Comical Civil War History

Today my kids and I looked through my old comic book collection. Among the many GI JOE’s, Spiderman’s, and Avengers was a thin comic printed on old high-fiber paper titled, “Captain D’s Exciting Adventures: The Blockade Runners.” I instantly remembered getting it from a restaurant while on one of my childhood family vacations.

capt ds blockade runnersLike many Civil War enthusiasts, my interest was triggered by stopping at battlefields on family trips down to warm places like Florida and the Gulf Coast. As a young boy, there was something very mysterious, exciting and even intimidating about traveling through the South. In addition to possessing most of the war’s battlefields, the South also hosted other distinguishing roadside markers. For example, the fireworks stores in Tennessee and restaurant chains like Shoney’s were clear signs to my brothers and I in the back of our van that we were no longer in Wisconsin or the familiar confines of the Midwest.

Shoney’s apparently started the Captain D’s restaurant chain as their entry into the sea food dining market. And I recall Captain D’s briefly became my restaurant of choice after receiving a copy of their complimentary “Captain D’s Exciting Adventures: The Blockade Runners.” What I loved is that the South seemed to remember the war more than we did in the North and this comic offered more proof.

A major let down occurred the next time we stopped at a Captain D’s (upon my insistence) and the complimentary comic depicted talking dolphins. I discovered today that the Shoney’s company issued at least twenty-four issues of “Captain D’s Exciting Adventures” that covered a wide-range of historical and oceanic topics. My childhood instincts were correct in that there were at least two other issues that pertained to the Civil War. One covered the Ironclads at Hampton Roads and the other depicted WIlliam B. Cushing, a Yankee from Delafield, Wisconsin whom Captain D states, “Out He-roed Every Hero in the Civil War.” Imagine getting the the Cushing comic back then? I may have moved next to a Captain D’s if that would have happened.

Reading “The Blockade Runners” again this weekend was a lot of fun as was taking a few moments to track down some historical images and do a little of historical research based on the story. As a thirteen year old, I don’t remember if I thought a restaurant chain’s comic book would or would not lack historical accuracy. I just enjoyed the novelty of it. Today, I admit I had my doubts but I stand corrected. Captain D follows the Confederate Captain John Wilkinson and his efforts to carry armaments through the Union Blockade.  Wilkinson sailed the, the Robert E. Lee, and I included a historical photograph of the actual ship by that name along with the comic representation below.

rob lee comic

robert e lee ship

Indeed, “Frazer and Trenholm Co.” (read comic below) was a Charleston, SC based shipping and financing company operated by George Trenholm. Trenholm helped gain foreign investments for the South and finance a fleet of blockade runners and even ended the war as the Confederacy’s Secretary of the Treasury. I could not find historical evidence of the “pretty… har-u-u-mph” nurse, Sarra Birk, but in his memoirs, Wilkinson writes of stoic members of the “fair sex” (163) who were on board when the Lee escaped a near capture that closely matches the comic’s depiction. And clearly the South was in need of medical equipment and expertise during the war.confed finance

I was also surprised to learn that Wilkinson almost brought some Civil War history quite close to Wisconsin. He had planned an extraordinary rescue of Confederate prisoners (which was foiled at the last moment) in the Great Lakes at the prison located on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie.

This comic is an exciting discovery in many ways. I found an artifact that helped foster my interest in this era of history and to recall that excitement is wonderful. Back in 1987, I was intrigued by the fact a restaurant wrote Civil War comic books. Twenty-six years later, I found it is an interesting vehicle to research blockade running and Confederate finances during the war. I am pleasantly surprised that at least some of the comic is based on primary source material like WIlkinson’s memoirs. Was my surprise based on the format of this story or its source? I have used graphic novel excerpts in class before and this showed that even comic books distributed by a restaurant chain can be used to spark investigation and learning. Either way, this adventure down memory lane has been truly enlightening.

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22 thoughts on “Comical Civil War History

  1. In the images of the comics, the product that was in short supply were that of guns. In chapter 12, Stokesbury states that the Confederacy wise in dire need of money and that they seemed to have failed at achieving funding from most foreign countries, however they did manage to get some monetary support from Erlanger and Co. of Paris. Both the given comic and the passage on pages 173-175 in Stokesbury’s work entail similarities. They both depict the desperate situation the Confederacy was in and the elements that were vital for the Confederacy to continue their war efforts. However, there are differences in the fact that Stokesbury sticks to the importance of money, while the comic suggests that arms were of higher desire and importance. All in all the economic situation that the Confederacy was in during the war did not improve the chances of them winning the Civil War.

  2. The blockade comic closely relates to Stokesbury Chapter 12. Throughout the Civil War, the Confederates were left with little supplies and money. This was largely due to the blockade of Southern ports, which made trade very difficult for Southerners. It also made any loans of money or supplies from other countries be delayed or destroyed. This, however, was not the only reason for the collapse of Southern economy. Another reason for the collapse of the economy was that the South didn’t have a well-structured government. The economy in turn affected the troops as they couldn’t get weapons and food because they were low on them or didn’t have enough money to buy them.

  3. In chapter 12 of Stokesbury, he says that the South had many economic difficulties including animal shortages and weapon shortages. The comic shows Capt. Wilkinson trying to smuggle rifles trough the Northern Blockade. The book stated that the South was in need of nearly all resources. The Northern blockade did not help the South. The eventually came to depend upon the runners for their supplies. The runners were not able to outweigh the deficit of manpower.

  4. The comic and chapter 12 in Stokesbury have both similarities and differences. Both sources depict the Confederacy as a nation struggling for money and supplies. The comic, however, conveys Captain Wilkinson as someone that will do anything, even sail all the way to Bremuda, to retreive supplies. This is not how Stokesburry illustrates the Confederacy in chapter 12. Stokesbury makes the Confederate government out to be a bit less heroic, as they failed to make “any serious attempt to tackle its revenue problems” untill 1863, when they finally issued a tax on most material items, something they should have done from the beginning (Stokesbury 174).

  5. Similar to the comic book informing the reader of the Confederacy’s need for “medical equipment and expertise during the war,” Stokesbury’s book highlights how there were “shortages of everything, both agricultural and manufactured goods.” The one shortage that was “even more troublesome, more crucial, and more intrusive than any of these others,” was the shortage of Confederate bodies (men) to fight the war. All southern men who wanted to go to war had already done so and now the need for more men was a large issue. Conscription, also known as the draft, was instituted, but many people found loopholes and the draft only affected the majority of the lower southern class. Overall, according to Stokesbury, the issue of not enough men to support the southern war efforts was by far more important and crucial to the South trying to remain a free, separate country. The lack of food and medical supplies is discussed in both Stokesbury’s book and the comic, but the comic book does not address the Confederacy’s failing labor system and problem of raising revenue through taxes to support both the Confederate war effort and the domestic needs of the families on Confederate home front. Stokesbury’s discussion gives an excellent description of how desperate survival was becoming for the Confederacy during and after 1863.

  6. Stokesbury acknowledges that the North had all around better diplomats than the South, especially when you compare Lincoln and Davis. It was because of Lincoln’s idea to use a blockade that Davis and the Confederacy had a hard time getting supplies and money. The connection I made between history and the last comic was when the captain was asked to also transport an important passenger, and the captain replies impossible. That instance made me think of when the Confederacy tried to sneak John Slidell and James M. Mason, two Southern diplomats who would try to get European intervention, but got caught before they reached Europe. Both history and the comic illustrate that the South had a difficult time trying to out maneuver the blockade and thus they also had a hard time beating the Northern diplomats throughout the war.

  7. The comic book depicts a lost cause view of the blockade and the economic troubles of the Confederacy. These men who would smuggle goods or weapons are shown as heroes who had many “Exciting Adventures”. This comic shows a south that is valiant south fighting against the immense Yankee menace. In reality this was a group fighting its own country to maintain a rebellion that is being run by a government which, even by its own principles, should not exist. There still may be some truth to this comic book series still, there is quite a bit of evidence pointing to dolphins actually being able to talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/denise_herzing_could_we_speak_the_language_of_dolphins.html

  8. Stokesbury spoke of the Confederacy’s lack of sufficient ability to provide goods and services, especially in light of slaves betraying their their owners while they were out fighting, the Union blockade, and its lack of sufficient industry. The Confederacy neither a good labor force to serve nor transportation routes to provide goods. On specifically the naval aspect of this problem, Stokesbury explains that Southern naval ships were either destroyed near completion , burned to avoid capture, or broke down in action (176). The comic emits this same tone in the form of a story, colorful pictures and simpler wording. These themes are expressed when the man is excited about new shipment of rifles, and when there is a tone of fear when they talked about the danger of Union gunboats in the Union blockade.

  9. Chapter 12 in Stokesbury and the comic both have similarities. This chapter in the book mainly focuses on the struggles that the Confederacy had economically. The Confederacy had false presuppositions of what the war was going to turn out to be. They thought that the Union wouldn’t fight, that cotton was king, and that they would be far superior on the battlefield. They were correct on the fact that they were superior in battle as they did win significant battles. The comic shows a Cpt. Wilkinson who is willing to do anything in order to receive supplies for the Confederacy. This is closely related to how the Confederacy felt with their economic struggles, they wanted to get rid of their struggles fast but didn’t act like they wanted to do so.

  10. The similarities between chapter 12 in Stokesbury and these comics resemble the economic struggles that the Confederacy faced. The reading in Stokesbury speaks of the shortages of money and mainly weapons. The comic illustrates this situation by depicting the Confederacy’s desperate need for supplies when the Captain attempts to smuggle guns through the Union’s blockade. This relates to the Confederacy during the war, because they wanted to get rid of their economic problems so that they could continue to try to win the war.

  11. The Confederates, as stated in Chapter 12, fell into dire need of resources in the later parts of the Civil War because of the their inferior industrial economy. It made it even harder for the Confederates to get resources when there was a Union blockade protecting the coast from Confederate shipments. The comic demonstrates some of this hardship as it shows the adventures of a Confederate blockade runner struggling to smuggle guns into the South under Union pressure. Stokesbury gives a more academic look into the South’s economic struggles during the war, but the comic is still pretty accurate when it comes to showing the techniques used by the Confederate blockade runners to smuggle supplies into the increasingly desperate Confederate army.

  12. Both the comic and Stokesbury had similarities and differences pertaining to the difficulty the confederacy had as the civil war progressed. Both display the desperation the south had for the supplies and the difficulties they had distributing the resources they had to their troops. However, one of the differences is how the comic depicts Wilkinson’s willingness to venture out towards the Bermuda for supplies despite the the strong union blockade. In Stokesbury he discusses how the confederacy did not attempt to retrieve supplies as heroically as the way comic depicts Wilkinson’s actions. One thing to remember when comparing these two documents is that the comic is intended for a young audience so it form a better image in a child’s mind if the character is heroic rather than not.

  13. The comic book is closely related to the reading in that both say how the Confederates had few supplies and little money along with a poor navy. Many of weapons that the Confederacy used were smuggled in which is what is shown in the comic book, Captain Wilkinson tried to smuggle in rifles in through the Northern Blockade. The South also had to sneak in and out through the blockade if they had any hope of supplying themselves or keeping the war effort and funding alive.

  14. Stokesbury, as stated, focuses mainly on the economic crisis of the war, while the comic focuses mainly on weapon shortage s. The comic omits the naval problem, while stokesbury says that the southern navy itself was almost uterly destroyed. Stokesbury sticks to the importance of money, and not the shortage of weapons. And also, i find it cool you and your son found these comics.

  15. One of the similarities between Chapter 12 and the Captain D’s comic is that the Confederacy was still in a struggle for supplies, and that they were desperate to get through this Union Blockade, specifically through Captain Wilkinson. Although the comic makes the Confederacy seem more adept with trying to solve their problems, Stokesbury points out that the Confederacy began taxing, which would have helped if they stated earlier.

  16. In chapter 12, Stokesbury spoke of the Confederates lacking supplies and manpower. In particular, the Confederacy had shortages of arms and ammunition. The comic book depicts a real blockade runner getting rifles to take back to the South. Stokesbury also mentioned that although the blockade was effective, some runners could still get past the blockade and deliver supplies to help the South, although not enough to make a large difference. The comic book also has Captain Wilkinson getting medical supplies through the blockade for the South. hat was not mentioned in chapter 12 as a main economic concern though. The medical supplies just help preserve the lesser manpower of the South, and one big reason the South lost in the end was a lack of manpower.

  17. Stokesbury shows that the CSA was grappling not only with its monetary disadvantage but also is severe lack of manpower for things other than fighting. The comic shows that the CSA had to go such great lengths as blockade running to get weapons, testament to their scaled back(in relation to the Union) manufacturing capabilities. Both show that the CSA was in desperate need of fighting materials.

  18. Similarly, the comic displays the confederacy as a struggling economic nation and one that seems far behind the North economically. The comic depicts the South as an organized society in terms of getting goods to the some markets in Europe. Stokesbury focuses primarily on how the confederate government struggling to find a way to pay for this war and the comic focuses on the people trying to fix the problem. Rifles and guns were in short supply for the South, but the North was arming themselves with foreign bought weapons, giving them the upper hand in terms of technology, sadly it did not turn into victories.

  19. In Chapter 12, Stokesbury elaborates on how the South had a major disadvantage when it came to supplies throughout the war compared to the Union. In the comic, the blockade runner’s goal was to smuggle in rifles for the Confederate soldiers. These blockade runners were one of the only sources for supplies for the Confederate army, so their transportation of supplies was vital towards the war effort.

  20. The comic brings to light the problem that the confederates had with the amount of guns they were able to obtain. Stokesbury also talks about this and says that this is why foreign intervention was such a large factor for the south. the only problem, as Stokesbury points out, is that the foreign loans did not come, “foreign loans, which the early confederacy had optimistically elected, proved even more disappointing” (175). A couple of things that the comic did not mention in terms of confederate deficiencies are the shortage of bodies or people that could fight and the revenue problems, neither of which get solved in the war.

  21. The South’s economy took a turn for the worse in the second half of the war, and as Stokesberry outlined in chapter 12, the economic burdens of the war were placed on both the North and the South, but the South was unable to handle the burdens. On top of this, many materials needed to produce products for war began to be scarce. One of the main reasons for the South’s ability to carry on the fighting for so long was the supplies and goods that were brought in by blockade runners. Many people focus on the land battles of the war, specifically the Eastern theatre. But by doing so they neglect the fact that the war was decided and heavily influenced by the massive naval superiority of the Federal Navy. This strangle hold halted the import of the most important war material required by the Confederacy: Guns.

  22. In chapter 12, Stokesbury shows that the South is starting to struggle financially with funding this war. This is already hard to keep in place with the South’s economy, but also the blockade imposed upon them made it harder to resupply their soldiers. This comic illuminates that the lack of guns and ammunition was a big problem, and the blockade runners were the only way around the Union in resupplying their soldiers.

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