Book Review: Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters: 956 Confederate and Union Naval and Military Personnel, Contractors, Politicians, Officials, Steamboat Pilots and Others


by Myron J. Smith Jr.

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. Pp. viii, 330. Illus., map, appends., notes, biblio., index. $75.00 paper. ISBN: 0786469676

A Biographical Handbook for Students of the Brown Water War

Prof. Smith (Tusculum College), author of a number of works on the Civil War and naval history, such as Tinclads in the Civil War, The USS Carondelet, and The CSS Arkansas gives us a biographical guide to many of the actors who had some role in riverine and littoral campaigns on the Mississippi and the western Gulf. The list is impressive, from the two presidents on down to extremely obscure steam boat captains and even the occasional common soldier or sailor.

Entries generally offer details of the person’s life, their particular role in events on the Western waters, and some references. Many entries have an illustration, and some offer critical comment on the person. Naturally, entries vary in length in part due to the importance of the person in question, but often also because some surprisingly interesting people have left a remarkably poor paper trail. Anyone who has done serious work on the Civil War or any period before the rise of modern paperwork, will not be surprised by the number of the people listed in this work who emerge briefly from the mists of history, do their bit, often ably and even spectacularly, only to vanish again with the coming of peace.

Given the nature of such a work, some people will always be left out; notably and unfortunately absent are Charles Pierre Chouteau, who managed his family’s large riverine fleet during the war, relief worker “Mother” Bickerdyke, and nearly all other women.

Despite these omissions, the many obscure, but often important and interesting people found here makes this a valuable reference for anyone working on the Civil War, and not merely for those interested in the western waters or coasts.

Note: Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters is also available as an eBook, ISBN 978-1-4766-1698-8.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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