MNST Capstone

The American Civil War: A Maritime Experience

Class Description:

Building on prerequisite courses MNST 7102: The History of American Sea Power and MNST 7101: American Commercial Maritime History: 1500 to Present, this course focuses on naval aspects of the American Civil War.  Covering cultural, military, and political history for both the North and South, topics will include: building a navy, technological changes, blockade runners and blockade squadrons, and the US Navy response to “contraband.”  As a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching; history, music, literature, and propaganda (art) are incorporated to give the student an complete experience of the Victorian era.

William Barker Cushing, USN


Each week, students have scheduled readings, Blackboard discussion prompts, and lectures.  Students need to respond to both Blackboard discussions and Zoom lectures by the end of each week.  Also, engage your fellow students – make certain to respond to their posts and interact as if you are in a seated class.  This is graduate school – do not be afraid to ask questions, bring up subjects that you feel have relevance, and add images, videos, and information to your own discussion thread: SIDEBOARD!  This section belongs to you – consider it the seminar portion of the class where we come together and discuss those random thoughts – just keep those thoughts relative.

A mid-term paper on 19th Century sailors derived from the Sailors’ Snug Harbor inmate database will give students a better understanding of the digital archives available at SUNY, and the life of an average sailor during the Civil War.  Each student will augment this information by utilizing other archives, databases, and printed scholarly material to complete a 10-page paper.  Students can use MLA or Chicago style, however, footnotes are required.  NO ENDNOTES.  A working annotated bibliography is due before the paper and is included in your semester schedule.  The expectation is to have consistent documentation, a minimum of 10 pages, and an interesting and salient point.

The culmination of the semester will be a 20 – 30-page paper suitable for publication, with an appropriately annotated bibliography that will cover a topic that contributes to new scholarship in the field of Maritime Civil War History.  In lieu of a paper, a special project, pre-approved by the professor, may be created as an equivalent to the final paper.

Included in the syllabus is a weekly schedule to help keep you on track.  Life happens in Graduate School and if a student has difficulty, life issues, work issues, etc. communication is key.  Contact me as quickly as possible so that we can work together to make this semester successful and above all, thought-provoking and interesting, and to provide you with a broader understanding of the American Civil War through maritime study.


Semester Reading List:

Scanned Documents

Scanned documents are in the weekly folders under “readings.”  Each learning module will be associated with a week and title.  The learning module, readings folder, and discussion boards for the week will have the same title to alleviate any confusion.  See the schedule below.

Required Text to Procure through renting, purchasing, or borrowing:

Acquire now:

Symonds, Craig.  Civil War at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History, (Oxford UP, 2009).

Symonds, Craig.  Decision at Sea, (Oxford UP, 2005).

Check timeline to acquire in time to read these:

Browning, Robert M. From Cape Charles to Cape Fear: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron During the Civil War, (Alabama UP, 1993).

Fonvielle, Chris E. Jr., The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope, (Stackpole, 2001)

Tomblin, Barbara Brooks.  Bluejackets & Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy, (UP Kentucky, 2009).

Online Resources

National Archives

While not mandatory, it is highly recommended that you consider a subscription for at least the time you are researching for your mid-term paper.  While some items are free, others are limited to subscription only.  Look at the site and decide what you would like to do.  Monthly subscriptions are $7.95.

Cornell University Making of American Collection: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies.

Now completely accessible online, students of the American Civil War can research and print primary source documents.  Cornell University has scanned and completed a searchable database, not only of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, but also the Army.  The volumes include correspondence between officers, information regarding vessels stationed on the blockading squadrons, as well as valuable information on local engagements and interaction with individuals.

Naval History and Heritage Command

This website is imperative to maritime research historians.  From images to biographies, and bibliographies, students can learn about duty stations, memoirs, and books written by sailors throughout multiple time periods.  This digital archive is a treasure trove for those looking for officers and other navy personnel.

 National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database

The National Park Service has created a database about African-American Sailors who enlisted during the Civil War.  This archive includes freedom seekers who used rivers as a maritime underground railroad to escape to the blockading squadrons.  To date, records of over 600 of these sailors have been discovered in the Cape Fear area as well.  This website will be used to help students find the unsung souls who risked everything for their freedom.

Southern Historical Society Papers

Focusing on writings from 1876 to 1943, the mission of the Southern Historical Society Papers is to share writings pertaining to Southern history.  The books were edited by R.A. Brock, and are in public domain.  Several institutions house a digital copy.  To access, a student must be associated with a partner institution.  Otherwise, students and scholars may access them through Google Books, which is easier to use for metadata searches.  One can go to Google Books and search for The Southern Historical Society Papers

 Library of Congress Digital Collections

LOC digital collections have African-American cultural selections, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, as well as the Lincoln Papers.  Students would be remiss not see what the Library of Congress has to offer.  They have over 200 Civil War maps and over 1,000 daguerreotypes.

H-Net Commons: Humanities and Social Sciences Online

H-Net is currently going through a revamp and reload of their website, but for people who study humanities, this is a resource-rich site.  Not only does it have reviews, resources, and discussions, but liberal arts academics have a place to look for employment and to network.


If students had JSTOR twenty years ago, there would be much rejoicing.  This database is a wonderful resource for journal articles, books, and other primary sources.  The difficulty with this site is you must be associated with a college/university/state entity to access it.  However, if you need a few journal articles to back up a salient point, JSTOR is the perfect venue.  This site is so successfully popular that they have their own memes and t-shirts!  JSTOR is accessible through your LUCE LIBRARY account.

UNC-Chapel Hill

By far, one of the best digital collections in the state of North Carolina is UNC-Chapel Hill’s digital library collection.  Filled with images, letters, diaries, maps, and journals that document the American South this archive is a must have for anyone writing on Southern Studies.  The headings are easy to search through, the metadata is simple to find, and the archivists are very helpful if you are technologically challenged.

Duke University

Although Duke’s digital collection is laid out in a completely different manner from Chapel Hill’s archive, the simple search bar and crisp, clean images make researching easy and clear to read.  All one must do is type in a person’s last name, and the thumbnails are so nice that you can almost read the letter from the metadata!  Governors, commissioners, and Civil War journals are all at Duke library.  Their themed collections have thousands of pages of information to help anyone.