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Maritime non-fiction / Biography

Derring-do of a legendary mariner

A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War, by John F Messner

A_Scottish_Blockade_Runner_in_the_American_Civil_War_cover.jpgWhen the American Civil War broke out in 1861, there were many people who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and many more who looked to profit from the conflict. The only issue: the United States Navy was quickly able to establish a blockade of the South, which was desperately in need of war materiel and money from the cotton trade.

Enter the blockade-runners: men willing to risk imprisonment or death to make their fortune. 'John' Wyllie, one of the most successful, became a legend in his native Scotland, later delighting audiences with his tales of danger and cunning aboard the paddle-steamer Ad-Vance.

Inspired as a boy by the tales of Sir Walter Scott, Wyllie gave up a career as a teacher to go to sea. A literate man, he wrote gripping and surprisingly modern accounts of his experiences during a long maritime career, something that Messner takes full advantage of in this biography. As well as plentiful facts and background, we get the mariner's first-person descriptions of yellow fever outbreaks, burials at sea, sinkings, plots for revenge and much more.

But best of all in this page-turner of a book are the accounts of the blockade-running itself, which are like something from a classic adventure story:

'"We are seen, full speed ahead!" Then the fiddlers play up, and the dance becomes lively. A flash and a roar. A shot passes between their masts. "Well fired," shouts the captain. "Now give it her, stokers and enginemen." The sky is all scored with pencils of fire. The cannon boom. The hunt is up. The dogs close about the hare. The iron rain continues; but, thank goodness, not a drop has fallen on the engines. The Advance has cleared the circle of death… There is light in every eye, triumph on every brow.'

A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer Ad-Vance
By John F Messner
Whittles Publishing, £18.99
ISBN: 978 18499 54822

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