Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South

Christopher Dickey. Crown, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-88727-6
The ambitious and politically-minded Robert Bunch served as the British consul in Charleston, S.C., from 1853–63, seemingly the ideal choice to represent Great Britain’s interests in the South. But as journalist Dickey (Securing the City) shows, almost no one realized that he had a double agenda. Great Britain had grave concerns during the antebellum period: “England hated slavery, but loved the cotton the slaves raised, and British industry depended on it. Defending Britain’s political interests while serving its commercial interests required constant delicate diplomacy.” Simply put, Bunch’s mission was to subtly sabotage the slave trade and Southern secession, undermining the very institution that produced the goods his country demanded. As Dickey tells it, Bunch was playing with fire, and reader will feel the agent’s mounting frustration as he sends missives back to England, damning the slave trade and Southern arrogance, while wearing a more moderate face for his Charleston neighbors. Bunch’s tale is framed by the larger arguments of the time, including the inexorable march toward war, and the result is a fascinating tale of compromise, political maneuvering, and espionage. Dickey makes it easy to believe that the obscure Bunch really did play a pivotal role during his years in America. Agent: Kathy Robbins, Robbins Office. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/18/2015
Release date: 07/21/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-62231-769-1
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-307-88728-3
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