Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tamblin: "BLUEJACKETS AND CONTRABANDS: African Americans and the Union Navy"

[ Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy by Barbara Brooks Tomblin (University Press of Kentucky, 2009). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 287/381. ISBN: 978-0-8131-2554-1 $39.95 ]

The assistance black individuals (slave and free) rendered to the U.S. army and navy during the Civil War has been well documented throughout the literature; however, rarely, if ever, has the subject been treated to a specialized book length examination similar to what historian Barbara Brooks Tomblin has done with her new book Bluejackets and Contrabands. Future writers and historians will appreciate Tomblin's synthetic approach, as well as her gathering of some fresh material, all available together in a single volume.

The author organizes her study well, with lengthy chapters devoted to the great variety of direct and supporting roles assumed by blacks, to include intelligence gathering, piloting vessels in inland waterways, guiding amphibious expeditions, and serving in both combat and non-combat positions on naval bases and aboard ship. When the war rapidly expanded the size of the U.S. Navy, blacks helped fill in the enlistment gaps. Tomblin also traces the evolution of Union policy toward escaped/freed slaves and their dependents, with a great deal of attention paid to the many contraband camps that sprung up on the sea islands located off the Carolina and Georgia coasts. Although hiccups in relations inevitably occurred, both groups benefited from the arrangement. In return for the services outlined above, blacks received food, clothing, employment, safety for their families, and freedom.

Tomblin's narrative cites numerous examples from primary and secondary sources to support her thesis that escaped slaves played an important role in the success of the Atlantic blockade and coastal combined operations. Six maps are provided, but they are of only general assistance in locating the myriad of geographic points and waterways mentioned in the text. Readers should also be reminded that Tomblin's work only covers the Atlantic coast from Virginia to northern Florida, leaving the Gulf and inland waterways to future scholars.

Bluejackets and Contrabands
is a well conceived and executed scholarly study outlining an important chapter in the history of the contribution of blacks to the success of the Union cause during the Civil War. Students of the U.S. Navy's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron will also find the book to be of value.

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Other recent CWBA reviews of UPK titles:

* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland

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