ABSTRACT

How valuable is a navy? The literature on contemporary maritime power focuses a great deal on the central contribution that navies make to the advancement of state interests in a globalised world. It would seem self-evident that a navy, even a small one, would be a valuable asset and that having a navy would certainly be better than not having one. Created from nothing in 1861, the Confederate States Navy (CSN) is widely regarded as a miracle of improvisation and a perfect example of just such a cost effective maritime instrument. However, attempts at a more systematic evaluation of the Confederate navy have often tended to be lost in the drama of the struggle itself. As a consequence, popular perception of the value of the CSN often focuses on its heroic performance in what is perceived as an unwinnable war. In this spirit Raimondo Luraghi asserts that the Confederate States Navy was ‘conjured up from nothing to fight against the heaviest odds; facing in an unequal and awesome struggle an overpowering opponent; capable of defying it by performing heroic deeds that commanded respect even from the enemy; and overwhelmed in the end by the collapse of the very nation to which it belonged after a brave, ardent, and glorious life’.1 Defined in this way, though, the value of the CSN was in its contribution to Confederate mythology rather than to the practical business of sustaining its physical survival. But is this a sufficient benchmark against which to judge the effectiveness of the Confederate States Navy and its consequent value to the state that created it?