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Book Review, NRJ 59.2

May 15, 2014 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Captain Bulloch: The Life of James Dunworthy Bulloch, Naval Agent of the Confederacy

Stephen Chapin Kinnaman

Stephen Chapin Kinnaman's Captain Bulloch: The Life of James Dunwoody Bulloch, Naval Agent of the Confederacy, presents a biography of the foremost Confederate naval agent in Europe during the Civil War. Detailed descriptions and meticulous research reveal the life story of a fascinating individual, and reflect the history of the United States' most devastating conflict. While Kinnaman has successfully brought Bulloch to life, he has avoided critical analysis and presents the image of a man too flawless to be realistic.

Kinnaman's research draws from contemporary newspapers, family papers and correspondence, and military records. He traces the Bulloch family from its roots in Scotland and follows the family's immigration and colonial American experience, before exploring the life of James Dunwoody Bulloch himself. Bulloch's service as a young officer in the United States Navy and his subsequent career in the merchant marine established his talents as an accomplished naval professional. These valuable skills enabled his work for the Confederacy, especially his dominant role in the creation of the Confederate cruisers Florida, Alabama, and Shenandoah, as well as the purchasing and commissioning of Confederate warships and blockade-runners. Kinnaman's narrative explores the decisions and strategies employed by the manager of the Confederacy’s European naval activities, highlighting Bulloch's delicate maneuverings through international law, politics, and diplomacy. 

The biography employs a fascinating blend of the personal and professional elements of Bulloch's life to illustrate the whole man, but while Kinnaman has produced valuable information on this frequently [SR1]overlooked figure of the Confederacy, his claim that Bulloch's "unique talents in the service of the Confederacy were largely responsible for its untimely demise" is both unsupported and untenable in the face of the larger body of Civil War scholarship. While Kinnaman highlights Bulloch’s considerable naval contributions by reviewing his Confederate vessels, organization of Confederate Navy finances, and role in devising naval strategies, no man's actions, no matter how pivotal, can be held responsible for the outcome of this war. The statement is thus more revelatory of the author's devotion to his subject than indicative of a considered analysis.

Interwoven anecdotes, fascinating historical coincidences, and connections to noteworthy figures all enhance the book's readability, especially the Bulloch family's connection to the powerful Roosevelt dynasty. Discussion of Bulloch's post-war career in Liverpool as a British citizen centers on his relationship with his young nephew, future President Theodore Roosevelt. This intriguing history continues to grip the reader even after Bulloch’s exciting international naval career has passed.

Editing errors and typos occasionally distract from Kinnaman's narrative, and prose is littered by many inferences of Bulloch's possible emotions, indicating a lack of objectivity towards the subject—but Kinnaman's obvious passion also engages his audience.

Overall, Kinnaman's biography presents a fascinating account of an important and largely neglected historical character, presented both as crucial figure for the Confederacy and emblematic of the American experience. Though occasionally sentimental, Kinnaman’s narrative serves as a valuable guide to an extensive array of source material, significant and helpful to any researcher of the Confederate Navy. 

  • Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2013
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xv + 562 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
  • ISBN: 9781957518225

Reviewed by Jeneva Wright, East Carolina University

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