Book Review: A Quest for Glory: A Biography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren


by Robert J. Schneller, Jr.

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020. Pp. xviii, 454. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 1682475115

A Forgotten Civil War Naval Hero

Originally published in hardback in1995, Dr. Schneller’s book was and remains the only serious biography of Dahlgren (1809-1870), the U.S. Navy's most noted ordnance specialist of the nineteenth century. A man of great technical and administrative skill, Dahlgren took a scientific approach to the design of cannon, conducting extensive experiments, and closely supervised their manufacture, which gave the U.S. Navy the best guns of the smooth-bore era.

Dahlgren was, however, snobbish, abrasive, and did not abide “inferiors”, traits which undoubtedly hampered his career. Despite, rather surprisingly he seems to have formed a close relationship with Lincoln, who frequently consulted him on various matters.

Schneller’s title, A Quest for Glory, reflects the fact that although Dahlgren sought active duty, he only achieved it in mid-1863, with command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, covering the Confederate coast from Norfolk, Virginia, to Key West, Florida, a duty which he performed well, but from which he garnered little glory, though apparently garnering considerable prize money. In recounting the admiral’s life, Schneller naturally looks at the controversial life and career of his son, Ulric (1842-1864), who died during a raid through Virginia, possibly on a mission to “decapitate” the Confederacy.

A Quest for Glory is a good read for anyone interested in the naval side of the Civil War.



Note: A Quest for Glory is also available in the original hardback edition.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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