James D. Bulloch: Mastermind of the Confederate Navy

Secret agent, Confederate hero, Roswell native’s exploits echo to present day

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ROSWELL, Ga. – One of Roswell’s forefathers is known as the uncle of President Theodore Roosevelt, but what is little known is that James Dunwoody Bulloch was so much more than Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt’s brother. He was the Confederate States’ most effective secret agent, father to the CSA Navy, blockade runner and mentor to the 26th president of the United States.

A new biography, “James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy,” recounts Bulloch’s role as the prime mover in creating a navy of blockade runners and ironclad raiders that could have changed the outcome of the Civil War. The book co-authored by Walter E. Wilson and Gary L. McKay describes how this little-known Confederate patriot played a major role in the reconfiguration of world naval power and the strategic use of this power that is still used in the 21st century.

He was the favorite uncle of Teddy Roosevelt and played an influential role in the president’s use of naval diplomacy, better known as the “Big Stick.”

Wilson is a retired Navy captain and was the senior U.S. naval intelligence officer in Europe who has authored numerous articles and reviews. McKay is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. The meticulously researched book is the first biography of the man who was perhaps the Confederacy’s most dangerous man in Europe. Not only was Bulloch in charge of the South’s covert shipbuilding program that ultimately built or acquired 49 warships, blockade runners and tenders, but he became involved in a plot to kidnap President Lincoln.

In this incredible biography, Bulloch is revealed as the Confederacy’s most audacious secret agent tasked with the job of creating a navy capable of challenging the U.S. Navy on the high seas, and directly sparking the world powers of Europe into rendering wooden ships obsolete as they rushed to transform their own navies into ironclads.

The son of James Stephens Bulloch, builder of Roswell’s Bulloch Hall, he went to sea in his teens and rose to be a lieutenant in the early U.S. Navy. He sailed the world, was a ship’s master and chartered both the west and east coasts of America.

His naval career, retarded by small service that promoted at a glacial pace followed by a career as a commercial ship’s captain, alone would have made an entertaining read. He became a fast friend of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., who would later marry his sister Mittie.

But when the South seceded from the Union, his prominence as a commercial captain and naval experience coupled with business connections on both sides of the Atlantic caught the attention of Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory.

Ultimately, he was sent to England to purchase the ships that would become the Confederate Navy. He was improbably successful launching the most prominent Confederate raiders, the CSS Alabama, CSS Florida, CSS Shenandoah and CSS Stonewall that led to the destruction of 130 Union ships.

Working with archival letters, records, graduate papers and Bulloch’s somewhat evasive memoirs, Wilson and McKay are able to make this a most entertaining read. Local history buffs will enjoy the Bulloch family history that would make a soap opera writer blanch.

Then, there is the Roosevelt connection that reveals how the scion of a rich Yankee family came to wed the daughter of a Southern planter.

But this is no minor history of one of the sons of Roswell’s founding fathers. It uncovers the role James Dunwoody Bulloch played on the world’s stage.

First, there is the cat-and-mouse game Bulloch played to evade the machinations of the Union attempts to thwart his efforts – with some success – as Bulloch played a political game of charades to build warships in the ostensibly neutral countries of Britain and France.

The authors also place Bulloch’s efforts to create a navy out of nothing against the devious diplomatic backdrop of 19th century Realpolitik. Britain and France took notice of the American contretemps and especially the effect of the ironclad battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack (CSS Virginia) on two March days in 1862, which ended in stalemate but rendered wooden naval ships worldwide obsolete.

While Confederate funds raised from the sale of contraband cotton paid for new iron rebel raiders, Union representatives threatened war if they were allowed to sail. But British and later French authorities played North against the South while eyeing the ships for themselves.

Several European nations and China become involved in the stroke-counterstroke intrigues that involved Bulloch, the overt agent who had to operate clandestinely to get his ships on blue water. All the while, he had to battle the Confederacy’s own internecine political reefs.

Yet he emerged as an honorable and esteemed gentleman who played the Great Game expertly. And it was his strategy for using naval power he sought to create for the Confederacy that influenced the seminal work of Alfred Thayer Mahan, who in turn influenced the navies of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Is Bulloch really the almost mythic character almost unknown to history who was the touchstone of so many paths of history? Wilson and McKay make a cogent and plausible case for their man from Roswell.

Civil, War, hero, Roswell

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