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

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  623 Ratings  ·  174 Reviews
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 1
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 21st 2015 by Crown (first published March 17th 2015)
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Bob Just finished this book. I highly recommend to anyone interested in the Civil War
Excellent account of the British government's active anti-slavery…more
Just finished this book. I highly recommend to anyone interested in the Civil War
Excellent account of the British government's active anti-slavery efforts around the world and their campaign to stop the African slave trade.

It was very sad to see first hand accounts of many southern leaders who put economic gain above any consideration of the value of human life.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
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Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned-tbr, one-day
This will be a "mini review" - short and to the point. While I would love to expound, we'll save that for a later date, and books I'm more prone to recommended.

I ordered this novel without researching it or reading any reviews. It was a bestseller, the description was intriguing, that was enough.  I should have expected it, really. I think I wanted to deceive myself that maybe just maybe there was some hope a clean, secular, civil war book existed. And maybe that book would be this one. In that
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of Robert Bunch, the British government's consul in Charleston before the start of the civil war. I have never read such chilling accounts of the slave industry as I did in this book. To know that even after it had been banned in the south a ship was confiscated and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was carrying what was left of four hundred plus Africans to America, it was treated as a nonoccurrence. That the ship owners were let go by the leaders of the legal system i ...more
Tom Mathews
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 n ...more
Curt Fox
Mar 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Via Goodreads First Reads:

I like to consider myself a Civil War history buff, but even I, on occasion, find a book or article on an event or situation that is so granular in its focus that I find it gives me tunnel vision, and I zotz out for entire paragraphs at a time. And I will tell you that for just over half of this book, I feared I had found another such a missive. But then things picked up, and what came forth made every bit of earlier labor well worth it.

This is, on the surface, the tal
John Vibber
Oct 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When somebody tells you tells you that "the war of northern aggression" was a fight for Southern rights and not slavery; this is the book to prove them wrong. It's an outstanding addition to Civil War history.
Donna Davis
This is the most fascinating book I’ve read in a long time! Equal parts biography and American Civil War nonfiction, it details the experiences of Britain’s foremost spy, Robert Bunch, who was living in Charleston, South Carolina when the Civil War began and for its duration. I am truly grateful to Crown Publishers and Net Galley for permitting me to read the DRC in advance. And perhaps it is just as well, in a way, that my kindle fell in the potty when I was done and with it went hundreds (genu ...more
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At the age of 32 Robert Bunch arrived in Charleston, SC to fill the post of British Consul. This is his story. As South Carolina’s leaders became more and more belligerent in protecting their peculiar institution, Bunch finds himself in “the eye of the storm” (p. 205). Through him you see the coming of the war and the many dimensions of the British role/non-role in the US Civil War.

Bunch grew to detest slavery and the people who supported it. For 10 years he kept a poker face as he carried out
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, first-reads
(Note: I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.)

A book about Robert Bunch, a British consul stationed in Charleston, South Carolina from 1853 to 1863; which meant that he was at Ground Zero during the emergence of the Confederacy. His dispatches to his superiors in London (and the British ambassador in Washington) provide the backbone information of this book, which focuses almost exclusively on his years in South Carolina; the rest of his life, before and after, is glo
Avi Morris
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book on the recommendation of a Goodreads friend. I'm glad I did. I've read many books about the Civil War, but none from the perspective of Our Man in Charleston. The book is about the British Consul, Robert Bunch , to Charleston South Carolina just before and during most of the war. Charleston and South Carolina led the move to secession from the Union and that put a lot of pressure on Britain's relationship with the United States. Britain was heavily invested in American cotton bu ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Did you know that England had spies in the Confederacy? I surely did not before this book! I'm glad I saw this as a 5-star book on a friend's goodreads shelf. This read just reconfirms to me what good taste my friend has in books =) I find books about the Civil War to be intriguing, and this book offered a new perspective on the political scene in Charleston during the time period leading up to and during the beginning of the the Civil War. While the book conveys all the horrors of slavery and t ...more
Douglas Graney
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very good slice of history though the title is misleading. The story of Robert Bunch is much more the years leading up to the Civil War than his experiences during the Civil War. No matter, it's a good story. What I didn't know or perhaps forgot was how the South (South Carolina especially) was so willing to bring back the slave trade (1850's and during Civil War) which had been outlawed in 1808. It was going on in a clandestine manner. How they were willing to overlook the horrors of that is on ...more
Steve Smits
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Quite an interesting account, Our Man in Charleston tells the story of Robert Bunch, the British government's consul in Charleston in the years preceding and into the Civil War. Bunch managed to ingratiate himself into Charleston social and political circles giving the impression he was sympathetic to the pro-slavery, secessionist ideas of the times. As his dispatches to his government reveal he was anything but supportive of the slavery-based social and economic systems in South Carolina and th ...more
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I won this book through Goodreads First Reads. I absolutely love this little know historical narrative. I found this book to be both insightful and informative. I would totally recommend this book to history buffs or anyone who wants to learn a new perspective on the Civil War.
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
It was tough to get through. Loved the idea of a spy nonfiction book. But I think I have read too many spy novels to have liked this one.
Lisa Johnson
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 co
Bill Tress
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very well written factual account of a secret agent in Charlestown. If you ever had doubts about the issue of slavery, just read this book. Dickey's narrative about slave ships and the cruelty humans inflict on other humans will make you cringe.
If you have doubts about the causes of the Civil War, just read this book. The case is made in clear and concise terms that the ability of Slave owners to profit from this immorality and the need for them to expand the number of slave states and the numbe
Apr 09, 2018 rated it liked it
First, I'll say that I learned a lot from this book so I'm glad I read it. It's about Robert Bunch, who was a British consul assigned to Charleston, SC in the years leading up to and during the Civil War and all of the political/diplomatic machinations that played out at that time among the U.S., Britain, and eventually, the Confederacy. The book is very well documented and brings to light Bunch's numerous diplomatic dispatches, building the case that his surreptitious observations helped to kee ...more
This historical work takes a different spin on the issues of slavery and the American Civil War. Instead of being viewed through an American lens, it is written from a British angle. This is done by profiling the work and life of Robert Bunch, the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina.

Bunch first arrived on the scene in 1853. He was sent to Charleston to deal with the Negro Seamen Act. This act allowed the South Carolina government to imprison and sometimes enslave black British sailors.
David Kent
Aug 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very interesting perspective on the US Civil War that most people have never considered. Robert Bunch was Britain's "man in Charleston," the South Carolina city that was center of southern efforts to secede from the Union. What many perhaps don't know is that effort began long before the election of Abraham Lincoln. And Bunch was there to observe it as consul for the British government.

Arriving in 1853, Bunch abhorred slavery but was sent to Charleston to convince the state to rescind its "Neg
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Winning this book giveaway came at a fantastic time. My interest in how the American Civil War was viewed by or impacted the international community started to really grow just a few months before winning this puppy on LibraryThing. And what a find! Despite a hiccup in the beginning portion, this book proved to be both informative and engaging.

An English diplomat caught between two sides of a brewing civil war is a new story, for sure. Seeing the deteriorating stability of a nation through his
C. L. Deards
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
On the surface Robert Bunch is an unassuming British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina. He assumes his station in the decade before the first shots are fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay. Bunch sees the beginning of the Civil War, and his part in its outcome is laid out brilliantly in Christopher Dickey's book.

What drew me to the story was the cover. Not just the Confederate Flag draped next to the Union Jack, but the title: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South. Before I saw the
Robert Bunch was the British consul in Charleston, S.C. He was sent there in the early 1850s and it was his job to protect British interests. Accepted into the high planter society, he sent revealing dispatches back to London. Highlighting the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of his slave-loving neighbors; Bunch predicted that the high price of slaves would encourage the South to restart the African slave trade. The British had been fighting against the Middle Passage since the 1805. With the ou ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The primary focus of this book is the role played by Robert Bunch, the British Consul in Charleston SC from 1853-1863, in attempting to deter the recognition of the Confederacy by the British government. Mr. Dickey’s great read gives to those who enjoy history and the motives and activities behind the scenes. British involvement was critical to shore up the Confederate economy in providing British mills with cotton.
What I found intriguing was the perspective he brings into play with British att
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Our Man in Charleston explores the unknown life of Robert Bunch, British consul assigned to Charleston, South Carolina through the 1850s and early 1860s. This was an extremely enjoyable book and the author, Christopher Dickey, did an excellent job of contextualizing and detailing Bunch's life. While there are some fairly well-known stories about how close the British came (or didn't come) to recognizing the Confederacy, this book uses archival material that had apparently never been accessed to ...more
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received this as a free ARC through Goodreads First Reads.

Our Man in Charleston was a very interesting read, if not quite as academic as some histories. I appreciated that it was a story from a probably not often told perspective, since Robert Bunch is not exactly one of the first names one thinks of in the Civil War or even in relation to abolition. It contains a lot of information about the British opinion of and involvement in the American slave trade, slaveholding and abolitionist movement
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The primary focus of this book is the role played by Robert Bunch, the British Consul in Charleston SC from 1853-1863, in attempting to deter the recognition of the Confederacy by the British government.

There was some mention of Bunch in Amanda Foreman's excellent A World On Fire. In this book Christopher Dickey has greatly expanded the discussion of Bunch's role, particularly in his pre-war activities and reports to the Foreign Office.

I was particularly impressed by the citations of primary sou
David Steele
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History buffs
My daughter used to live in Charleston and I have been there many times so I was able to relate to the locales in the book.It is hard to imagine the City Market today with all of its trendy shops as an area that was once home to so much human suffering. I found the book to be an interesting view of pre Civil War Charleston, especially the Southern justification of Slavery and States Rights. Also, I had never heard of the Trent affair. American history could have been so much different. Good book ...more
Dec 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: reviewed
It pains me to post a poor review but I've tried several times to get into this book. The writing seems lifeless and bores me terribly--it is as dry as a history text book and the historical figures are flat and lifeless. I was truly looking forward to reading about this period in our South and the days leading up to the Civil War but this is not the book for me. It is my hope that others will find it less onerous.

Received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books for review
David Myers
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I found this book to be extremely interesting. It offers a perspective of the US civil war that is rarely explored. The south wrongly believed that England would ally itself with it based on it's need for raw cotton for it's textile industry. Why that assumption was wrong and the effect England's position took on the war is well covered in this volume.
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-war
I really liked this book! It is scary how the politics of the time are eerily similar to today's politics. My only complaint is that the book seemed to come to an abrupt end. Everything up until the last couple of chapters was very detailed and draw out and then poof! The book was done.
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“It did not take Bunch very long, amid the politicking and the revelry, to discover the darker side of life in Charleston’s homes. “The frightful atrocities of slaveholding must be seen to be described,” he wrote in a private letter that wound up prominently positioned in the official slave-trade correspondence of the Foreign Office. “My next-door neighbor, a lawyer of the first distinction and a member of the Southern Aristocracy, told me himself that he flogged all his own people—men and women—when they misbehaved. I hear also that he makes them strip, and after telling them that they were to consider it as a great condescension on his part to touch them, gives them a certain number of lashes with a cow-hide. The frightful evil of the system is that it debases the whole tone of society—for the people talk calmly of horrors which would not be mentioned in civilized society. It is literally no more to kill a slave than to shoot a dog.” 1 likes
“In another dispatch, Bunch wrote that “on the part of individuals the sense of danger is evinced by the purchase of fire-arms, especially of revolver pistols, of which very large numbers have been sold during the last month.” 0 likes
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