Unlike Anything that Ever Floated by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes is an excellent look at a pivotal naval battle during the Civil War. The ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia (and other similar ironclads) were the precursors of modern steel naval ships. The book is part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series (simple overviews of the Civil War’s important battles and issues).
Hughes thoroughly chronicles the development of ironclads in the United States and Confederate navies. As a part of the chronology of events surrounding the two ships, Hughes incorporates the development of both ships. He delves into not only the armor, but the armaments and propulsion systems. Many people would find these discussions quiet drab, but Hughes brings a refreshing approach by describing the various personalities involved in the construction of both ships.
Following the discussion on the construction (or rebuilding in the case of the C.S.S. Virginia) of the ships, Hughes analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each ship. For instance, the C.S.S. Virgina was well-armored, but its engines were poor. The engines were very unreliable and lacked power. These deficiencies played a part in the day’s battle.
The heart of the book – the day of battle between the two ships – is the best and most engaging part. As Hughes recounts, the C.S.S. Virginia utterly destroyed two Union ships and was on the verge of routing the entire naval squadron when the U.S.S. Monitor arrived. Hughes does not describe the action in a clinical manner, but humanizes it by writing about the bravery and sacrifice of the sailors on both sides. This humanization is often lost in many history books that tell the facts in black and white without recognizing the human factor.
Unlike Anything that Ever Floated is an excellent history of a pivotal moment for not only the U.S. Navy, but the world’s navies as well.