Andersonville to Tahiti: The Story of Dorence Atwater

by Thomas P. Lowry, BookSurge Publishing

In July 1863, Dorence Atwater of the 2nd New York Cavalry was carrying messages to Colonel Judson Kirkpatrick’s headquarters when he was captured near Hagerstown, Md., by two Confederates dressed in Union blue. From there he was sent to Belle Isle, near Richmond—and then on to what would soon become the Civil War’s most notorious prisoner of war camp. Andersonville to Tahiti, self-published by Thomas P. Lowry, documents Atwater’s remarkably eventful life as a prisoner and thereafter.

Atwater’s attempt to make public the names of Andersonville’s victims for the benefit of their families brought him to bureaucratic loggerheads with U.S. Army Adjutant General Samuel Breck—and got him 18 months in Auburn Prison. The New York cavalryman recovered his fortunes and went on to further adventures in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Lowry’s book reads more like a lecture at a Civil War roundtable than a formal biography. He frequently digresses and makes no secret of his likes and dislikes among the supporting cast of characters sprinkled throughout this rambling but lively drama. But like Ludwig van Beethoven at the close of his Eroica Symphony, Lowry finally pulls all the strands together to sum up Atwater’s experience. One thing can be safely said of Andersonville to Tahiti: Civil War buffs will find both the subject and how his story is told a change of pace.


Originally published in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.