In the 1970s, fresh from law school and as a newly commissioned JAG officer, I was sent to Ft. Richardson, near Anchorage. One Sunday morning, the local newspaper featured an article about erosion occurring on the Bering Sea coast. The shifting beach sands had recently revealed graves thought to date back to the Civil War. At the time, I was struck by the ironic notion of “Alaska” (a Russian territory in the 1860s) as a participant in “the War Between the States.” That notion never entirely departed.
Much later, while working in Alaska a second time, I came across a small history of the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah. In June of 1865, well after Appomattox, this vessel was destroying Northern whaling fleets in the Bering Sea, recalling to mind the earlier article about the graves. That the Confederacy had a blue water navy at all had been little remarked in my college studies. That vessels in its small fleet had reached the world’s major oceans, doing considerable damage to Northern interests in all of them, prompted a lengthy personal research project. That project, in turn, lead me to the CSS Alabama, upon which the series ‘290’ is based.
An essential requirement of historical fiction is verisimilitude. In the pursuit of that, I have traveled to many of the locations where the story’s action occurs: Richmond, Charleston, and Nassau; London, Liverpool, and Cherbourg. 290’s history also led to multiple libraries and museums, including the Mariner’s Museum in Virginia, the Museum of Mobile in Alabama, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. There, original documents, materials, and artifacts (recovered in the last decade from the sunken Alabama) were on display or made available to me by knowledgeable curators. Their efforts help to animate the ‘290’ tale, and I am grateful for them — and for the tolerance of my wife and my friends who accompanied me on these trips. — DTW
Donn T. Wonnell is a retired corporate attorney with a history degree from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Ketchum, Idaho.