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William H. Roberts

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Commander William H. Roberts, USN (ret.), “after retiring from Navy service in 1994 as a surface warfare commander, William H. Roberts earned his Ph.D. in History at the Ohio State University. Commander William H. Roberts is the author of USS New Ironsides in the Civil War; Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War; and, Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization.


According to the book description of Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War, “Now for the Contest tells the story of the Civil War at sea in the context of three campaigns: the blockade of the southern coast, the raiding of Union commerce, and the projection of power ashore. The Civil War at sea was profoundly influenced by innovation and asymmetry—both sides embraced innovation, but differences in their resources and their strategic objectives pushed them down different paths. At its peak the Union navy boasted over fifty thousand men and nearly seven hundred ships. The Confederate navy was far smaller, never exceeding some five thousand men, and it numbered its ships in the tens rather than the hundreds. The Confederacy’s “technology strategy” and its overseas programs formed the main counterweight to the Union’s numerical force.


Now for the Contest also examines how both sides mobilized and employed their resources for a war that proved to be of unprecedented intensity and duration. For both antagonists the conduct of the naval war was complicated by rapid technological change, as steam power, metal armor, and more powerful ordnance sparked experiment and innovation both in naval construction and in tactics. The war years brought tremendous change to a service that did not always welcome it. Innovative technologies flourished in this hothouse atmosphere, however, and a rising generation of naval leaders would carry the knowledge of combat into the long peace that followed.


William M. McBride (Technology and Culture) said of Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization, “In this impressively researched and broadly conceived study, William Roberts offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding, the Union's ironclad program during the Civil War. Perhaps more importantly, Roberts also provides an invaluable framework for understanding and analyzing military-industrial relations, an insightful commentary on the military acquisition process, and a cautionary tale on the perils of the pursuit of perfection and personal recognition." - Robert Angevine, Journal of Military History "Roberts's study, illuminating on many fronts, is a welcome addition to our understanding of the Union's industrial mobilization during the Civil War and its inadvertent effects on the postwar U.S. Navy.”

Uss New Ironsides in the Civil War: William H. Roberts
William H. Roberts  More Info
Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology)
William H. Roberts  More Info

Now for the Contest: Coastal and Oceanic Naval Operations in the Civil War (Great Campaigns of the Civil War)
William H. Roberts  More Info

According to the book description of USS New Ironsides in the Civil War, “This is the first modern scholarly look at the little-known yet remarkable USS New Ironsides--America's first seagoing ironclad and the only one to see combat in the American Civil War. It describes the design, construction, and wartime career of the armored frigate, which included sixteen months of combat off Charleston, South Carolina, where she fired more shots than all of Rear Adm. John Dahlgren's monitors put together and caused the Confederates to offer $100,000 for her destruction. The 1865 assault against Fort Fisher led Adm. David Dixon Porter, a hard man to impress, to call the ship the best in the fleet for offensive operations.


Here, a former surface warfare commander chronicles New Ironsides's entire story, from inception as the Navy's insurance policy in 1861 through the straining urgency of construction and blockade service in the stormy early months of 1863 to the hard-fought engagements at Charleston Harbor and Fort Fisher. He places the ship in a broader context of warship design during a period of rapid technological change. He also reexamines the circumstances of 1861 to debunk the myth that the ironclad was a regressive design created by mossbacked naval traditionalists. This complete assessment of the ship's career shows both her operational and technical superiority. It also explains why, despite the success demonstrated by New Ironsides, the monitors dominated the Union ironclad program.

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