The Civil War Connections Blog

“we have a navy to build…”

On April 26, 1861, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, Stephen Mallory, wrote the following:

In pursuance of the authority contained in the naval appropriation act approved March 16, 1861, I entered upon the duty of procuring vessels for the Navy of the Confederate States. Experienced and judicious naval officers and civilians have been actively engaged in the ports of the United States, Canada, and the Confederate States in search of steamers suitable for, or which might be readily converted to, war purposes, and offers to build vessels have been invited and have been received from leading naval constructors. The expediency and policy of purchasing rather than building vessels at this time are obvious.

The construction and equipment for sea of a steam sloop or frigate of sufficient power and speed to compare favorably with similar ships of the United States. Great Britain, or France would occupy in the Confederate States, under the most favorable circumstances, at the present time, from 12 to 18 months and cost from eight hundred and fifty to twelve hundred thousand dollars.

With the necessary preparation effected, there can be no doubt that ships can be constructed within the Confederate States as economically as in any other part of the continent, but delay and expense are necessarily involved in such preparation. The estimates submitted to the department for constructing ships exhibit a difference of 80 per cent between the offers of builders who are familiar with and prepared for the construction of war vessels in Northern ports and those of our own ports.

I propose to adopt a class of vessels hitherto unknown to naval services. The perfection of a warship would doubtless be a combination of the greatest known ocean speed with the greatest known floating battery and power of resistance; and such a combination has been diligently but vainly sought, with but little regard to cost, by Great Britain and France.

Vessels built exclusively for ocean speed, at a low cost, with a battery of one or two accurate guns of long range, with an ability to keep the sea upon a long cruise and to engage or to avoid an enemy at will, are not found in their navies, and only to a very limited extent in that of the United States, the speed and power of whose ships are definitely known. The latter power has built a navy; we have a navy to build; and if in the construction of the several classes of ships we shall keep constantly in view the qualities of those ships which they may be called to encounter we shall have wisely provided for our naval success.