Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Another "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy"

If you are a successful guerrilla leader near some soggy ground, there's a good chance you'll be awarded the coveted nom de guerre 'Swamp Fox'. For me, M. Jeff Thompson is the Swamp Fox of the Confederacy, but J.J. Dickison's operations in Florida apparently earned him a similar degree of notoriety. John J. Koblas's J.J. Dickison: Swamp Fox of the Confederacy is a highly laudatory account of Capt. Dickison's operations. Cheesy cover art aside, the book is a serious study that sports an impressive bibliography, although I have mixed feelings about how well he used his wide assemblage of sources. Additionally, for such an experienced writer, Koblas's historial narrative skills are a bit unpolished. His method of integrating first person accounts into his own narrative of events is often ponderous and repetitive.

The first half of the book is surprisingly passive on the wartime role of Dickison and is more of a general history of the war in north Florida up to 1864. However, the action picks up during the last two years of the war and we are treated to a retelling of Dickison's exploits at Palatka, Gainesville, Marianna, Braddock's Farm, and his celebrated capture of the U.S.S. Columbine (a wooden sidewheel steamer rather than the city-class ironclad depicted on the cover). There is also an account of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the end of the book.

Although the author probably isn't sufficiently skeptical of the claims made by pro-Southern officers and civilians as to the true extent of Dickison's military victories, the detailed examination here of these rarely explored events is very much welcomed. Dickison, who went on to write the Florida volume of the Confederate Military History series edited by Clement A. Evans, is a Civil War figure worthy of note, and Koblas's book, despite its flaws, is worth a look if you are interested in Florida's Civil War experience.

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