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Reading Book Guide

Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron, by John M. Coski

Capital Navy is the first book to examine the importance of Confederate naval operations on the James River, and their significant (and yet largely ignored) impact on the war in Virginia. We hope these thought-provoking questions lead to some lively book discussions.

  1. How much merit was there to Matthew Fontaine Maury's "Big guns and Little ships" proposal?
  2. Was the battle of Drewry's Bluff really a victory for the Confederate Navy?
  3. Coski describes a "naval-industrial complex" that grew up in the South. Did that surprise you? Is it noteworthy or remarkable?
  4. Examining the evidence presented in Chapter 4, do you believe that there was a Confederate submarine attack against the USS Minnesota in October 1861?
  5. Could the James River Squadron have won at Trent's Reach had Capt. John Mitchell moved more quickly and decisively? Was John Mitchell's attitude and performance at Trent's Reach analogous to Gen. James Longstreet's at Gettysburg?
  6. Lt. Francis Shepperd: insightful and prescient critic whom history should celebrate or self-serving insubordinate who should have been court martialed?
  7. Who do you think were the most valuable men in the James River Squadron and the Confederate Navy in Richmond? Why?
  8. If you were in command of the James River Squadron, which officers would you have consigned to some other command?
  9. In his conclusion, Coski quotes Stephen R. Mallory's and David Dixon Porter's divergent assessments of the James River Squadron. Debate the issue. Resolved: The James River Squadron was "the most useless force the Confederates had ever put afloat."
  10. Weaker military powers often resort to unconventional warfare - including terrorism - to compensate for relative deficiencies in conventional weapons. The Confederacy adopted many "gimmick" weapons and tactics that troubled even some Confederate officers. Discuss the morality of Confederate torpedo and submarine warfare, especially from the perspective of how they were employed in subsequent wars.