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History Civil War Period (1850-1877)

Rebels on the Great Lakes

Confederate Naval Commando Operations Launched from Canada, 1863-1864

by (author) John Bell

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2011
Civil War Period (1850-1877), Canada, United States
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
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    Sep 2011
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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.


About the author

John Bell, who was born in Montreal and grew up in Halifax, 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. Recently retired from his position as a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, he now lives in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

John Bell's profile page

Editorial Reviews

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

User Reviews

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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