Stephen Mallory

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Stephen Russell Mallory. (This image was "considered by his family as his best portrait.")

Stephen Russell Mallory (c. 1812November 9, 1873) was a United States politician and the Confederate Secretary of the Navy during the American Civil War. Mallory was considered one of President Jefferson Davis's ablest Cabinet officers.

Before the War

Mallory was born in Trinidad, British West Indies, sometime around the year of 1812 (sources vary). However, his father died when he was just two years old, and his family brought him to the United States in 1820. His mother opened a boardinghouse in Key West, Florida. He was educated in Mobile, Alabama and Nazareth, Pennsylvania. With little education, he still managed to open a law office, and held various governmental positions in the Key West area. After marrying the daughter of a wealthy Pensacola family, he was elected to the United States Senate as a moderate Democrat in 1850, serving through 1857.

He had a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable men in Florida about naval affairs; therefore, he was appointed chair of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs. He worked tirelessly to reform the United States Navy, helping to retire elderly and ineffective officers, and vouched for the development of an iron-encased floating battery (possibly the precursor to the ironclad warship), but failed to secure funding to complete the project.

The Civil War

After the 1860 Election of Abraham Lincoln, Mallory urged conciliation (as did many other eventual prominent Southern politicians, including Jefferson Davis). However, like many others, his loyalties lay with the South, and when Florida seceded, he followed. Because of his friendship with President Davis, the need of a Floridian cabinet member, and his extremely useful and vast knowledge of naval affairs, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy.

At the start of the war, though, the Confederacy barely owned fifteen warships and very few naval officers had seceded. Also, the Confederate War Department did not cooperate very efficiently, and naval funding was very limited. However, Mallory was somewhat effective in finding some European ships, mainly from Great Britain. Arguably his most important British acquisition was the C.S.S. Alabama, which was captained by Raphael Semmes, and was arguably the most famous Confederate raider. These raiders would mainly be used to attack merchant shipping, possibly diverting some blockade ships and ruining the Union blockade (which was slowly choking the South). Also, his vision of creating many ironclad warships to destroy the mainly wooden warships of the Union blockades was not fulfilled, mainly because of the main Southern disadvantage: a lack of funds and materiel. In a related sense, his most important "failure" was not being able to persuade the other government officials to allot enough funding toward the navy.

Also, Mallory was extremely innovative. Even though the Southern industrial plants did not even rival the Northern plants, and added by the loss of Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis, and Norfolk in the early war (these being important plants and ports), the C.S. Navy was able to produce 22 ironclads during the war, an ingenious accomplishment. Also, experimental weapons and tactics were explored, including torpedoes, submarines, and secret amphibious raids, although these were generally ineffective.

After the Confederate Defeat

Stephen Mallory
Stephen Mallory

However, after General Robert E. Lee evacuated Petersburg, Virginia, which meant the loss of the capital and seat of government, Richmond, Mallory (along with the remainder of the cabinet) was forced to flee. After defeat was certain, he opposed guerrilla warfare in the latter days of the war. He was imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York for approximately ten months, before being released. He moved back to his law practice, while opposing the use of the military in Reconstruction and opposing black suffrage. He died in 1873, with his contemporaries partly blaming him for the Confederate defeat. Historians are much more complimenting of Mallory than his own contemporaries, realizing that persuading the other, more land-oriented members of the Confederate government into allotting badly-needed funds to a navy that was almost certainly defeated from the start was almost impossible, even for the most persuasive politician.


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