Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Booknotes: The Lion And The Fox

New Arrival:
The Lion And The Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy by Alexander Rose (Mariner Bks, 2022).

From the description: "In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents—one a Confederate, the other his Union rival—were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission." Both sides knew that the Confederacy needed ships quickly and would need to look abroad for vessels to either purchase or be purpose built. Numerous books about the US blockade of the Confederate coast, blockade running, and the infamous "Laird Rams" affair have addressed in some manner the clandestine and diplomatic aspects of the cat and mouse game between Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch and US Consul in Liverpool Thomas Haines Dudley. Bulloch has been the subject of two recent biographies, and he did his own part to solidify his place in history by writing the classic two-volume work The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe (1883). Dudley is less well known to Civil War readers, which is unfortunate given the skill and determination he displayed in successfully thwarting many Confederate shipbuilding and purchasing plans in Britain.

Both men, and bustling Liverpool itself, are the central characters in Alexander Rose's new book The Lion And The Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy. More from the description: "The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire a cutting-edge clandestine fleet intended to break President Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. The profits from gunrunning and smuggling cotton—Dixie’s notorious “white gold”—would finance the scheme. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, a resolute Quaker lawyer and abolitionist. He was determined to stop Bulloch by any means necessary in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal. If Dudley failed, Britain would ally with the South and imperil a Northern victory. The battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined, whose warehouses stored more cotton than anywhere else on earth, and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”"

The great success of professional historian turned journalist turned best-selling writer Rose's Washington Spies (which was adapted by AMC into the television series Turn) speaks to the author's ability to write historical espionage non-fiction that appeals to a popular audience. Much of the espionage war fought between Bulloch and Dudley is confined to books that most readers are unlikely to encounter on their own, and hopefully this new writing project from Rose will help expose a wider readership to the Civil War activities abroad of both Bulloch and the more underappreciated Dudley.

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