Most studies of the Mississippi River focus on Union campaigns to open and control it, overlooking Southern attempts to stop them. Now in paperback, Neil Chatelain’s Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865 is the other side of the story—the first modern full-length treatment of inland naval operations from the Confederate perspective.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis realized the value of the Mississippi River and its entire valley, which he described as the “great artery of the Confederacy.” This key internal highway controlled the fledgling nation’s transportation network. Davis and Stephen Mallory, his secretary of the navy, knew these vital logistical paths had to be held, and that they offered potential highways of invasion for Union warships and armies to stab their way deep into the heart of the Confederacy.
To protect these arteries of rebellion, Southern strategy called for crafting a ring of powerful fortifications supported by naval forces. Different military branches, however, including the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Revenue Service, as well as civilian privateers and even state naval forces, competed for scarce resources to operate their own vessels. A lack of industrial capacity, coupled with a dearth of skilled labor, further complicated Confederate efforts and guaranteed the South’s grand vision of deploying dozens of river gunboats and powerful ironclads would never be fully realized.
Despite these limitations, the Southern war machine introduced numerous innovations and alternate defenses including the Confederacy’s first operational ironclad, the first successful use of underwater torpedoes, widespread use of Army-Navy joint operations, and the employment of extensive river obstructions. When the Mississippi came under complete Union control in 1863, Confederate efforts shifted to its many tributaries, where a bitter and deadly struggle ensued to control these internal lifelines. Despite a lack of ships, material, personnel, funding, and unified organization, the Confederacy fought desperately and scored many localized tactical victories—often won at great cost—but failed at the strategic level.
Chatelain, a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer, grounds his study in extensive archival and firsthand accounts, official records, and a keen understanding of terrain and geography. The result is a fast-paced, well-crafted, and endlessly fascinating account that is sure to please the most discriminating student of the Civil War.
Neil P. Chatelain is an adjunct professor of history at Lone Star College-North Harris and a social studies instructor at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School in Spring, Texas. The former US Navy Surface Warfare Officer is a graduate of the University of New Orleans, the University of Houston, and the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Neil researches U.S. Naval History with a focus on Confederate naval operations. He is the author of Fought Like Devils: The Confederate Gunboat McRae (2014), and many magazine, journal, and online articles. He lives with his wife Brittany in Humble, Texas.
“Chatelain has written a solid study of the Confederate war effort on the Mississippi River which enhanced my knowledge of the Civil War. The book is carefully written and organized with thorough research and use of source material. Chatelain explores the centrality of the Mississippi River to the Civil War and the manner in which the Confederacy tried to defend the River in the face of many obstacles, most crucially its initial lack of a navy.”
~Midwest Book Review
“Neil Chatelain’s Defending the Arteries of Rebellion is a comprehensive examination of Confederate naval efforts on the Mississippi River. This study goes beyond a narrative of operations and delivers an analysis of what went right and what went wrong on the mighty river and its major tributaries. Chatelain’s trenchant analysis supported by a mountain of evidence will quickly make this the standard go-to source for anyone interested in naval affairs in the Mississippi River Valley.”
~Henry O. Robertson, Ph.D., Professor of History, Louisiana College, and the author of "The Red River Campaign and Its Toll: 69 Bloody Days in Louisiana, March-May 1864"
“Neil Chatelain’s Defending the Arteries of Rebellion is special because of its comprehensive coverage of how the Confederate Army and Navy tried to work together to defend the interior waterways while threatened on several fronts and suffering from chronic shortages of men, resources, and skilled laborers. Despite these problems the Confederates created a navy from scratch, constructed navy yards in remote places such as the Yazoo River, constructed warships throughout most of the war, and won a surprising number of riverine victories. This well-researched and written study is grounded in primary sources, includes numerous original maps, and does not overwhelm the reader with tactical minutia. Chatelain tells his story in an easy-to-read and entertaining style.”
~Terry L. Jones, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, University of Louisiana-Monroe, and the author of "Lee’s Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia" and "The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour: Reminiscences of a
“Neil P. Chatelain delivers a comprehensive, well-referenced narrative of the Confederacy’s naval efforts and actions to defend the Mississippi River and its tributaries during the Civil War from the Confederate perspective—a welcome view rarely presented and certainly not at this level of detail. His writing style, grounded in deep scholarship, makes reading Defending the Arteries of Rebellion a pleasure.”
~Gary McQuarrie, Managing Editor, "Civil War Navy - The Magazine"
“The book is a fast paced read, well written, and demonstrating careful research, with extensive documentation. There are several excellent maps by Edward Alexander and a useful glossary. A great read.”
~The NYMAS Review
"The narrative, richly sourced from archives, newspapers, and memoirs, is supported by footnotes and excellent maps. Recommended. All levels."
~M. J. Smith Jr., emeritus, Tusculum University, Choice, July 2021 Vol. 58 No. 11
"Nothing short of a monumental achievement."
~Tennessee Valley Civil War Roundtable
"This book is well-written and researched. This is a useful contribution to the Civil War's literature, and anyone interested in the Western Theater should consult it for information concerning naval operations along the Mississippi River."
~Sea History Magazine
“Chatelain has written a detailed, useful synthesis of the naval war in the Mississippi Valley.”
~Michigan War Studies Review
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