Book Review: Life In Jefferson Davis' Navy


by Barbara B Tomblin

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2019. Pp. viii, 320+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $54.00. ISBN: 1682471187

The Inner Workings of the Confederate Navy

While there have been several books on the Confederate Navy at war, Dr. Tomblin, author of Bluejackets and Contrabands and The Civil War on the Mississippi, gives us the first look at its inner life, that is its internal organization, personnel, and technical services. Tomblin opens with a chapter on the formation and crewing of the Confederate Navy. She goes on to add chapters on shipboard routine, sailors’ lives, medical care, disciplinary issues, armament and innovative technologies, and even the experiences of the personnel as prisoners of war. Interspersed among these are chapters on naval operations in coastal waters, on the high seas, on the rivers, and then during the final actions of the war, when many Confederate sailors found themselves scuttling their ships and being sent to shoulder a musket in the Army.

While telling this hitherto largely unknown tale, Tomblin offers some interesting observations about the life of men of color in the color in the Confederate Navy. As was the case in the U.S. Navy even before the war, some men of color served as crewmen on Confederate warships, among them some enslaved persons. They at times held in posts of considerable responsibility, as pilots or engineers, jobs that required them to issue orders to whites, which challenged racial norms but was actually not unheard of where matters of technical expertise were involved.

Mallory also gives us a number of good short word portraits of various personnel, most notably of SecNav Stephen Mallory, who was one of the most effective Confederate cabinet member, and good accounts of some impressive fights on the waters.

Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy is an important book for anyone interested in the Civil War, and especially its naval side.


Note: Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy is also available in audio- and e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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