CONFEDERATE NAVAL FICTION - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

CONFEDERATE NAVAL FICTION. The exploits of Confederate naval forces have been captured in fictional form, and, although not as popular as ground battles and the turmoil of southern life, these sea or river tales represent a significant body of adult and juvenile* literature.

Confederate naval fiction has its roots in two titles published just before the turn of the twentieth century, and the battle of the ironclads was the subject of each. Warren L. Goss wrote the first book, In the Navy (1898), and Charles E. Banks and George C. Cooke followed the next year with the more successful In Hampton Roads: A Dramatic Romance (1899), a love story combined with the classic engagement of the ironclads Monitor and Merrimack.* In 1906 Jesse Frothingham published Running the Gauntlet: The Daring Exploits of Lieutenant Cushing, U.S.N., one of many works of fiction that, by focusing on the U.S. Navy, necessarily included an account of Southern ships and seamen.

Confederate naval fiction was dormant for the next twenty years until James Stuart Montgomery published an exciting tale of Confederate blockade running, Tall Men (1927). In 1939 Bruce Lancaster and Lowell Bren- tano utilized the same theme in Bride of a Thousand Cedars, the best-selling of these books to date. In 1944 James Howell Street’s By Valour and Arms was published by the Dial Press and, through several later printings (the latest in 1964), has enjoyed almost as much success as any novel set in the Civil War. The book centers on the battle for Vicksburg through the eyes of a gunner on the C.S.S. Arkansas.

By 1951, following on his successful use of the American Revolution for fictional settings during the decade of the 1940s, Francis van Wyck Mason* began to use the Civil War for a setting and over the next fifteen years wrote dozens of Civil War novels, many of them using the Confederate navy in some way. The Civil War centennial resulted in a surge of novels centered around the “tragic era.” Mason wrote four historical novels on naval action during the war, three with a distinctly Southern setting: Proud New Flags (1951), the story of building a Confederate navy; Our Valiant Few (1956), about blockade running and war profiteering; and Blue Hurricane, a 1957 sequel to Proud New Flags. Mason drowned off Bermuda in 1978; his last work, Armored Giants (1980), about life on the Monitor and Merrimack, was published posthumously.

Nearly a dozen novels of Confederate naval action appeared from 1956 to 1966, among them works by several popular fiction writers, including Frank Yerby, James D. Horan, John Claggett, Showell Styles, and Garland Roark.* Yerby’s The Rebel(1956) centers on a blockade runner, while Roark uses Confederate and Union ships as settings in The Outlawed Banner (1956). Claggett’s Rebel (1964) is the tragic story of a Southern naval hero who kills a close friend and falls in love with a spy. Horan and Styles follow history more closely. In one of the most popular Confederate novels, Seek Out and Destroy (1958), Horan uses experiences on board the Confederate raider Shenandoah at the close of the war in an exciting tale. Styles follows the raider Alabama* in a similar style in Number Two-Ninety (1966). Still another novelist, Willard Wallace, utilized the daring adventures of the crew of the Alabama in The Raiders: A Novel of the Civil War at Sea (1970).

Lee Willoughby’s two novels, The Caribbeans (1983) and The Raiders (1984), also follow the Confederate naval theme. More recently, four additional novelists have turned to Southern life at sea. The most intriguing of these is Louise Meriwether, the only woman and African American* to use the theme. Her Fragments of the Ark (1994) follows the historical attempts of runaway slaves* to take over a Confederate gunboat. Paul Williams wrote The Shenandoah Affair (1992), a historical romance in the vein of Gone with the Wind. Finally, Ireland’s Harry Harrison, who now lives in the United States, contributed Stars & Stripes Forever (1998), a new book on joint British-Confederate naval action.

Juvenile books are fewer in number but include several interesting titles. On the Old Kearsage (1919) was one of several titles in the Scribner Series for Young People and one of several books by Cyrus Townsend Brady.* The book is a tale of two young boys and their encounters during the war. Western writer Gordon Shirreffs published four books with a Civil War focus for young readers, three with a naval theme. The Gray Sea Raiders, The Mosquito Fleet, and, especially, Powder Boy of the Monitor (all 1961) were centennial books that sold fairly well. The same is true for Robert B. Alter’s Day of the Arkansas (1965), a story of the Vicksburg campaign on the Mississippi River. Arthur Mokin’s Ironclads: The Monitor and the Merrimack (1992) is classified as a title for young readers.

FURTHER READING: Gerhardstein, Virginia. Dickinson’s American Historical Fiction. 5th ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1986; Menendez, Albert J. Civil War Novels: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1986.

Boyd Childress