American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

BARNES, JAMES (1866-1936). Author of books about naval history and naval wartime campaigns, as well as juvenile works on naval leaders, Colonel James Barnes was a prolific writer, historian, journalist, and naval officer. His depiction of seafaring individuals is characterized by what he called “hard service” in peace and war.

Born in Annapolis, Maryland, on 19 September 1866, Barnes graduated from Princeton University in 1891, received an honorary master of arts degree in 1894, and launched a successful career in journalism. He was a staff writer at Scribner’s Magazine (1891-1893), then an assistant editor at Harper’s Weekly (1894-1895). In 1898 Barnes served as an active lieutenant (junior grade) in the First Battalion of the New York State Naval Militia during the Spanish-American War. Following six years as a war correspondent in South Africa and in Venezuela, Barnes became literary editor at the publishing firm of D. Appleton and Company from 1905 to 1908, working the following year at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. His journalistic career molded his later terse, concise style.

For the remainder of his life, in both active and reserve service, Barnes pursued a naval career that would also have a significant impact on his writing. Barnes authored many informative and entertaining works on sea warfare and naval leaders. In addition, his so-called boys’ books met with wide audiences. Now out of print, these portray the heroic exploits of naval leaders whose actions and character serve as models for young readers. In The Hero of Erie (1898), Barnes details the actions taken by naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry in defeating the British fleet on Lake Erie in 1813. In Drake and His Yeomen (1899), Barnes offers an appreciative, if idealized, depiction of British navigator Sir Francis Drake. Also published in 1899, Barnes’ biographical David G. Farragut stands as one of his best works: a concise, detailed, well-researched work on the life and naval career of the first admiral of the U.S. Navy. Using diaries, letters, and reports written by Farragut, Barnes’ engaging portrayal spans the admiral’s birth in 1801 in Tennessee to his recognized campaigns and victories during the Civil War. A highlight of the text is Barnes’ portrayal of Farragut’s defeat of the Confederate fleet in August 1864, a victory that epitomized, as Barnes states in his preface, Farragut’s “manliness” and “character.”

Barnes’ other works include For King or Country (1895); Naval Actions of 1812 (1896); Midshipman Farragut (1896), which focuses on the earlier part of Farragut’s career, including his first cruise as a midshipman in 1811; Yankee Ships and Yankee Sailors (1897); Ships and Sailors (1898); The Great War Trek (1901); With the Flag in the Channel (1902); The Blockaders (1905); Commodore Perry (1912), another biography; Through Central Africa from Coastto Coast (1915);and The Story of the American Navy (1919), a history. Barnes’ focus is usually celebrated seamen who demonstrate heroism, valor, and patriotism. Barnes died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, two years after completing his own life’s story, From Then till Now (1934). [See also CONFEDERATE NAVAL FICTION; JUVENILE LITERATURE; PERRY, COMMODORE MATTHEW]

Richard J. Williamson