Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sample Chapter: Trading With the Enemy

Provided below is the first chapter of my book, Trading With the Enemy, which is about intersectional commerce between the North and South during the Civil War The version below excludes the documenting footnotes that are available in book which you can buy here.

Chapter One
The World Cotton Economy

Trading with the enemy would have been immaterial during the Civil War but for the significance of cotton.

Although the South was desperate for supplies of all kinds, the North had no reason to provide them if the South had nothing of value to trade. While the South’s ‘King Cotton Diplomacy’ failed to create enough anxiety in Europe about a war-induced cotton shortage to prompt Great Britain and France to intervene on the side of the Confederacy, the resultant intersectional trade between North and South demonstrated that cotton was no puppet monarch. The Northern states, and the industrialized economies of Europe, were more dependent on the staple than is commonly realized today. The profits were so extraordinarily tempting that efforts to block such trade were hopeless. Historian Lauriston Bullard wrote, “Massachusetts depended almost as much on cotton as did South Carolina and Mississippi.” Charles Francis Adams Jr., who was the son of Lincoln’s minister to Great Britain and grandson and great-grandson of two American presidents, said, “Boston . . . became . . . a proslavery community, and it remained so until 1861.”

King Cotton was not the impotent power it is often ridiculed to be by twenty-first century observers. Ward Hill Lamon, who was one of Lincoln’s legal partners for five years before the war and his personal bodyguard during the presidency, explained why Southern secession was such a frightening threat to Northerners:

[Cotton] formed the bulk of our exchanges with Europe; paid our foreign indebtedness; maintained a great marine; built towns, cities, and railways; enriched factors, brokers, and bankers; filled the federal treasury to overflowing, and made the foremost nations of the world commercially our tributaries and politically our dependents. A short crop embarrassed and distressed all Western Europe; a total failure, a war, or non-intercourse, would reduce whole communities to famine, and probably precipitate them into revolution.

Presently it is easy to take the abundance of cotton clothing for granted. However, in the eighteenth century, cotton was more expensive than wool, linen, or silk. Before mechanization of the cotton textile industry, it took up to fourteen man-days to create one pound of thread, compared to six man-days for silk and two-man days for wool. Like modern semiconductors, from 1784 to the start of the Civil War in 1861, the price of cotton dropped 90 percent owing largely to technological advances in the production process. In response, cotton fabrics rapidly gained market share. In Europe during the century from 1783 to 1883, the fabric rose from a 6 percent share to nearly an 80 percent share, while wool dropped from about 80 percent to 20 percent.

memphis cotton

The steadily declining cost created an almost insatiable demand for more cotton. It became known as a cash crop because it was nearly imperishable and could be inventoried indefinitely. It was practically a substitute for gold in international settlements between the United States and Europe. Financiers could extend credit on cotton inventories because it was fungible. In the sixty years from 1801 to 1861, shipping tonnage at Liverpool increased tenfold, from 500,000 to 5 million, translating to a 4 percent growth rate compounded annually. Consequently, cotton textiles became Great Britain’s single largest industry at the start of the American Civil War, with about 20 to 25 percent of its population dependent on the sector. Continue reading

To Speak at Charleston Civil War Roundtable: Trading With the Enemy

On Tuesday, September 8, 2015 I will be making a presentation on my Civil War Book, Trading With the Enemy to the Charleston, South Carolina Civil War Roundtable.

When:   Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Where: Ryan’s Steakhouse
829 St. Andrews Boulevard
Charleston, South Carolina 29407

Time:    Dinner: 6:00 p. m.     Speech: 7:00 p. m.

Topic:    Trading With the Enemy

Trading With the Enemy concerns inter-belligerent commerce between the North and South during the Civil War, excluding the minor trade among fraternizing enemy soldiers.

Such commerce was large and scandalous. About twice as much cotton went to Northern states as was shipped through the blockade to Europe. Aside from gold, cotton was the best international exchange medium available in America. Although Civil War shipment tonnage dropped sharply, cotton prices soared over ten-fold thereby sustaining a robust dollar volume.

When Northern traders purchased cotton with specie, the gold invariably found its way into markets where it bought weapons for the Confederacy. Contrary to popular belief such markets were not necessarily international. Major General William T. Sherman complained that Rebels purchased weapons in Cincinnati from the cotton they sold for gold to Memphis traders.

Trading Cover

Evidence suggests a number of notable Civil War personalities were involved in dubious – perhaps treasonous – conduct. Examples include Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Major General Benjamin Butler and Rhode Island Senator William Sprague. One cotton trader became the largest shareholder of New York’s National City Bank. At different times, his son, grandson, and great-grandson all served as the bank’s Board Chairman, the last as late as 1967.

Perhaps because the story provides no heroes, little has been written about inter-belligerent trade. Nonetheless, an 1865 joint Senate-House investigation led by Illinois Congressman Elihu Washburne concluded: “[The trade] is believed to have led to a prolongation of the war, and to have cost the country thousands of lives and millions upon millions of treasure.”


Amazon links to my three Civil War Books:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated


Speech to Tampa Civil War Roundtable on Lee’s Lost Dispatch

This Wednesday I will be making a presentation on my latest Civil War book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and other Civil War Controversies.

When: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where: Tampa History Center
801 Old Water Street
Tampa, Florida 33602
(Next to Hockey Arena)

Time: 7:00 p. m.

Parking: Arrive early to park for free in the basement.

Topic: Lee’s Lost Dispatch during Antietam campaign.

During Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North he developed a detailed plan to get his army into Pennsylvania by splitting it into fragments that would enable him to clear an invasion path by capturing the 12,000-man federal garrison at Harpers Ferry and taking the rest of his army to Hagerstown, Maryland less than six miles from the Pennsylvania state line. His army was vulnerable to annihilation while it was split into five parts, especially if Union Major General George McClellan became aware of the Confederate deployment.


Unfortunately for Lee, that is precisely what happened. Union soldiers discovered an authentic copy of Lee’s order detailing the Rebel army’s scattered unit locations. When the copy reached McClellan he declared, “Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home.” The result was the unplanned battle of Antietam.

My talk will describe the strategic situation, how the order was lost or stolen, and the consequences of the Union discovery. It will also analyze the available evidence to try and determine who was responsible for losing the orders.


My other Civil War books include

Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

Book Review: Lee’s Lost Dispatch


Provided below is a book review from Civil War News of my latest book: Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies. By Phillip Leigh. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 224 pp., 2015, Westholme,, $18.95 softcover.


Phillip Leigh has produced a thoughtful, thought-provoking and enjoyable book addressing some of the Civil War’s puzzles, scandals, mysteries and “what-if” subjects. It is a delightful “must-read” book.

Leigh makes the following assertions and discusses them in brief and interesting detail:

• The Confederates’ biggest mistake was misplaying its King Cotton advantage.

• The Union’s greatest error was its failure to promptly and massively manufacture breech-loading single-shot and repeating rifles – a failure attributable to Abraham Lincoln, Simon Cameron, Edwin Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant and the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.

• Opportunities were missed to possibly prevent the war – one of them being Union failure to more effectively reinforce Fort Sumter in January 1860.

• Union Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase creatively financed the war by explosively increasing revenues and deficit spending – and perhaps personally benefitted from his financial maneuverings.

• Chase’s daughter Kate and millionaire Rhode Island senator William Sprague became the Camelot couple of their day, but their marriage crashed as a result of Salmon Chase’s presidential ambitions, William Sprague’s trading with the enemy, and Kate’s infidelities.

• William T. Sherman, in November 1864, was responsible for the unnecessary destruction of most private dwellings in Atlanta, Cassville, Rome, Big Shanty, Marietta and other Georgia towns.

• George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas would have been a better choice than Sherman to lead the Union armies in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, but Grant selected Sherman for several erroneous reasons.

• Union spies may have been responsible for the Spring Hill, Tenn., fiasco, in which John Bell Hood’s army allowed John Schofield’s trapped 23,000-man command to march unmolested past them on the night preceding the Battle of Franklin.

• The loss of a copy of Robert E. Lee’s famous Special Order 191 during the Maryland (Antietam) campaign remains a mystery, but there are several possible explanations.

• After Vicksburg’s fall, Florida became important to the Confederacy because of its cattle industry, but states’ rights, a railroad owner’s financial interests, and the cattlemen’s desire to resume profitable sales to Cuba combined to impede the movement of beef to hungry Confederate soldiers and civilians.

Many will question some of these contentions, but Leigh’s success is in making readers think about, or rethink, these issues. I highly recommend this book for Civil War buffs with inquiring minds.

Edward Bonekemper

If you enjoyed the book review above, consider buying one of my books:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated