The Lost Fleet: A Yankee Whaler’s Struggle Against the Confederate Navy and Arctic Disaster
Marc Songini paints a gritty picture of 19th-century seafaring life in The Lost Fleet, a detail-packed chronicle of the last years of the New England whaling industry.
Roughly following the lives of Captain Thomas Williams of Massachusetts, his wife, Eliza, and their born-at-sea children, the author narrates the slow death of the whaling business. By 1858, the Quakers of New Bedford were re-considering the profitability of the industry that had built so many fortunes. Decades of over-fishing meant that whalers had to ship out for years, and probe ever deeper into the Arctic. By the Civil War, financiers were willing to sell many of the town’s creaky ships to “The Stone Fleet,” a flotilla sent south to be scuttled near Charlestown in order to blockade the port—an act that compelled the Confederates to outfit their own privateers to prey on the Yankee fleets. By the 1870s, petroleum began to overtake whale oil as the fuel of choice. Yet some whalers still probed ever deeper into Artic waters—at a terrible human cost.
The Lost Fleet is a one-stop resource for detail on the whaling life, the whaling ships, the crews, the ports of call, the migration patterns of the whales, and the hunt itself. Marc Songini clearly loves his subject: He’s penned a first-look book for any period researcher.