OUR MAN IN CHARLESTON by Christopher Dickey
Kirkus Star


Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South
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In this biography of Robert Bunch, the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, at the beginning of the Civil War, Daily Beast foreign editor Dickey (Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—The NYPD, 2010, etc.) illustrates how an outside observer can understand more about a situation than the parties involved.

The years leading up to the war were vitally important for the British to understand the feelings and actions of that hotbed of secession and slavery. The British and Americans banned the slave trade in 1807, but the Americans added a proviso of a 20-year delay. Bunch’s great talent was in convincing Charlestonians to see him as being on a friendly mission. They revealed their plots, plans, and hopes to him, which he used to compose invaluable dispatches to Britain’s virulently anti-slavery government. The author thoroughly understands the point of view of the South regarding the slave trade. Cotton was king, and England was its largest customer. While the production had grown 3,000 percent, the slave population increased only by 150 percent. As new states entered the Union, hopefully as slave states, even more workers would be needed for the labor-intensive industry. Virginia and Maryland, states where cotton had depleted the soil, now bred and sold slaves to the new markets, and some argued that the price of long-standing slaves had grown so much that new “stock” would devalue them. Dickey’s comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period. Bunch’s work in Charleston helped guide Britain’s decisions regarding the cotton-export ban, the blockade, and whether to recognize the Confederacy.

A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs.

Pub Date: July 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-307-88727-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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