Thursday, December 27, 2012




Secret Agent Man - From Guest Blogger Vic Socotra

I woke on the farm this morning. I slept on the couch in the great room, listening to the mournful sound of the freight trains sounding their whistles at the grade crossings over by the hamlet of Winston. I thought of my Irish ancestors at work on that very track, heading south and west to Nashville, where they took up residence prior to the Late Unpleasantness Between the States. 

I have a meeting in Charlottesville with a new Government customer, and coming south under blue skies of a late-January seemed to make a lot of sense. I don’t want jinx anything on this la Nina-influenced winter, but we may have dodged the worst that the season can throw at us- four weeks more in the Short Month and the azaleas will be poking up.

No cat, sad to say, though she may show up on patrol in the morning. I will refresh the food in the bowl down by the garage, which has been consumed by some critter or another. 

The deer are back after the hunting season has closed, venturing out of the deeper scraggly woods and back onto my pastures. The droning of a small private plane miles away and the barking of a dog in the middle distance were the only sounds, save those of the rustling branches in a fitful breeze. 
I had an hour or so of productive time after I bustled around, and could have hung a new thermometer on the deck, or got to some of the chores that have a timeless quality. Then I thought about reading a book- and actual paper-printed book- and listening to satellite radio. 
Easy choice on that score. I have a Scandinavian blood-soaked detective story in progress, and a strange surreal account of life in a small-town in North Dakota called “Down Town Owl” by Chuck Closterman. I hefted them both and with a sigh, decided on a third. 
An old shipmate from Texas had his publisher send me a copy of his latest book, a tome about the life and times of a Confederate naval acquisition specialist. I had thought about buying a copy, although I gulped at the price. They want $55 for the lengthy trade paperback, which is what I pay for the folio editions of the great books that I use as decorator  items. This self-publishing business is a hard one, and I felt a certain obligation to support other non-mainstream authors. I was going to get to that, when a hefty manila envelope arrived in the Saturday snail-mail. 
It was a free copy of Texas Walt’s book, sent to me in my capacity as editor of the little professional Quarterly, and for the purposes of generating a favorable review. I could put it in the pile of things to do in the flurry before press time, but I have learned to just touch things once, get it out of the way and move on.
I sat on the couch with the rich sunlight lowering across the front porch and making last fall’s ornamental grasses stand in bold gold. Then I starting reading about Richmond’s Secret Agent Man in old Europe, the procurer of gunboats and commerce raiders and blockade runners who drove Mr. Lincoln’s admirals nuts. 
If this were a review, which it is not, per se, I would start it like this: 

34 Bulloch cover.jpg

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

Paperback: 368 pages/$55 

Publisher: McFarland (January 20, 2012)

ISBN-10: 0786466596

ISBN-13: 978-0786466597 (ebook)

Orders: or toll-free at 800-253-2187
I would have noted that the Gazette was proud to note the issuance of the first biography of James D. Bulloch, agent extraordinaire of the Confederate Navy who operated a vast network of procurement, intelligence collection and privateering from Europe throughout the American Civil War. Bulloch was an ingenious secret agent who conjured up a fleet of cruisers and blockade-runners from his base in Liverpool against incredible odds and under enormous pressure by the Lincoln government in Washington. Prior to the war, Bulloch was an extraordinary US naval officer and commercial sea captain. The book details Bulloch's exploits and his impact on American history, and that of the larger world stage. 

This is a most entertaining account of a sadly neglected aspect of the industrial age global war. In addition to all that, Bulloch survived the war, remaining in exile in Liverpool, but remaining life-long friends with Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and was the favorite Uncle and mentor of a future U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt. There is also a tantalizing possibility that Bulloch and his family provided the inspiration for the young Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.”

As the former head of the Navy's intelligence operations in Europe, Walt Wilson felt a special connection with Bulloch, and writes evocatively of the world of espionage that made the American Civil War a global enterprise. Blockade-runners and commerce raiders were Bullock’s stock in trade, that and the collection of intelligence from a network of Rebel agents across the continent. 

In large measure, Bulloch’s accomplishments were overshadowed by the exploits of the ships he acquired and launched on the world ocean to prey on Union merchantmen and the whaling fleet. 

"James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent" is the second in a trilogy of books about three important Confederate naval commanders that have been overlooked for far too long. 

34 the sea king.jpg

The first book, "The Sea King: The Life of James Iredell Waddell" (Birlinn, 2009) detailed the life of the man who commanded the famed commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, the only American Civil War vessel to circumnavigate the globe. 

Using the ship that Bulloch had procured for him, Waddell singlehandedly destroyed the US whaling fleet and almost brought the British Empire into the war on the side of the South. Waddell was a thorn in the side of the Johnson Administration (the first one) in the immediate post-war period in which Waddell remained in command and at large. He finally surrendered to the Royal Navy after a 22,000-mile journey to Liverpool. Proclaimed an American hero upon his death in 1886 he was given the only state funeral ever awarded for a former Confederate office. 

Second in the series, Bulloch’s biography is a joint effort between shipmate Walt Wilson and Gary L. McKay about the most mysterious naval official on either side of the American Civil War. 

34 Walt Wilson.jpg
(“Texas Walt” Wilson strikes a pose before USS San Antonio (LPD-17) lead ship of her class of amphibious transport docks. She is the first ship named for the city of San Antonio, TX.)
Gary L. McKay is the co-author, and is a “lead researcher at Float Research UK, a dedicated geo-spatial engineering firm specializing in remote sensing and digital cartography.” He had 17 years experience in the US Navy and US Army within the electronic intelligence, intelligence analysis and counterintelligence communities, so his chops are good. 
He claims his next project is a secret, but I am betting it might be about Raphael Semmes, Confederate Admiral and skipper of the deadly raider CSS Alabama. 
(CSA Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, Captain of the Alabama, who took his war with the Union to the world ocean.His epic losing engagement with USS Kearsarge off the French coast electrified Europe.)
I won’t break the other secret, which is that of course it will be a positive review. You have to help out other authors. It is a tough world for us- I saw and article in the times in the darkness of the great room on the glowing computer screen that book giant Barnes and Nobel may be headed for the ashcan of history, along with all the other big chains.
Apparently Amazon is killing them off. I felt bad when I read the article. B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books are long gone. Borders collapsed last year. Now it is just B&N against the implacable Kindle and the Amazonian business model. 
Shoot, that is how I get my reading stuff these days, except for the fancy editions that mostly just serve as three-dimensional wallpaper in my living room. 
To get his book on the street, Texas Walt’s publisher has to ask for $55 a copy. This is a hard world, isn’t it?
I would have bought it, really I would. But I would probably have bought it from Amazon. 
Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra

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