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Bluejackets in the Blubber RoomBluejackets in the Blubber Room

A Biography of the William Badger, 1828-1865

Peter Kurtz

Narrated by Todd Barsness

Available from Audible

Book published by The University of Alabama Press

Bluejackets in the Blubber Room explores key events in US maritime history from the 1820s to the end of the Civil War through the biography of the sailing ship William Badger.

Taking a biographical approach to his subject, Peter Kurtz describes three phases of the life of the William Badger, a sailing ship with a long and exemplary life on the sea: first as a merchant ship carrying raw materials and goods between New England, the US South, and Europe; second as a whaling ship; and finally as a supply ship providing coal and stores for the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron in Beaufort, North Carolina, during the Civil War.

Kurtz begins Bluejackets in the Blubber Room by exploring early American shipbuilding and shipbuilders in the Piscataqua region of Maine and New Hampshire and the kinds of raw materials harvested and used in making the wooden sailing ships of the time. After its construction, the Badger became part of the key economic trade between New England, the US South, and Europe. The ship carried raw materials such as timber from New England to New Orleans and subsequently cotton from New Orleans to Spain and Liverpool, England. Using ship logs, sailors’ accounts, and other primary sources, Kurtz delves into both the people and the economics of this critical “cotton triangle” trade.

Following service as a merchant ship, the Badger became a whaling ship, carrying its New England–based crew as far as the South Pacific. Kurtz presents a colorful story of life aboard a whaling ship and in the whaling towns ranging from Lynn, Massachusetts, to Cape Leeuwin, Australia. Finally, Kurtz describes the last phase of the Badger’s life as a key player as a supply ship in the Union Navy’s blockade effort. Although not the most dramatic duty a sailor could have, blockade supply nevertheless was critical to the United States’ prosecution of the Civil War and eventual victory. Kurtz examines the decision-making involved in procuring such ships and their crew, notably “refugees” and escaped slaves known as “contrabands.”

Peter Kurtz received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University and has written magazine articles pertaining to both music and history.


“Kurtz has skillfully placed the story of this vessel in a much broader context, both as a whaler and later as a store ship during the Civil War. What makes this book especially interesting is that it is not about a famous ship such as the CSS Virginia or USS Arizona, but a nondescript vessel, an ordinary sailing ship.”

—William N. Still, author of Confederate Shipbuilding

“While there are a number of books that deal with whaling vessels, Bluejackets in the Blubber Room makes a contribution to naval and maritime literature. This book enhances the understanding of the Navy during the Civil War by bringing to light one of the forgotten logistical vessels. These ships had an important role in the maintenance of the blockade and the eventual defeat of the Confederacy. The book is a dual and diverse history that will be of interest to Civil War historians and those interested in whaling.”

—Robert M. Browning Jr., Chief Historian of the United States Coast Guard and author of From Cape Charles to Cape Fear: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks