Confederate Ironclad Vs. Union Ironclad by Ron Field

To continue my recent spat of readings on the American Civil War, I just read Confederate Ironclad Vs. Union Ironclad by Ron Field.  It is an excellent and brief description (76 pages) of the famous  naval battle between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor at Hampton Roads in 1862.

The book traces the design and development of ironclads in the United States Navy and the Confederate Navy (Field also includes a snippet or two about the development of ironclads in Europe as well).  The book also describes the personalities behind the designs of the ironclads.  For instance, Swedish-American John Ericsson faced opposition from many U.S. naval officers when he unveiled his designs for his ironclad (USS Monitor) because they did not believe that a semi-submerged ironclad warship could float.

One of the strengths of the book is in the narration of the two-day battle at Hampton Roads.  Field does a superb job of describing the action with just enough information to give you a feel for the battle, but not too much to bog down the story.  His narrative is based upon eyewitness accounts and the memoirs of the participants.

Field also explains how the shortcomings of the ships’ designs or use may have cost the ships a complete victory – for instance, if the USS Monitor’s two cannons were properly loaded with the full powder, their fire probably would have punctured the CSS Virginia’s armor and defeated it.

Field includes an excellent section covering the development of other ironclads after the battle.  The U.S. Navy had the advantage over the Confederate Navy in that the U.S. Navy had more money to develop more generations of ironclads – each improving upon the previous.  For example, the ironclads generally became bigger with more armor and firepower.

One final note, as with the other Osprey publications, this book has a great array of color drawings (illustrated by Howard Gerrard and Peter Bull) and black-and-white photographs.  The drawings of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia help you better understand the ships themselves.

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