Dixie’s Greatest Secret
So much written about the South, and the War, but in one area the story has not been told in all its glory. 500 ships, worldwide operations
by Mark Vogl
Saturday, June 2, 2012
The history of the South is replete with stories of daring adventure, bold leadership, matchless courage, and victories against all odds. But the story has been silent on one aspect of the war that could change the view of the sophistication, technological know-how, and international presence of the Confederacy.
The average student of the war, and even high school history students know about the battle between the ironclads, the U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia, (often misnamed the Merrimac). Of course, the History Channel has covered the recovery of the Confederate submarine C.S.S. Hunley. And sometimes, histories of the war will introduce readers to Raphael Semmes and the C.S.S. Alabama. But for the most part we are left thinking the Confederate Navy was little more than a couple of ships.
Before I go further, let me speculate why we are left so completely uninformed on the size, scope and success of the Confederate Navy. I believe it is intentional. I believe it is P.C. (politically correct) to leave the uninformed believing that the South was simply not sophisticated enough, educated enough or wise enough to compete with the Yankees. It is P.C. to keep the uninformed thinking that the South had no chance, that the Union could never be divided. When one looks at today’s omnipotent central government, and the absurd policies they impose on 300 million Americans, if Americans realized that secession was a legal, legitimate alternative to the tyranny of Washington, the Courts and the President might have to reign in their continuous exercise of power in every aspect of our lives.
One very important way to demonstrate that the war between North and South was much closer than generally acknowledged is to consider the size, scope, and operational success of the Confederate Navy. J. Thomas Scharf, father of the Confederate naval history, wrote one of the earliest, if not the first, complete history of the Confederate Navy. The History of the Confederate States Navy is over eight hundred pages and heavily footnoted. Scharf’s work uses a unique set of federal documents and reports, combined with first hand accounts from Confederate naval personnel.
J. Thomas Scharf attended the Confederate Naval Academy in Richmond in 1863, and served with the Navy through the end of the war. Scharf participated in one of the many special warfare operations conducted by the C.S. Navy. Scharf spent the rest of his life researching and assembling the South’s naval history of the war. The book was published sometime after 1887.
Because Scharf was doing orginal work, immediately after war, his stories often contain factual errors. One must remember that sometimes he had only one source for an incident he reported in the book. But his book does provide the ultimate starting point for researching the Southern navy because of its breadth of coverage and the unique collection of reference documents he used to tell the story.
Just some basic surprising facts about the Confederate Navy to wet your appetite;
a. The Confederate Navy was composed of more than 500 ships!
b. Confederate ironclad squadrons operated in Richmond, Charleston and Mobile.
c. The Confederates built small, iron armored steam powered ships called Davids which were proto type PT boats. They have found records for them in Shreveport and Houston, among other places.
d. Confederte raiders operated all over the world and destroyed the US merchant fleet.
e. C.S. Naval agents operated in many countries in Europe, purchasing ships and materials and acting as "stations" to pass on operational orders to Confederate ships docked in Euro waters.
The Southern navy adds a whole new dimension to the Confederate war effort and a new perspective. Take some time to investigate Dixie’s greatest secret!
If you want to pursue this area of the war, visit the Confederate War College, and join as a member. With membership you will be able to download Clear for Action: an introductory history of the Confederate States Navy.
©2012 Mark Vogl