Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Durham: "High Seas And Yankee Gunboats"

[High Seas And Yankee Gunboats: A Blockade-Running Adventure From The Diary Of James Dickson by Roger S. Durham (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2006). Cloth, 6 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 208 pp. ISBN: 1-57003-572-5 $29.95]

Many published Civil War diaries are fairly mundane (to put it kindly). Unless a great deal of effort is spent on the annotation, readers are often condemned to wade through a great mound of common observations simply to uncover a few useful tidbits of information. Fortunately, Roger Durham's expertly edited volume is not such a book. His is an expansive narrative history built around the diary of Georgian blockade runner James Dickson. Caught in Newark, New Jersey at the beginning of hostilities, and joined there by family friend Thomas L. Hernandez, Dickson traveled north to Nova Scotia (enduring several mishaps along the way). In Canada, the pair joined the crew of the British schooner Standard for a blockade running trip to the Georgia coast.

Dickson's diary ends abruptly, just after the Standard penetrated the Union blockade only to get lost and trapped inside Georgia's Sapelo Sound. Rather than ending his own book at the same time, Durham both completes Dickson's tale and expands its scope. The second half of High Seas And Yankee Gunboats is Durham's originally researched narrative highlighting the efforts of the Standard to escape capture and unload its cargo. Coastal patrols and raids conducted by Union gunboats seeking to interdict this trade are also highlighted. Much of the blockade running during the war was performed by sail powered vessels similar to the Standard and based along coastal creeks, rivers, and sounds located some distance from major ports. Durham's directed study is a microcosm of this effort as well as the interdiction role of the U.S. Navy. The day to day struggles of the civilian population living beside these vulnerable waterways becomes apparent, along with the slavery-destroying capability of the Union navy as it penetrated these waterways. Escaping slaves often performed important service as guides and informers.

Durham's study is exceptionally well stocked with photographs and maps. Modern photos of objects and places mentioned in the text and diary entries are sprinkled liberally throughout. Maps of the Georgia and Nova Scotia coastlines are included, as well as a detailed rendering of the Liberty County-North Newport River region that features so prominently in the book's latter half. The quality cloth binding just adds to the volume's already high production values. This book is a gem of an edited diary publication.

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