The Civil War Adventures of a Blockade Runner

Overview

William Watson published his account of the two years he spent evading Union gunboats and dealing with the “sharpers” who fed off the misfortune of war in 1892. Using log books, personal papers, and business memoranda, he sought to write a “plain, blunt” account of “events just as they happened.” Instead, he wrote a classic adventure tale whose careful description of seafaring in the 1860s gives us a glimpse into a world now closed to us.

Watson is the protagonist, but he shares...

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Overview

William Watson published his account of the two years he spent evading Union gunboats and dealing with the “sharpers” who fed off the misfortune of war in 1892. Using log books, personal papers, and business memoranda, he sought to write a “plain, blunt” account of “events just as they happened.” Instead, he wrote a classic adventure tale whose careful description of seafaring in the 1860s gives us a glimpse into a world now closed to us.

Watson is the protagonist, but he shares his story with his ship, the Rob Roy, a center-board schooner whose shallow draft and wide beam made it the ideal vessel for slipping over shoals and dashing in and out of blockaded ports. He peoples his account with the good, the bad, and the unlucky, from the likeable and irrepressible Captain Dave McLusky to the loathsome and dishonest Mr. R. M. He takes his reader from Havana, where land sharks greeted incoming sailors, to Galveston, where sharp businessmen and corrupt officials connived to confiscate both profits and ships. He stops at Matamora, a dusty place on “a bare and barren coast,” and he visits General Magruder in Houston. His crew brave gales and a hurricane that drives the Rob Roy back thirty miles; and he survives plots against his ship and his life.

Through it all, Watson enjoys himself. Blockade running, he declares, was not “unlawful or dishonourable.” Rather, it was “a bold and daring enterprise,” an “exciting sport of the higher order,” like racing yachts, and an almost obligatory act of defiance of a blockade “maintained by no other right than by the force of arms.” The “commission merchants” did better than the blockade runners. But Watson recalled his years dodging federal gunboats and outwitting petty officials, treacherous crew, and dishonest businessmen as “much more congenial than the extortions and deceitful wheedling and trickeries of the legitimate trade.”

This is an adventure story held together by the nuts and bolts of sailing. Watson’s discussion of why sail was superior to steam for running blockades is superb; his detailed accounts of surviving gales and outrunning Federal cruisers are fascinating. He takes yellow fever and high sea chases in stride. Through it all, he maintains his honor and guards his profits. For the reader who wants to ply the Gulf of Mexico under sail, play the lottery in Havana, and visit Texas when it was “a new country,” Watson is the perfect guide to run the blockade that time imposes on posterity.

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Editorial Reviews

The Lone Star Book Review
"This is a great book with a lot of action that will make an excellent addition to your Confederate Navy bookshelf."--The Lone Star Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585441525
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST TEXAS
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

A British subject, William Watson lived and worked in the South prior to the outbreak of war in 1861. Although he opposed secession, he served with the Confederate army. Wounded at the battle of Corinth and subsequently declared unfit for further service, he found his way to New Orleans and blockade running. He recounted his service with the Confederacy in Life in the Confederate Army.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2001

    Blockade running to Galveston under Sail and Steam

    Watson has a charming and engaging narrative style. Some Victorian authors are quite hard to read, but I would have thought I was reading Hemingway. He provides tactical details for his operations as captian of a centerboard schooner and for a couple of trips on a side paddle wheel steamer. In Texas he most often ran into Galveston, but also made it to the Brazos River and Matamoros on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. He also recounts the details of his busines dealings ashore. He was owner as well as captian. The outbound port he visitied most often was Havana, but he also went to Tampico and one or two others. The details Watson provides bring the past alive. This is also true of his other Civil War book, Life in the Confederate Army. He was first srgeant of the rifle company of the Third Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the thirst year or two of the war. He was invalided out by wounds suffered at the Battle of Corinth. I suggested that this book be reprinted by Texas A&M Press to complement the Institute of Nautical Archaeology's excavation of the Denbigh, a famous blockade runner lost at Galveston in May 1865.

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