Friday, September 10, 2021

Booknotes: A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War

New Arrival:
A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer Ad-Vance by John F. Messner (Whittles Pub, 2021).

The research on Civil War blockade running has made it abundantly clear that the venture could be immensely profitable for shrewd investors and ambitious seafaring entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic, with most vessels crewed by British subjects. John Messner's A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer Ad-Vance documents a notable example from the northern reaches of the United Kingdom.

From the description: "Born in 1828 near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, Wyllie went to sea as an apprentice seaman in 1852 and quickly rose through the ranks. By 1862 he had gained his masters certificate in Liverpool, and there he took command of his first vessel, the Bonita. He sailed for Nassau, then a booming port involved in running contraband through the Union blockade of the Confederate States, at that time fighting in the American Civil War. Sailors from Britain rushed to man these vessels as great fortunes could be made if a successful run was made into a Confederate port."

More: "On the return journey, two agents of the State of North Carolina, Thomas Crossan and John White, were travelling to Britain on the orders of Governor Zebulon Vance to purchase ships to run the blockade. This set Wyllie's career as a blockade runner on course. White and Crossan arranged the purchase of the Clyde-built paddle steamer Lord Clyde and, just five months after docking in Liverpool as commander of the Bonita, Wyllie took command of the Lord Clyde, (cleverly) renamed the Ad-Vance. He was aboard from the start of the vessel's new career until her capture in September 1864."

As long as they were smart enough not to arm their vessels or attempt to fight their way through the blockade, captured runners would eventually be released to try again. That was the case with Wyllie. "Two more commands of blockade runners followed; he was captured again and then evaded the American authorities through an ingenious, and at sometimes unbelievable, escape to Scotland." After the war, Wyllie briefly returned to the sea before finally settling into a more terrestrial occupation as a Scottish farmer.

The book offers "(t)he most comprehensive history of the Ad-Vance ... from the day she left Glasgow until her capture off the Carolina coast." In researching the project, Messner explored archives located in multiple countries including Australia, Ireland, Canada, Bermuda, the UK, and the United States. Being abundantly illustrated with photographs, archival illustrations, maps, and color plates, the volume is aesthetically attractive as well. There's a great variety of documentary extras, data tables, ship histories, and more in the appendix section, too. Nice looking book.

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