Steven Garrett

Mason Philip Smith. Confederates Downeast: Confederate Operations In And Around Maine.  The Provincial Press. Portland, Maine, 1985.

     Mason Philip Smith was trained as a photojournalist, a leading portrait photographer. After his retirement in 1993 he pursued more serious photographic works, that included many trips to China, and received many awards for his work. A fixture in Portland, Maine, he maintained a demeanor described even by his close friends as a “curmudgeon.” I knew I had to read his book and learn about this man. In addition to photography, he pursued other interests including Maine history.

Mason P. Smith says:

I first read about the Confederate raid on Calais, Maine in 1953 while serving with the United States Air Force in Yongdong-po, Korea. I had just joined a bookclub and my first selection was a book titled Confederate Agent by James D. Horan . . . and Horan while consulting the recently released papers in the National archives . . . discovered a long suppressed file dealing with the Calais raid. . . .Horan’s account in his book . . . raised more questions than it answered. (p. i-ii)


Returning to Maine after . . . Boston University, I remembered Horan’s account of the raid on Calais and decided to investigate the matter further. (p. ii)

Confederates Downeast is the result of my continuing research . . . (p. ii)

     Let’s move forward and have a look at Mason P. Smith’s Confederates Downeast. Smith has organized his book beginning with the Calais affair with the most famous or infamous affairs that involved Maine. After the Calais affair came the Confederate raiders that, for a while, caused major damage to the Maine merchant and fishing industry, and the Caleb Cushing affair in Portland Harbor. What makes this book a great read is the author’s presentation of the characters that lead the attempted Calais Bank robbery, the raids on the merchant and fishing fleet, and the Cushing affair. For example:

  • William Collins who led the attempted bank robbery in Calais and his brother, the Reverend John Collins. The good reverend was a participant in early raids on Maine shipping, but thought the idea of the raid on Calais was inappropriate and informed on his brother.

  • Charles W. Read who led the raid and capture of the Caleb Cushing failed due to the officer on board the Cushing who did not reveal the hidden powder and mother nature failed to provide the necessary wind.

  • John Clibbon Brain, adventurer, swindler, and spy. This individual, if an honest movie was made of his exploits, would not be believed except as fiction.

  • Lastly, the role our neighbors to the north, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and especially Halifax, played in supporting the Confederate efforts.

     The strength of this book is not the telling of what happened in and around Maine, but the author’s descriptions of the major participants in the affairs. These individuals are amazing in their abilities to get anyone to follow them and the success they accomplished through audacity, guile, and pure luck. Anyone interested in Maine history and the impact of what were minor events in the big picture, but events that were kept from the public for many years, should read this very readable and informative book. Honestly, I was more than pleasantly surprised by how this book grabs you and keeps you turning the pages. Go out and get a copy and read the adventures that drove fear along the coast of Maine and embarrassed our government and navy who strove to stop the raids.

Don Umphrey. Southerners In Blue: They Defied the Confederacy. Dallas TX: Quarry Press, 2002. (Kindle Edition)

     One of my interests is how divided the South really was prior to and during the Civil War.  This is directly due to my father’s family and their strong Unionist roots and the stories I was told by my great-aunt Penelope. “Neppie,” as she was known to her family and friends, was a mother to my father after he lost both of his parents and a paternal grandmother. She was also the family historian and told me how a great-great uncle was conscripted into the Confederate Army, but escaped and came back to East Tennessee as a Union cavalryman.

     Don Umphrey’s Southerners In Blue is a historical novel based upon his great-grandfather’s autobiography. Umphrey began the journey of preparing this book as a boy while visiting his maternal grandmother in Alabama. He had seen a portrait hanging on the wall of her home asked, “who is that?” The answer was John R. Phillips, Umphrey’s great-grandfather.

     This book tells the story of John Phillips; how he and his family survived during and after the Civil War. Seeking land for a successful farm and opportunity, John Phillips and his family emigrated to northwest Alabama, near Bear Creek. They brought strong pro-Union beliefs with them. Being well north of the cotton belt and the plantations of the power structure that ran Alabama, this area was home to many pro-Union settlers. They were isolated from the secessionist movement and any desire to leave the Union.

     The author’s curiosity was wetted by his great-grandfather’s autobiography. John Phillips wrote his story after being encouraged by his great-aunt, Isabella (Phillips) Scharnagel.

     Umphrey began his research while in high school, but life got in his way and led him to a career in journalism and, subsequently, university teaching. Twenty-five years later he began the research necessary to get the story as historically correct as possible. After considering his options, the author determined that the story would best be told as a historical novel. All the characters in the book were actual participants, with only one minor character remaining unknown.

     After introducing the basic history of his family, Umphrey vividly recalls the wartime challenges that John Phillips and his family endured. The trials were many: defying Confederate conscription; learning to elude capture and support his family as a “layout” (hiding from the Confederate conscription); joining the Union Army’s First Alabama Cavalry; experiencing the terror and confusion of Civil War combat, in some cases facing the infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest; dealing with repeated illnesses and hospitalizations for malaria, mumps, measles, and rheumatism; fearing for family and neighbors at that hands of Confederate home guards and partisans; wartime intrigue; interactions between U.S. Colored Troops and white Southern Union soldiers; the fate of his comrades held prisoner at Belle Isle and Andersonville; and a host of related trials and tribulations. The book concludes with an interesting post-war biography of John Phillips and his family as well as a concise history of all the major players in the narrative.

     One of the strengths of this book is the bibliography. It provides you with the extensive research the author accomplished over twenty-five years and the last few years of full-time research and writing. It is exceptionally thorough and valuable for a “history buff” reader. The index to the characters are linked to sources which is a wonder for researchers! I realize this book may not be every Civil War “history buff’s” cup of tea, but it does fill in the patchwork quilt that was the Civil War. It describes in detail what the Union supporters in the South suffered and helps to explain the violence against some families that endured into the twentieth century. I can strongly recommend this book. It is well researched and well written with an amazing number of references. It is a truly great book for those interested in “Southerners in Blue.”

* * * * *

Editor’s note: John R. Philips, The Story of My Life Story, is available in digital format through the Internet Archive at The digitized text includes a picture of J. R. Phillips in the frontmatter.






Introductory picture credit: Captain Edwin A. Tuthill of Co. A and Co. D, 104th New York Infantry Regiment in uniform with book. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-57717. (Cropped for presentation.)



Comments are closed.