30.3.06

TO CATCH A PIRATE, THINK LIKE A PIRATE. I mentioned Tom Chaffin's Sea of Gray, which I recently had time to finish, and herewith Book Review No. 8. This is a great yarn about the efforts of the Confederate consul in Liverpool, one James Dunwoody Bulloch, a.k.a. "Uncle Jimmy" to Theodore Roosevelt, to procure merchantmen for the Confederacy to convert into commerce raiders and the efforts of Union consul Thomas H. Dudley to ferret the efforts out and encourage H.M. Government to live up to its obligations as a neutral. Re-flagging and doctored bills of sale were common, for Yankee merchant ships and Rebel privateers alike.

Once the raider puts to sea, the story becomes more compelling. The last Rebel ship afloat (as events transpired), C.S.S. Shenandoah, was advanced for her time, with a stowable screw propellor to reduce drag when she was under full sail, although that wasn't very often as her captain feared being able to jury-rig repairs with a jury-rigged crew. (Sometimes the crew was less makeshift. The Rebels were somewhat clever at re-crewing on the fly.) Her mission was to disrupt the whaling fleets operating near the poles. Along the way, the captain concludes a treaty with a Micronesian king (on an island referred to at the time as "Ascension," not to be confused with the South Atlantic neighbor of St. Helena, under British administration) whose island hosts the thirteenth-century works of Nan Madol. (That sentence notes several things I learned from reading the book and researching the review.) He later tells a Yankee whaler that the Confederacy had formed a mutual defense pact with the whales. Along the way, his Southern officers learn some hard lessons about the effects of snow and ice on running rigging, as well as the traditional sailor's lesson that there are many days best described as "yesterday, today, and tomorrow," in which nothing of note happens. Those days take on particular importance after Shenandoah speaks a British merchantman out of San Francisco that finally persuades her captain that the Confederacy is in fact lost, and the privateer -- whose status would have been even more dubious had the United States signed on to an agreement among the European powers to abolish the practice -- was in the eyes of the European powers now a pirate ship. But not so much a pirate ship not to be celebrated by Liverpudlians upon her return there, after which several of the officers went into exile in Argentina.

The memoirs of several of the ships crew show some familiarity with Jules Verne's later Around the World in Eighty Days (1872), particularly where the International Date Line divides the whaling grounds, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1873), where the ruins at Nan Madol are concerned. (Verne also wrote a less-well-known work, The Blockade Runners, about the more glamorous but less effective Rebel efforts on the high seas.)

There's more, much more, to this story. Shenandoah made her way safely to Liverpool, and the officers ultimately benefitted from "with malice toward none, with charity toward all." But you'll have to read the book to understand my choice of a title for this post.

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