Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South
by Christopher Dickey
New York: Crown Publishers, 2015. 388 pp. Non-fiction
Starting in 1852, when Robert Bunch takes up his assignment as British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, and ending ten years later with the American Civil War in its third year, this is an account of one person's efforts to navigate treacherous diplomatic waters. As one of the more active and able of Britain's representative's in the United States, Bunch struggles to maintain relationships with leading Charlestonians even as he attempts to defend the rights of British subjects, particularly black British sailors who are often jailed to avoid encouraging discord among the slave population. As Bunch provides his political masters in Washington and London information about the political affairs, he provides a good deal of input and analysis regarding the brutal realities of slavery, emphasizing how this inhumane practice runs contrary to both morality and core British interests. As the war progresses he is regarded with suspicion by influential persons in the North and South, each accusing him of bias in favor of the other. I found this to be a very interesting and engaging look at the American Civil War. By looking at the conflict from the perspective of a single British official, the book sheds new light on a war about which much has been written. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in American history. For other similar books, I would suggest Amanda Foreman's A World on Fire or The Cause of all Nations by Don Doyle.