High Seas and Yankee Gunboats tells of the harrowing adventures of two men from Savannah, Georgia, who sought to breach the Federal blockade early in the Civil War. Roger S. Durham draws from James Dickson’s 1862 Civil War diary to frame the story of the young sailor’s travels with his friend Thomas L. Hernandez from New Jersey to Nova Scotia to the coast of Georgia. Using Dickson’s diary and other primary source materials, Durham deftly recounts their remarkable voyage and makes available a firsthand vantage point of the early war years in which blockade runners enjoyed their greatest success.
Durham traces the journey of Dickson and Hernandez aboard the blockade runner Standard on its mission to smuggle medicines, commercial goods, and provisions. Blown off course by ravaging winds, the Standard struggled for more than five weeks through the stormy north Atlantic Ocean before reaching the waters near Brunswick, Georgia. In his diary, Dickson records his thoughts about the trip and the day-to-day difficulties faced by the crew. His account reveals the degree of contempt these men felt for the efficiency of the blockade, believing that even in a wind-powered brigantine they could penetrate Union defenses. Their story illustrates the commercial connections between Halifax and the Confederacy and features many prominent Georgians, including the Colcock Jones family made famous by Robert M. Myers’s The Children of Pride.
Dickson’s diary ends abruptly, in mid-sentence, in the midst of action. From other primary sources Durham pieces together the fates of Dickson and Hernandez and tells how they successfully transported their cargo to Savannah only to lose the Standard shortly thereafter in an encounter with Union forces.