Or Notes of a Naval Officer
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While researching another book, historian Schneller (A Quest for Glory: A Biography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, not reviewed) discovered this never-before-published memoir of a young officer’s experience in the Union navy. Grattan was a young Brooklynite who served first in the army until1862, then was mustered out—probably for medical reasons—and enlisted in the navy in1863. Although his family origins are unclear, his writing and general literacy indicate that he was well educated and from a middle-class or higher background. Grattan was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading squadron and spent most of his naval career “under the blue pennant,” or serving on a flagship. The memoir he later wrote paints a unique portrait of life in the Union navy, offering fascinating glimpses of Federal blockading actions which aided (invaluably) the cause of Northern victory. Also of note is the depiction of relationships between the officers and men of the navy and their African-American stewards (serving in the only available role for blacks in the navy). Grattan’s writing is sharp and surprisingly unaffected by the flowery prose of typical Victorian memoirs; although it does wax repetitive, overall this is a surprisingly lively and modern read. The author’s profuse details show a side of the war effort that few readers could have imagined, such as dinners that would sound more believable on the Titanic than on any US naval vessel. His descriptions of combat are more than believable, though sometimes woodenly penned. Schneller’s foreword places Grattan in a context that illuminates the memoir. And his notes (fortunately incorporated into the text, not printed as endnotes) are informative and easily read by the nonhistorian. A welcome addition to our knowledge about the lives of men who served in the Civil War. (45 photos, 5 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: March 12th, 1999
ISBN: 0-471-24043-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999