Monday, June 30, 2014

New and Noteworthy---Illegal Arms Trade With The Confederacy, Illegal Cotton Trade With the United States

Trading With The Enemy: The Covert Economy During The Civil War, Philip Leigh, Westhome Publications, 183 pp., illustrations, tables, bibliographic notes, bibliography, $26.00.

Using clear and concise language, Philip Leigh cogently explains how the world's cotton market on the eve of the Civil War provoked Northern fears of its own economic collapse.  In 1860, cotton textile manufacturing was the planet's largest industry and it was dependent on the South. Northern manufacturing and the U.S. export trade was dominated by the annual cotton crop.  If the South when it became the Confederacy did not trade with the North then textile mills would become idle and the balance of payments abroad would become unfavorable for North.

Yet, the South would also be diminished by a trade embargo with the North. Wheat, corn, pork and a wide variety of manufactured items would be denied the Confederacy. With gold flowing out of the U.S. treasury, cotton became essential because one in Northern hands it could be exported in exchange for credits in Europe. Both Lincoln and Davis realized that inter-sectional trade would exist and very little could be done to prevent it.  Davis turned a blind eye to it; Lincoln sought to develop a policy that would cultivate it.

The 1862 Port Royal South Carolina effort encouraged African-Americans raised cotton on deserted plantations. The Red River and Olustee military campaigns were conducted to seize cotton. When New Orleans and Memphis fell to the Union both cities became gateway cities for cotton coming out of Louisiana and Mississippi. Also, with the fall of New Orleans the cotton trade migrated to Galveston, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico. Then the French involvement in Mexican politics was moved to the front burner in Seward's State Department. When Norfolk, Virginia and Vicksburg, Mississippi fell into Federal hands, other routes of cotton coming out of  the South opened up. Licenses to trade for cotton were granted to Northern merchants who dealt with the commanders of captured cities.  It was not a coincidence that Benjamin Butler commanded both New Orleans and Norfolk while serving in the army.

The U.S. treasury granted the buyer permits and demanded that those shopping for cotton pay with newly printed greenbacks and not gold. Hopefully, greenbacks would be currency in the Confederacy and undermine Southern home front loyalty. Yet in practice, whichever buyer had gold was the first one in line to buy the cotton made available by military expeditions and planters bring their cotton to market in a Federally captured city.

The passage of cotton via blockade runner to the Bermuda and Bahama Islands, as well as Havana, Cuba is thoroughly presented by Leigh.  He notes that much of this cotton was taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, repackaged/rebranded and sold to Boston and New York textile merchants.  Did the New England and Mid-Atlantic textile merchants pay in weapons and medicine or know that their payments would be used to buy military arms and medicines?  Leigh finds that, in fact, merchants did.  

Leigh well documents his findings and supports in conclusions. With a writing style that is marked by clarity and precision, he presents information that is unfamiliar to most general readers of Civil War literature.  Yet, without a doubt, what the author offers is an articulate and thoughtful re-examination of Northern merchants complicity in a necessary evil, that of trading with the enemy during a civil war.

Philip Leigh is a regular contributor to the New York Times Disunion Civil War series and the Civil War Monitor. A professional writer, he holds an engineering degree from the Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. He most recently edited a new edition of Co. Aytch, or a Side Show of the Big Show by Sam Watkins, also available from Westholme Publishing. Additionally, Leigh edited and added illustrations to Three Months in the Southern States, by Arthur J. L. Fremantle.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Thanks for the review. I am glad you liked the book.

I appreciate your taking the time to read it and to share your thoughts with others.