unpreparedness for the Civil War was strikingly evident on
the high seas. The meager federal navy had in commission only
ninety ships, and more than half of those were wooden sailing
vessels, which had become obsolete with the advent of steam
and steel. For the South, things were far worse. As Secretary
of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory complained, our present
navy consists of 500 tons.
Both sides, however, had large-scale plans for a war on water.
Confederate naval strategy centered on two objectivesthe
development of ironclad rams, which individually had the potential
for sinking an entire enemy fleet made of wood, and, second,
the deployment of commerce destroyers designed to disrupt
Yankee trade. The major federal objective, a blockade of 3,500
miles of Confederate seacoast, was more ambitious but central
to the Norths primary goal of cutting off the exportation
of cotton, the mainstay of the Souths economy.