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Rebels on the Great Lakes

Confederate Naval Commando Operations Launched from Canada, 1863-1864

by John L. Bell

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canada, civil war period (1850-1877), united states
list price: $27.99
also available: eBook
category: History
published: 2011
publisher: Dundurn
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Rebels on the Great Lakes

In Rebels on the Great Lakes, John Bell takes his readers into the world of American Civil War espionage. He recounts the detailed planning and execution of an attempt by American Confederates to stage a naval attack on America from Canadian soil. This was a daring and dangerous enterprise, particularly because Canada was still ruled by Britain, and the Confederates were breaking British law. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. John Bell makes extensive use of primary resources. He gives a detailed accounting of the events that lead up to the attack and the men involved in it. Some of these men will be new to most readers; for others, his research reveals interesting and surprising new facts, particularly of Canadian leaders who hold a prominent place in our history. This is one of the best works of history I have read in a very long time.

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In 1863–1864, Confederate naval operations were launched from Canada against America, with an unexpected impact on North America’s future.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a myth has persisted that the hijackers entered the United States from Canada. This is completely untrue. Nevertheless, there was a time during the U.S. Civil War when attacks on America were launched from Canada, but the aggressors were mostly fellow Americans engaged in a secessionist struggle. Among the attacks were three daring naval commando expeditions against a prisoner-of-war camp on Johnsons Island in Lake Erie.

These Confederate operations on the Great Lakes remain largely unknown. However, some of the people involved did make more indelible marks in history, including a future Canadian prime minister, a renowned Victorian war correspondent, a beloved Catholic poet, a notorious presidential assassin, and a son of the abolitionist John Brown.

The improbable events linking these figures constitute a story worth telling and remembering. Rebels on the Great Lakes offers the first full account of the Confederate naval operations launched from Canada in 186364, describing forgotten military actions that ultimately had an unexpected impact on North Americas future.


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Contributor notes

John Bell was born in Montreal and grew up in Halifax. A senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, he has written extensively on various aspects of Canadian history and culture. His most recent books are Confederate Seadog: John Taylor Wood in War and Exile and Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. He lives in Ottawa.

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Editorial Review

Mr. Bell clearly has infinite patience, an excellent nose for tracking, and a serious but likeable prose style: a combination all too rare

— George Fetherling
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