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Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret…

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South (2015)

by Christopher Dickey

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1825992,616 (4.22)30

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really enjoyed this book. It provided a good look at the politics at the beginning of the Civil War. ( )
  cweller | Sep 14, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a wonderful Librarything giveaway. I didn't realize that South Carolina had attempted to secede in the 1830s and Andrew Jackson called Senator Calhoun's bluff and put a stop to it. Enter Robert Bunch in 1853, the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, who has been instructed by the Crown to do something about the Negro Seamen's Act, whereby a free black seaman arriving on a foreign vessel is taken from said vessel and thrown into jail for fear that his freedom might infect the "docile" slaves. Bunch witnessed the rising fever of secession from 1853 onwards and said, They will awake from their delusion to find the Party broken up and the whole power of the Country thrown into the hands of the 'Republicans.' When this shall happen, the days of Slavery are numbered. It may still exist in that comparatively narrow strip of territory in which a pestilential climate renders black labor necessary, but the prestige and power of Slaveholders will be gone, never to return." In 1861 he noted, "that Lincoln did not propose abolition, and the South nonetheless did want secession." At the same time that the South was agitating for secession it was also attempting to pick a fight with Britain over slavery while expecting them to continue to purchase cotton when the South seceded. A very interesting book about a little-known very perceptive individual who reported the evolving situation in the South from his base in Charleston. ( )
  lisa.schureman | Aug 25, 2017 |
Title: Our Man in Charleston (Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South)
Author: Charles Dickey
Pages: 400
Year: 2015
Publisher: Crown
My rating is 4 out of 5 stars.
The Civil War is just one historical event that continues to fascinate me as a reader. The author does a magnificent job of detailing the ins and outs of what occurred in our nation at a time when chaos reigned. I am continuously learning so much about what was going on at a time when many people even knew where their next meal was coming from.
The author packs so much information into his book that it really causes the reader to become engrossed with the intrigue that happened off the battlefield. As I read I was humbled as I learned of events that never entered my thinking before. Of course, today many people are even on a higher alert for those who are observing them or interested in what their activities may be.
What the author shares never before entered my mind as a possibility at a time we look back on as perhaps being centered on the battlefield. Some of the nefarious transactions weren’t easy to read such as the way some viewed lives as of little to no value, no caring what happened to them even when separating loved ones.
There are some real historical figures readers will learn about who were brave and worked diligently behind the scenes to improve life for all. The nonfictional book is one that lovers of history will want on their shelves to share with others for generations. Here is a great book that will make a great gift for the lover of history, the Civil War or secret agents!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” ( )
  lcjohnson1988 | Mar 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I’m not sure that this book will rate as highly with fiction readers as it does with me and other lovers of anything related to the American Civil War. For one thing, it’s title is disingenuous as the subject of the book, Robert Bunch, lived and worked quite openly as Her Majesty’s royal consul in Charleston, South Carolina for the decade leading up to that state’s secession from the union. He didn’t wear a tuxedo or play baccarat while drinking vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), and he did not, or at least the book doesn’t tell of, frequently bed beautiful enemy agents. If he did anything in secret it was to assiduously hide from his hosts how passionately he detested slavery and anyone who actively defended that ‘peculiar institution’ that lay at the heart of the South’s agrarian economy. If he was to accomplish anything in his position he had to keep a smile on his face and convince everyone with any influence that he was, if not in agreement with their views, at least not opposed to them.

What he did do was perform his job diligently, keeping his government apprised of all that was happening in Charleston, the hotbed of the secessionist movement, and defending the rights of British subjects, including black ones, who had fallen afoul of South Carolina laws. One such law, the first Negro Seaman Act (1822), ordered county sheriffs to arrest and detain all black seamen, regardless of nationality, until their ships were ready to leave harbor. The ships’ captains would then be charged the cost of incarceration. In the event that a ship’s captain could not or would not pay the required amount, he could be fined and imprisoned while the black sailors aboard his vessel would be “deemed and taken as absolute slaves, and sold.”

Once the war broke out his job became vastly more complicated. How does one interact with a state that believes it is independent of the country that you have diplomatic relations with when that government denies that the schism has taken place yet at the same time is blockading the port of what it claims to be one of its own cities? Bunch’s greatest coup was a plan of hers that essentially tricked both sides of the conflict into agreeing to the provisions of a multinational treaty that neither side had signed.

I particularly enjoyed this book because it provided a solid understanding of Great Britain’s role in the American Civil War and its negotiations with both sides. It also provided a semi-neutral ringside view of life in Charleston during the days leading up to the war.

Dickey’s book also included a special treat in a story that I had not previously heard. My family is currently watching the PBS series ‘Victoria’ and have become fascinated with the character of Prince Albert. It turns out that one of the royal consort’s final official acts was to save the Union. When the American ship San Jacinto stopped the British steamer Trent at sea and seized two Confederate diplomates. This so enraged the English government that they prepared an ultimatum so harsh and inflexible that, had it been sent, the result would almost certainly have been war between the United States and England, thereby all but guaranteeing a successful conclusion to the South’s secession. Fortunately, the crown had the authority to review any such diplomatic correspondence and Albert, with his strong appreciation of human rights, realized that the result of such a letter would almost certainly be ‘the continuation of slavery for generations to come’ and ordered that the language be softened, allowing President Lincoln to claim that the San Vincente’s captain acted independently. This Lincoln did and war was averted. When Albert reviewed the letter, he was suffering from the first symptoms of the cholera that would claim his life a few days later.

Bottom line: I really enjoyed this book. It provided a lot of valuable background information that increased my understanding of the times and the people who lived them. Quotations are cited from an advanced reading copy and may not be the same as appears in the final published edition. The review was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire. ( )
  Unkletom | Mar 6, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've read quite a bit on the Civil War but had never heard of the forgotten man, Robert Bunch, Great Britain's Consul in Charleston, SC during the pre-war and war years. Despite his abhorrence of slavery, Bunch cultivated contacts among the pro-slavery crowd and offered honest, perceptive dispatches to his superiors both in Washington and in London of events, people, and his perceptions, even in the face of rising danger as passions grew as the war approached.

One of the cover blurbs said something about this being a "beach read." When I first saw that, I was doubtful, though, in the end, I would agree. It's not quite a page turner but it's close. A fascinating look at pre-war and wartime Charleston. Quite possibly the best ER book I've ever won.

Highly recommended!! ( )
  lindapanzo | Jan 26, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307887278, Hardcover)

Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation.

As the United States threatened to break into civil war, the Southern states found themselves in an impossible position: Their economic survival would require reopening the slave trade, banned in America since 1807, but the future of the Confederacy could not be secured without official recognition from Great Britain, which would never countenance such a move. How, then, could the first be achieved without dooming the possibility of the second? Believing their cotton monopoly would provide sufficient leverage, the Southerners publically declared the slave trade dead, even as rapacious traders quickly landed more and more ships on the American coast.

The unlikely man at the roiling center of this intrigue was Robert Bunch, the ambitious young British consul in Charleston, S.C. As he soured on the self-righteousness of his slave-loving neighbors, Bunch used his unique perch to thwart their plans, sending reams of damning dispatches to the Foreign Office in London and eventually becoming the Crown's best secret source on the Confederacy—even as he convinced those neighbors that he was one of them.

In this masterfully told story, Christopher Dickey introduces Consul Bunch as a key figure in the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever. Featuring a remarkable cast of diplomats, journalists, senators, and spies, Our Man in Charleston captures the intricate, intense relationship between great powers as one stood on the brink of war

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:03 -0400)

"Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation. When Robert Bunch arrived in Charleston to take up the post of British consul in 1853, he was young and full of ambition, but even he couldn't have imagined the incredible role he would play in the history-making events to unfold. In an age when diplomats often were spies, Bunch's job included sending intelligence back to the British government in London. Yet as the United States threatened to erupt into Civil War, Bunch found himself plunged into a double life, settling into an amiable routine with his slavery-loving neighbors on the one hand, while working furiously to thwart their plans to achieve a new Confederacy. As secession and war approached, the Southern states found themselves in an impossible position. They knew that recognition from Great Britain would be essential to the survival of the Confederacy, and also that such recognition was likely to be withheld if the South reopened the Atlantic slave trade. But as Bunch meticulously noted from his perch in Charleston, secession's red-hot epicenter, that trade was growing. And as Southern leaders continued to dissemble publicly about their intentions, Bunch sent dispatch after secret dispatch back to the Foreign Office warning of the truth--that economic survival would force the South to import slaves from Africa in massive numbers. When the gears of war finally began to turn, and Bunch was pressed into service on an actual spy mission to make contact with the Confederate government, he found himself in the middle of a fight between the Union and Britain that threatened, in the boast of Secretary of State William Seward, to 'wrap the world in flames.' In this masterfully told story, Christopher Dickey introduces Consul Bunch as a key figure in the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever. Featuring a remarkable cast of diplomats, journalists, senators, and spies, Our Man in Charleston captures the intricate, intense relationship between great powers on the brink of war"-- "The little-known story of a British diplomat who serves as a spy in South Carolina at the dawn of the Civil War, posing as a friend to slave-owning aristocrats when he was actually telling Britain not to support the Confederacy"--… (more)

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