Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This dissertation is, first and foremost, an account of John Dahlgren's long and often controversial naval career. Beginning with his appointment to the navy in 1826, it details his climb from obscurity to the relative fame and recognition that he enjoyed by the end of his life: first as the noted designer of the distinctive, bottle-shaped Dahlgren gun, which was the navy's primary cannon during the Civil War, and, second, as one of only a few officers to attain the rank of admiral during the Civil War.;Dahlgren's career, both as an ordnance specialist and as a line officer, demonstrates how many officers scrambled up the military ladder. Using whatever means they could, including developing and utilizing political connections as well as conducting personal public relations campaigns, success often had little to do with true professional merit.;Dahlgren's Civil War career is also extremely important. His involvement with the Union's military campaign against Charleston reveals the absolute obsession that the North, especially the Union navy, had with trying to destroy this city. Additionally, Dahlgren's war career shows the Navy Department in an entirely different light than the one in which it is usually seen. Compared to the War Department, the Navy Department has generally been viewed as being relatively flawless during the war, and its few failings have been portrayed as innocent and well meaning mistakes. The circumstances surrounding Dahlgren's appointment to, and subsequent command of, the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron shows that this was not the case, as Dahlgren was primarily a pawn in both the Navy Department's and the Lincoln administration's battles against their Congressional enemies.;This dissertation is also the story of Dahlgren the man. It details the private side of his obsessive quest for personal glory and analyzes the ways in which he struggled to reconcile his insatiable ambition with the realities of his career. While he enjoyed the outward trappings of success, a reputation as a brilliant ordnance expert and the highest rank in the navy, Dahlgren died a bitter and disappointed man. Because he never experienced victory in battle, which was the ultimate measure of greatness for a naval hero, Dahlgren's lifelong quest for glory was never completely fulfilled.



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