British historian, Peter Barratt has produced a fine biography of Civil War naval officer and the hero of a number of its famous naval actions, Captain Percival Drayton, USN.
Drayton was an accomplished and experienced naval officer who was born in Charleston, South Carolina in August 1812 into a distinguished colonial family.
In September of 1865, friends of Drayton commissioned a memorial plaque to honour him and his remarkable career in the service of his country. The memorial plaque was placed in Trinity Episcopal church near Wall Street in New York City.
Adorning the memorial and placed above the inscription are the words which perhaps best summarize Drayton’s character: Peter Barratt has done a great deal of research in uncovering background information on a figure of Civil War history who contributed quietly and in an unassuming way to ultimate victory for the Union. Despite the fact that he was a scion of a prominent slave holding family of Charleston, he never held a slave; and even faced his own brother in one of the earliest actions of the conflict. This was Percival Drayton– navy captain and
hero of several engagements that led to eventual Union victory. Peter Barratt used resources and personal contacts at the Union League of Philadelphia, the personal insight of Captain Jack Lieberman, US Navy (retired), a Drayton expert; and other troves of primary resource materials.
The book is concise, but well written, well sourced and informative, telling an exciting tale of devotion to duty by Percival Drayton in spite of hardship, toil, family discord and danger.
In just 172 pages, Barratt was able to capture the essence of the character and determination of a remarkable patriot and to bring his story alive for the reader. Little has been written of Percival Drayton, and Barratt, using letters, correspondence, and other primary source material gathered over many long years of research to craft a very sympathetic, but realistic portrait of a model warrior of the sea.
I can recommend this quick read to all who wish to augment their knowledge of the Civil War at sea and of the Navy. They will come away with a much-improved view of one of the unsung heroes in a true conflict of ‘brother against brother’, whom, I hypothesize, lost his life due to his strenuous service in war, though having obtained peace.
Anthony (Andy) Waskie, Ph.D.
Temple University, Philadelphia