Edwin L. Combs III
ON DUTY AT WILMINGTON: THE CONFEDERATE NAVY ON THE CAPE FEAR RIVER.
(Under the direction of Michael A. Palmer) Department of History, June 1996.
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the attempt to build and maintain a Confederate naval squadron at Wilmington, North Carolina, during the Civil War, 1861-1865, tracing the evolution of Confederate naval policy at Wilmington.
At Wilmington the Confederate navy's attempt to create a squadron for use in the city's defense was inextricably linked to the service's ability to build usable warships in the port city. Many factors influenced this process. The strengths and weaknesses of the Cape Fear industrial structure, material shortages, transportation and bureaucratic inefficiency, interservice relations, and the evolution of naval policy, all bore directly on the effort to build ships in Confederate Wilmington.
Several conclusions emerge from the study. Early indecision by the Navy Department resulted in poor planning for the Wilmington station. Flag Officer William F. Lynch played an active and significant role in Confederate shipbuilding and, in spite of his difficult personality, tried to speed the process. A thriving and heretofore unrecognized Wilmington industrial base played an important role in the construction process. Most important, the ultimate failure of naval construction at Wilmington altered the role of the navy in the region's defense, shifting its focus from water to land. In these respects, the Wilmington squadron helps generate a more thorough understanding of the Confederate navy and the larger naval war.
This work was not meant to be an exhaustive account of the Confederate navy at Wilmington. It focuses on shipbuilding and its significance to the Wilmington naval squadron, paying particular attention to primary source material. This thesis does not emphasize the 1864 commerce raiding program, crew life, the Fort Fisher battles, or the establishment of the Fayetteville Naval Iron Works late in the war. These topics should provide fruitful avenues for further discussion in a forum beyond that of the masters thesis.