Award-winning Author and Historian Hampton Sides Presents Keys to Surviving Ordeals

Best-selling author Hampton Sides called the 1879 voyage of the USS Jeannette, and the hardships of the men who aspired to reach the North Pole, one of the greatest survival stories of all time. Yet the story—now detailed in his most recent book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette—fell through the cracks of history and was forgotten.

However, there is much to be learned from the USS Jeannette’s two-year drift through ice and the 92-day trek by 33 men and their dogs toward the coast of Siberia after the ship’s demise.

Sides was the keynote speaker at the CSG opening session and luncheon on Friday during the 2015 CSG National Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry also attended to welcome conference participants to Music City.

New York state Sen. Carl Marcellino, the CSG 2015 national chair, acknowledged current and former CSG national leaders as well as CSG associates and conference sponsors.

“We gather at a time when CSG has never been stronger or more needed,” Marcellino said.

In his presentation about In the Kingdom of Ice, Sides discussed the research that went into the book, including a trip to Wrangel Island off the northeast coast of Siberia and the discovery of letters sent to the ship’s captain George De Long from his wife, Emma.

“We read these stories about adventure and survival and men in extreme situations, trying to get through an ordeal,” and wonder how we would survive the situation, Sides said.

He listed 10 qualities—optimism, teamwork, routine, humor, faith, stoicism, wonder, flexibility, humility and improvisation—that got the men of the USS Jeannette through their ordeal and could be useful to anyone going through a hardship.

De Long wrote in his journal every day and was consistently optimistic until the very end, Sides said. He kept his men busy with tasks such as measuring the thickness of the ice and the depths of the waters. Without food, they had to hunt; they ate seal, walrus, polar bear and arctic fox.

De Long divided his men into groups and they competed even as they worked together, struggling for survival.

“No one wanted to let down their group,” Sides said.

There was, of course, someone in the group who wanted to make everyone else laugh.

“You cannot underestimate the importance of humor in these kinds of ordeals,” Sides said. “Anything to get through the drudgery and the pain and pathos of this experience.”

The crew also never lost a sense of wonder. “They appreciated that they were in a place that no man had ever been before,” he said.