Secret History of Confederate Diplomacy Abroad
By Edwin De Leon
Edited by William C. Davis
November 2005; 240 pages, 1 photograph, 6 x 9; Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1411-0, $35.00
One of the South’s most urgent priorities in the Civil War was obtaining the recognition of foreign governments. Edwin De Leon, a Confederate propagandist charged with wooing Britain and France, opens up this vital dimension of the war in the earliest known account by a Confederate foreign agent.
First published in the New York Citizen in 1867–68, De Leon’s memoir subsequently sank out of sight until its recent rediscovery by William C. Davis, one of the Civil War field’s true luminaries. Both reflective and engaging, it brims with insights and immediacy lacking in other works, covering everything from the diplomatic impact of the Battle of Bull Run to the candid opinions of Lord Palmerston to the progress of secret negotiations at Vichy.
De Leon discusses, among other things, the strong stand against slavery by the French and a frustrating policy of inaction by the British, as well as the troubling perceptions of some Europeans that the Confederacy was located in South America and that most Americans were a cross between Davy Crockett and Sam Slick. With France’s recognition a priority, De Leon published pamphlets and used French journals in a futile attempt to sway popular opinion and pressure the government of Napoleon III. His interpretation of the latter’s meeting with Confederate diplomat John Slidell and the eventual mediation proposal sheds new light on that signal event.
De Leon was a keen observer and a bit of a gossip, and his opinionated details and character portraits help shed light on the dark crevices of the South’s doomed diplomatic efforts and provide our only inside look at the workings of Napoleon’s court and Parliament regarding the Confederate cause. Davis adds an illuminating introduction that places De Leon’s career in historical context, reveals much about his propagandist strategies, and traces the history of the Secret History itself. Together they open up a provocative new window on the Civil War.
“Davis contributes a finely crafted and highly informative introduction to an insightful memoir by De Leon, whose rediscovered story provides a behind-the-scenes account of an overlooked ‘lost cause’—the South’s failure to secure foreign recognition as a nation—that might have changed the verdict of the war. . . . A valuable addition to the study of Civil War diplomacy.”—Howard Jones, author of Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War
“A rare first-hand account of Confederate diplomacy. Expertly introduced by Davis and filled with invaluable personal sketches and opinionated assessments of diplomatic questions, De Leon’s account adds important detail to our knowledge of the Civil War’s international dimensions.”—George C. Rable, author of The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics
EDWIN De LEON (1818–1891) was the author of several travel books and novels and a two-volume memoir, Thirty Years of My Life on Three Continents. WILLIAM C. DAVIS is professor of history at Virginia Tech and a three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award for Confederate History. His other books include The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens, and, most recently, Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America.
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