Our man in Charleston; Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South, is a long story about minor player. Robert Bunch, consul to Charleston before and during the Civil War, worked tirelessly to convince Queen Victoria’s government that their crusade to stem the global slave trade would not be served by recognizing the Confederacy. This controversy was much exacerbated by the belligerence of Union Secretary of State, William Seward, toward Britain, and Britain’s addiction to slave grown cotton.
Bunch operated as a mole among Charleston’s elite convincing rabid, slaveholding secessionists that he was sympathetic to their cause, all the while sending dispatches to Washington and London condemning the Confederacy and warning of a resurgence of the African slave trade if the South were to gain recognition.
Mr. Dickey has done a remarkable job of unearthing what a pessimist might think are details lost to history. To learn in deep detail the viewpoint of the British government toward both sides during War Between the States is insightful and broadening. However, Mr. Dickey’s account is anything but objective. As so many do who consider the Civil War a just and necessary event, he refuses to acknowledge the right of the South to even have a point of view, or to concede that any factor other than slavery was responsible for the conflagration. Not once is there any concession to the frequent slaveholder who felt himself to be a prisoner of his slaves and wholeheartedly wished to free of them if he could only find a means to do so that did not lead to ruin and mayhem. Neither does the author ever mention the numerous slave owners who did voluntarily free their slaves despite the peril and popular disapproval. I cannot deny that I enjoyed reading Our Man in Charleston but the writer’s bias tarnishes its credibility to some degree. I want to take specific exception with the assertion: “[The slave trade] endured Africa and up into Arabia until 1877, officially, and along clandestine routes well into the twentieth century.” The slave trade, in fact, never ended, and exists abundantly today in Sudan, Nigeria, and other parts of the Islamic world.
Finally, as if I haven’t complained enough, I would like to point to a number of typos and formatting errors in the eBook edition. This is published by Crown Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House. One gets the impression that mainstream publishers consider eBooks to be their bastard children and don’t bother to look at them once the manuscript is converted.