Saturday, August 1, 2015

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

I live in Charleston. We've been famous for many things: birthplace of the Civil War, "that" dance, a wretched reality TV show, and, just a few short weeks ago, a horrible slaying of nine churchgoers at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. In the aftermath of that shooting, which was purported to be an attempt to start a race war, the citizens of Charleston rose together to say, "wrong church, wrong city, wrong people"; we took a stand together to fight hatred with the strength of love. We're healing still, and learning to reconcile the differences that do keep us apart as people, learning to, indeed, practice what we've proclaimed; to live the words "love over hate" and "Charleston strong". In that tender setting, I found it difficult to start to read Our Man in Charleston, because the Charleston of the pre Civil War days is not the Charleston I know; not the Charleston I love.

Yes, it was difficult, especially since I could not only picture the locations described, or walk past some of them, but because I know the descendants of many of the people mentioned in the book, some who actually bear the same names. We are a town of history and heritage, and names as well as genes are passed along the family tree. But the Charleston in the book, while I have no doubt is a realistic description of the time, is not the same town of today, thank God. We are not perfect, but we are building a bridge to unity of people.

What got me past my discomfort was the excellent writing of Christopher Dickey. It's safe to say his father, James Dickey, was not the only talented writer in the family. Mr Dickey crafted a window to take the reader back in time, to observe the mounting tensions and passions of the Confederacy. Though the view is predominantly of the upper echelons of white society, there is ample descriptions of the practice of slave trading. To be honest, I thought I knew a great deal about the Civil War, but this book brought me a new viewpoint to consider: that of Britain. Focused primarily on Robert Bunch, the British Counsel of the time, Dickey used correspondence, dispatches, and other documents of the time, to take the reader through the implications of the North/South conflict beyond the boundaries of our country. I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't fully comprehended how the volatility had nearly caused war again with Britain.

Beautifully written, complete, and fascinating, this is a grand book for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of the Civil War. It is not an easy read if you love the Charleston of today, but it certainly is an enlightening one. Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me a copy.

Tags: charleston-sc, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, made-me-uncomfortable, nonfiction, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, taught-me-something


  1. Very thoughtgul review. I especially like your tags!

    1. (I meant to correct that typo. I'm sorry.)

    2. Thanks, and no worries about typos. I understand, truly. (And the tags are pretty much from my goodreads shelf.)