Launching the Confederate Navy

David Woodward describes how the Confederacy's hope of continuing to exist depended upon gaining command of the sea and of vital coastal and inland waters.

CSS Alabama, a ship of the Confederate States NavyOn February 4th, the first seven of the American States to leave the Union met at Montgomery in Alabama and formed the Confederate States of America. On February 21st, they established the Confederate States Navy with Stephen R. Mallory, formerly chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee of Naval Affairs, as Secretary of the Navy.

The creation of the new navy was a matter of urgency; for the Confederacy’s hope of continuing to exist depended upon gaining command of the sea and of vital coastal and inland waters.

There were several reasons for this: in the first place, the entire economic basis of the Confederacy was founded on cotton; almost no heavy industry existed in the South, and weapons of war and war-like supplies could only be obtained from outside the Confederacy, in Europe. Not only would it be necessary to transport these materials from overseas to the Southern ports, but cotton had to be sent to Europe in order to pay for them.

At first, the Confederates hoped that, since the value of cotton to industry in Britain and France was so great, the governments of those two countries would insist on having access to it, even at the price of war with the United States.

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