Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Brasseaux (ed./trans.) & Mooney (ed.): "RUINED BY THIS MISERABLE WAR: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868"

[Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868 edited by Carl A. Brasseaux & Katherine C. Mooney (University of Tennessee Press, 2013) Hardcover, photos, illustrations, notes, index. 312 pp. ISBN:9781572338593 $37.95]

According to the editors of Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868, the papers of Charles P. Fauconnet comprise the most important Trans-Mississippi and western theater primary source discovery of the past decade. Exaggeration or not, there's no denying the dispatches comprise a highly worthwhile foreign perspective on Civil War personalities and military, political, and social events.

In 1863, Fauconnet replaced a New Orleans French consul deemed by Union general Benjamin Butler to be too pro-Confederate. Having spent many years in Deep South diplomatic postings, Fauconnet himself sympathized with the southern population, but had the common sense to not do so as overtly as his predecessor. With New Orleans being one of the most multinational major cities in North America at the time, editors Brasseaux and Mooney are correct to note that the views of foreign diplomats residing there comprise an especially valuable period perspective. Fauconnet's experiences and views becomes even greater in historiographical importance with the realization that any American campaign of intervention in French puppet Mexico, during or after the Civil War, will have had New Orleans as a major jumping off point.

Fauconnet's dispatches to his superiors begin with his impressions of the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Orleans business, politics, and social order. He lamented what he thought to be unwarranted attacks on the property rights of locals, but keenly recognized that the institution of slavery within Union held enclaves not subject to emancipation was doomed regardless of ostensible legal protections. But he could be equally frustrated with Confederate government highhandedness, especially in the arena of attempted conscription of foreign aliens.

Outright impressment and coerced enlistment of free blacks and slaves in the Union army is also discussed, and Fauconnet feared both the economic consequences and the possibility of social unrest stemming from the inflammatory actions and language of recruiters. He noted that the year's sugar crop was already doomed due to widespread disruption of labor, and, given that the well being of business enterprises run by French nationals was obviously a major official concern, Fauconnet sought to pressure Union military authorities to abandon policies that adversely affected the economy. Another major element of the dispatches relates to the post-slavery labor arrangements between property owners and workers. Fauconnet details these employment provisions, noting the advantages and disadvantages to ex-slave and planter alike, his main concern being getting the Louisiana economy back up and running. His writings offer readers a far dimmer picture of the Union administration of New Orleans than recent scholarship has proposed.

According to Fauconnet, Union authorities, through measures like ending the teaching of French in local schools, also sought to curtail French cultural influence in New Orleans. Alleged mistreatment of French-speaking citizens and residents was a touchy issue with him, and he often laments the Americanization of the region.  As stated before, the intentions of the U.S. government toward the internal conflict that raged in Imperial Mexico was another issue of great importance to French officials. Fauconnet frequently sought clues through direct and indirect communications with Union generals, and his writings generally indicate little fear that the U.S. would actually invade Mexico to oust the Maximilian regime.

The preponderance of dispatches collected in the volume were sent between 1863 and 1865, with a small number for 1868.  Most of the latter discuss the national election that would take place that year, but other issues like racial violence in New Orleans is also noted [since no dispatches from 1866 are present in the collection, no perspective on the infamous race riot from that year can be found].  Here again, Fauconnet is loath to share the sympathy he has for the social and political grievances of ex-Confederates with those of the newly freed black population.

Complaints about the book are few and minor.  Arranging the dispatches by theme rather than by date within each year is reasonable, but the constant jumping forward and back in time was often distracting.  Also, while the endnotes are satisfactory in their extent (especially in terms of background information on individuals mentioned in the text), there is no bibliography.

The international dimensions of the Civil War have received an increased amount of attention in recent years (in 2011, we even saw a book length study of Spain's relationship with both American Civil War antagonists), and the diplomatic dispatches of C.P. Fauconnet clearly comprise an important primary source for scholars to evaluate. In them, Fauconnet offers a thoughtful foreign perspective on essentially all the major domestic matters that were the subject of such heated debate during and after the war -- from campaigns and battles to issues of citizenship, property confiscation, martial law, civil rights, trade restrictions, evolving labor relations, and Reconstruction.  Such a broad range of hot topic subject matter is addressed in Ruined by this Miserable War that there are few Civil War related sub-disciplines that could not usefully employ its content.

More CWBA reviews of UTP titles:
* The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

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