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Canawlers: A Novel of the C&O Canal Paperback – December 14, 2001

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Editorial Reviews


An interesting slice of the boatman's life against the backdrop of the turbulence and uncertainty of the Civil War. -- Rita L. Knox, Park Ranger, C&O Canal NHP

Canawlers tells not only the story of the canal, but also the stories of people who worked on it. -- Cumberland Times-News, December 17, 2001

About the Author

James is the author of three other novels: Logan's Fire, Beast and My Little Angel. He is also a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News in Cumberland, Maryland. It was from reporting on local history that he developed an interest in the C&O Canal.

He lives with his wife and son in Cumberland and is currently working on his next novel.

If you would like to be kept up to date on future books by James or have questions you would like to ask him, he can be reached by e-mail at


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Legacy - A I M Publishing (December 14, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971459908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971459908
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,342,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Rada, Jr. is the author of seven novels, a non-fiction book and a non-fiction collection. These include the historical novels Canawlers, October Mourning, Between Rail and River and The Rain Man. His other novels are Logan's Fire, Beast and My Little Angel. His non-fiction books are Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses and Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland.

He lives in Gettysburg, Pa., where he works as a freelance writer. Jim has received numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, Associated Press, Maryland State Teachers Association and Community Newspapers Holdings, Inc. for his newspaper writing.

If you would like to be kept up to date on new books being published by James or ask him questions, he can be reached by e-mail at

To see James' other books or to order copies on-line, go to

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. K. Lunde on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Canawlers is an excellent introduction to life on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the effects of the Civil War on it. It is suitable for junior high through adult readers. Those who live near or are familiar with the canal from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, MD, will be especially interested.
The book is set from March to November, 1863, and is the tale of a family owned boat plying the canal. It includes family life, courting, war, rape, spying, mule care, murder, bar fights, arson, mischief, hunting, prostitution, the Battle of Antietam, wound nursing, business operation, beatings, operation of the underground railroad and gun and knife fights.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Set in 1862, during the chaotic and deadly American Civil War, Canawlers is a novel about a family who worked proudly on the C & O Canal, transporting coal 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland and Georgetown. Their secret involvement with the Underground Railroad that helped slaves to freedom further jeopardizes their livelihood as the tides of war close ever inward. A powerful, thoughtful, and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Galster on July 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The story is about the Fitzgerald family, who operated a boat on the Chesapeake & Ohio canal during the Civil War. The well-developed plot has multiple threads and includes the adventures of Tony, the illegitimate son of a "Shanty Town" prostitute, and David Windover, a Confederate Lieutenant sent to scout possible crossing sites along the Potomac River. Not only is there conflict between the Union and the South, but between the "Railroaders" and "Canawlers," as well. Naturally, there is also conflict between man and "Mother Nature."

The protagonist, Hugh Fitzgerald, is captain of the Freeman, and his entire family accompanies him on trips between Cumberland and Georgetown, Maryland. He strongly believes in freedom, hard work, and family. With his wife Alice's help, he sometimes had helped runaway slaves passing through the "Underground Railroad."

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal ran parallel to the Potomac River and the main traffic was boats hauling coal from Cumberland to Washington, D.C. The novel gives much interesting information about the canal and its history. This includes detailed descriptions of the boats, and the mules that pull them, as well as the towpath, and the various towns, and locks along the way.

The writing is very clear and understandable. It was very easy for me to follow and stay focused on the story line. The imagery is vivid and the story includes a lot of action.

Hugh Fitzgerald represents an American ideal man for that time. He was good, honest, hardworking, and had no vices or faults. Perhaps the author intended to represent him as an ideal, rather than real person. This characterization is consistent with the Romanticism tradition. (Victor Hugo's novels are an example of this style.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Canawlers is the saga of the trials and tribulations of the Fitzgerald family's everyday life hauling coal on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the tumultuous American Civil War. Today, the C&O Canal is a shadow of what it once was, and it took a lot of digging by the author to conjure up an accurate depiction of the toil involved in operating a canal boat in difficult conditions.

Aside from the war, there were numerous obstacles in the way of completing a successful season on the canal, including floods, temptation, and the efforts of railroaders to make walking the towpath as miserable as possible. The days were long, and the potential rewards were just enough to earn a moderate living--some more honestly than others.

This is probably my favorite work of fiction in regard to everyday life working on the canal. The main reason is that James Rada, Jr. is a respected C&O historian. I recently read an article that he wrote for a volunteer group newsletter concerning a piece of folklore about a murder mystery at a lockhouse near the Paw Paw Tunnel. With the same attention to detail, Canawlers makes for an excellent thumbnail history of places, structures, and historical personages all along the towpath. After finishing the book, the reader could probably go back in time and lock a boat through--with a little practice of course.

I have yet to read Mr. Rada's other C&O novel, but I am certainly looking forward to it. I'm sure anyone who has finished Canawlers will feel the same way.
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