Monday, November 18, 2013

James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent and MasterMind of the Confederate Navy

By Walter E. Wilson, Gary L. McKay
Price:  $55.00

James Dunwoody Bulloch will never be as famous as Robert E. Lee, but maybe he should be.  Authors Walter Wilson and Gary McKay have written a biography of this largely unknown Confederate naval hero.  For those who  are familiar with Bulloch and have already read his memoirs entitled The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, there is a great deal of additional information in this new book.

Wilson and McKay start us out with family history and Bulloch's early years in the US Navy and merchant marine.  Future President Teddy Roosevelt was Bulloch's nephew, and this fact will become important in the latter part of the book.

The winds of war soon fill our sails and James Bulloch is off to England to take on the mission that made him so valuable to the Confederacy.  He is to find or arrange construction of ships for the Confederate Navy.  In addition he must purchase and ship war material through the Union blockade in sufficient quantities to ensure that every Yankee soldier has an opportunity to die for his country.

Bulloch is best known for getting the CSS Florida and CSS Alabama built and out to sea. To accomplish this he had to navigate a minefield of Union agents, dockyard spies, and British laws of neutrality.  This part of the biography reads like some great adventure novel with Bulloch one step ahead of British officials who would try to seize the soon to be famous commerce raiders.  Later on the CSS Shenandoah will become the final antagonist of the Union whaling fleet.

A particularly fascinating part of the book deals with what I believe is James Bulloch's greatest achievement: the construction of oceangoing ironclads that could attack Union ships and seaports with impunity.  The North was threatening to go to war with England to prevent those vessels from sailing for the Confederacy.  For students of history who think that the WBTS was primarily a land war and the naval part was insignificant, the story of the Laird Rams and their French built counterparts will shatter that illusion and taunt the imagination with what might have been.

Walter Wilson and Gary McKay have a background in naval intelligence and a   knowledge of World history as it relates to sea power.  They have given us a splendid biography of a man they describe as "the greatest naval hero America ever forgot."  The final chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  Bulloch, through his influence on Teddy Roosevelt and others, had a profound affect on the future of naval warfare.

I have always said that the history of the Confederate Navy is so exciting that Hollywood couldn't make it up.  Authors Wilson and McKay have written a book that proves my point.

Reviewed by Joe Jordan