Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Trading with the Enemy: The Covert Economy during the American Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Trading with the Enemy: The Covert Economy during the American Civil War

Article excerpt

Trading with the Enemy: The Covert Economy During the American Civil War. By Philip Leigh. (Yardley, Pa.: Westholme Publishing, 2014. Pp. [xviii], 182. $26.00, ISBN 978-1-59416-199-5.)

In Trading with the Enemy: The Covert Economy During the American Civil War, Philip Leigh argues that historians have accorded too little attention to "interbelligerent trade" as a factor that helped shape the course and conclusion of the Civil War (p. xvi). His examination of this commerce--which often was not as hidden as the word covert suggests--focuses heavily on cotton as the main crop of the South and the principal driver of the U.S. economy during the late antebellum period. Continuing high demand for cotton, both in Europe and in New England, led to the rapid escalation of prices for the fiber and motivated the illegal trade in it. Northerners, fearing that a cotton famine would starve their textile factories and lead to the diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by England and France, worked assiduously to procure as much cotton as they could by whatever means necessary. Thus merchants, powerful politicians, and military leaders either participated extensively in the covert trade in cotton or surreptitiously facilitated the participation of others.

Each of Leigh's chapters covers a key dimension of the illicit trade: the global context of the commerce in cotton; the official policies of each side pertaining to trade with the other side; the Union blockade of southern port cities; the role of Matamoros, Mexico, as an entrepot in the northern trade with southerners; and the efforts of northerners--troops as well as civilians--to produce cotton with the labor of ex-slaves in occupied areas of the South, most prominently the Sea Islands of South Carolina. …

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