Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This would be a terrible fate

I finished Last Flag Down by John Baldwin and Ron Powers, an account of the voyage of the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah at the end of the Civil War. In her twelve and a half month cruise, she took 38 Union merchant ships, including 21 New Bedford whale ships in the Bering Sea.

From the books blurb:
As the Confederacy felt itself slipping beneath the Union juggernaut in late 1864, the South launched a desperate counteroffensive to shatter the U.S. economy and force a standoff. Its secret weapon? A state-of-the-art raiding ship whose mission was to prowl the world’s oceans and sink the U.S. merchant fleet. The raider’s name was Shenandoah, and her executive officer was Conway Whittle, a twenty-four-year-old warrior who might have stepped from the pages of Arthurian legend. Whittle would share command with a dark and brooding veteran of the seas, Capt. James Waddell, and together with a crew of strays, misfits, and strangers, they would spend nearly a year sailing two-thirds of the way around the globe, destroying dozens of Union ships and taking more than a thousand prisoners, all while continually dodging the enemy. Then, in August of 1865, a British ship revealed the shocking truth to the men of Shenandoah: The war had been over for months, and they were now being hunted as pirates. What ensued was an incredible 15,000-mile journey to the one place the crew hoped to find sanctuary, only to discover that their fate would depend on how they answered a single question. Wondrously evocative and filled with drama and poignancy, Last Flag Down is a riveting story of courage, nobility, and rare comradeship forged in the quest to achieve the impossible.
The book hews closely to the log of Executive Officer Conway Whittle. It could have been a hundred pages shorter with good editing but none-the-less, interesting reading (with judicious skimming.) Whittle could be both factual, insightful, and contemplative in his log.

I liked this deadpan passage from Whittle's log:
Surrounded as we are by rocks, islands, and doubtful shoals, the navigation is intricate. There is in this connection another thought, not at all consoling. That is, if by misfortune we should run ashore and be wracked, we would probably be thrown on the Fiji's or New Hebrides and we might be eaten by cannibals. This would be a terrible fate.

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