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Northern Pirate, Southern Hero

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"June 30, 1861, CSN Sumter. Mississippi Delta. Bound for the sea. Blazing sun, thick haze.

The eyes of Commander Raphael Semmes are burning, and there is nowhere to turn for relief. It’s high tide at Head of the Passes, his only chance to break from the cage Abe Lincoln’s sea boys have built round him and New Orleans. And right now the South’s little bark-rigged raider, the ship channel ahead, the marsh grass . . . they all look aflame..."

By the time you've finished reading the brief preface to Randall Peffer's new historical novel, Southern Seahawk, set during the Civil War, you'll be aware that you're putting your next few reading days into the hands of an expert. Peffer is not only a skilled writer (and frequent contributor to SAIL over the years), but one with long experience as a working mariner on traditional sailing vessels. The verisimilitude of his description of a devastating storm at sea that results in loss of a U.S. Navy vessel, many of her crew, and the career dreams of her commanding officer will encourage you to stop looking for gaffes in the maritime narrative.

And by the time you finish reading about Rafael Semmes's transformation from disgraced Federal naval officer to Confederate commander of the cruiser Sumter to the Union's public enemy number one at sea, you'll be glad that Southern Seahawk is the first of a planned trilogy. Semmes took more than 80 prizes and devastated Northern commerce from his two ships, Sumter and Alabama. He left a two-volume memoir, and his ships' logs are in the Navy archives. Peffer bases his tale on well-researched facts, brought to life by his novelist's imagination.

Download an excerpt of Randall Peffer's Southern Seahawk.

Click here to watch and listen to an interview with Randall Peffer filmed aboard his schooner, the Sarah Abbott.

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