When one thinks of naval actions fought in the ironclad era one instantly thinks of the American Civil War, the Lissa campaign, and possibly the actions fought between Chile and Peru in the 1870s. Naval warfare off the coast of Haiti does not generally spring to mind. Yet, overlooked my many historians and naval enthusiasts, a vigorous naval campaign was a key element of the Haitian Civil War fought between 1867 and 1869. Often known as Salnave’s war, since it resolved the fate of President Sylvain Salnave, the naval actions were fought with a mixture of retired warships from the US Navy, combined with steamers and gunboats purchased from the UK and France.
Bill Warner has done an excellent job in researching and chronicling not only the ships involved in the war, but the war itself (and in this his book becomes one of only a handful of English language references to do so). The book starts with a general overview of Haiti’s history leading into the war itself, and the splitting of the country into three states (the Republic of Haiti, the Meridional Southern State and the republic of the North). The navies and ships of each state are described, the ships with an illustration, key particulars and a brief description of their service history, and the descriptions are supported by an additional chapter that details the armament of the ships. Battles are described in terms of their context in the broader war and the tactical aspects of the battle, supported with charts and contemporary illustrations where available. Finally there is a biography of Sylvain Salnave, notes on the frequent renaming of ships (invaluable since most of the ships had several owners and it can be tricky keeping track), a list of references and some suggestions for rules and models for wargamers.
This book and Dr Warner’s similar volume on the ships at Riachuelo have to be one of the key “finds” for naval enthusiasts and wargamers of 2010. This volume especially is extremely welcome in opening up a hitherto fairly well closed portion of Caribbean history. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in naval warfare in the era of the ironclad and gunboat.