This is the story of a young man with the ambition to crawl his way up in Victorian society by leaving the farm and signing onto a steamboat. After becoming a certified pilot, he is quickly swept up in the war he does not understand that divides the country and threatens his goals. He witnesses the militarization of the steamboat trade and the coming rise of the railroads. When the boat is acquired by the War Department for conversion to a “tinclad” gunboat, he and other skilled men are contracted to the Navy and find themselves in the thick of the fighting on the western rivers. There, they must grapple with the moral complexities and the human and economic consequences of the war. The battles and locations are real, and the tale reveals the trials and tribulations of forming a navy on the western rivers. Such topics as boat acquisition, manning, and arming are presented in detail. Others such as leadership and race relations of the era are as well. This story is a unique and colorful over-the-shoulder look at steamboat life and the war on the rivers.