 1862, and would soon fight the most famous naval battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Hampton Roads (CSS Virginia). It was March 9, 1862, and the deadly CSS Virginia had previously crippled a Union naval squadron. It returned to finish off the vulnerable ships that were located in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
However, the crew of the CSS Virginia did not find a few incapacitated ships, it found the North’s prototype, the USS Monitor. The two monstrosities began to battle. They laid shell after shell into each other, both vying for an advantage over the other. None of the shots could do anything against the ironclads thick iron skin. Eventually, the two ships ended the battle in a spectacular draw. In due course, the CSS Virginia was destroyed by its crew to avoid falling into enemy hands, and the USS Monitor was lost at sea (The CSS Virginia). That was one of the only real naval battles in the American Civil War.
The Union Navy saved their most important army from defeat in one of the bloodiest battles in American history, The Battle of Shiloh. The Confederate Army, under Albert Johnson, had surprised the Union troops, under “Unconditional Surrender” Ulysses S. Grant. The Union army fought to hold their position, but ended up being forced to retreat to the Tennessee River. The Northern troops were jubilant when they saw the Union gunboats Lexington and Tyler waiting for them. They dropped shell after shell onto the Confederate army, covering the retreating Union soldiers.
A New Orleans newspaper wrote: “[The battle at Shiloh] has taught us that we have nothing to fear from a land invasion of the enemy if he is unsupported by his naval armaments. It has taught us that the right arm of his power in this war is in his gunboats on our seacoast; and that our only assurance of saving the Mississippi from his grasp is to paralyze that arm upon its waters” (Veit) The capture of New Orleans was considerably the turning point in the war. At the time, the city was the site of a good portion of southern factories and was cranking out many much-needed supplies for the Confederate army.
The Unions strategy changed from taking the city by land, to taking it by the Gulf of Mexico. It worked and they took New Orleans on April 24-25, 1862. This principal battle in the Civil War ended the war in many eyes (Veit). Without the opposing navies, the outcome of the Civil War would have been quite different. The navy of the Union turned the tide in many key battles, while the South’s provided much-needed supplies. All in all, the American Civil War was decided by the two navies of the Civil War.