Schafer: "THUNDER ON THE RIVER: The Civil War in Northeast Florida"

Daniel Schafer and Richard Martin wrote their first book,’ Jacksonville’s Ordeal by Fire: A Civil War History’ in 194. In 2010, Schafer had brought out ‘Thunder on the River’ as an updated version and an expanded continuation of the first book. Even though Schafer had covered a larger area in a triangular form, with the three points of the triangle being the towns of Mayport, Baldwin, and Palatka, the focus is significantly on Jacksonville again, the city on St. John’s River in Florida. The major theme of the ‘Thunder on the River’ is the first occupation of Jacksonville in 1862 and the three subsequent occupations until the city came under the permanent control of the Union Army in 1864. However, the happenings at the nearby towns of St. Augustine and Fernandina are also elaborated briefly.

The most important contribution by Schafer in this book is to tie up several loose ends that were uncovered by the historians and authors on Florida Civil War events. Even though Stephen Ash presented the third occupation of the city in his book, ‘Firebrand of Liberty’ in 2008, it was mainly from the perspective of the union army. Schafer integrates the role played by the Confederate Army. The events of the battles had been summarized only in a brief manner by Schafer but he provides highly interesting details about the final stages of the campaign in Jacksonville that had not been covered until now by anybody else. The fresh materials collected by Schafer on this subject are evident from his writings on the defensive network that the Confederates built up towards protecting the crucial rail junction of Baldwin in Florida and preventing the Union forces from attacking the rail station and the town from Jacksonville.

Another important feature that stands out in ‘Thunder on the River’ is the equal importance given to the political and social structures in the entire region by Schafer. He discusses the destruction of the practice of slavery along the banks of St. John’s River by the Union army. The slaves consisted of black units from Hilton Head, South Carolina. Schafer describes their pitiable plight as slaves and the liberation from slavery by the Union forces as a significant social change in that region. He brings out the basic loyalty of the local civilian population to the Union army but the creation of a power vacuum in the region due to frequent occupations and evacuations by the Union forces and the destruction of public and private property. The absence of regular forces from both sides to the conflict aggravated the situation and resulted in a serious breakdown in civil order. The lawless elements and the guerrillas utilized the confused state of affairs to harass the local residents further.

Finally, Schafer brilliantly covers the final stages of the conflict by describing the efforts of the U.S. government to bring Florida into the government fold by implementing the ‘10% plan’ before the November elections in 1864 and the reconstruction-era conflicts between the residents, comprised of white population, and the Union army with large number of black soldiers occupying the region. Schafer had thoroughly researched and presented the military, political, and social history of the region during the Civil War in the most impressive manner to make ‘Thunder on the River’ an important addition to the books published on Civil War. The only minus point in this book are the reduced size of the large archival maps that had made the details difficult to scrutinize. Further, the images have not been properly related to the text and important locales had been left out. Considering the brilliant presentation by Schafer, these minor aberrations can to be ignored by book lovers of Civil War.