Described as the “Pan Am pilot of his era” and “Teddy’s favorite uncle,” James Dunwoody Bulloch led a life of naval success, international espionage and general was shrouded in mystery — until now.
Georgia Southern University alumnus Dr. Gary McKay co-authored the first biography on Bulloch, titled “James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy,” along with Walter E. Wilson, a retired Navy captain and senior U.S. Naval Intelligence officer in Europe.
Georgia Southern’s Zach S. Henderson Library and the Statesboro Regional Library presented McKay’s lecture, “The President’s Hero: James D. Bulloch.”
“The world you live in now would not be here without Bulloch,” said McKay, who is an adjunct associate professor with the Center for International Studies at GSU and a member of Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain and director of research and development for AIG London.
“It’s a heavy claim to make, but it’s true. We live in Mr. Bulloch’s world. … It’s not James Bond, its James Bulloch,” McKay said.
Of particular interest locally, Bulloch is the grandson of Archibald Bulloch, for whom Bulloch County is named.
James Bulloch was the Confederacy’s primary naval mind in Europe, a secret agent, and President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite uncle and mentor. Along with being considered the most dangerous man in Europe, Bulloch acted as the head of the South’s covert shipbuilding and logistics program overseas, acquiring 49 warships, blockade runners, and tenders; built “invulnerable” ocean-going ironclads; sustained Confederate logistics; financed covert operations while masterminding the deconstruction of 130 Union ships.
“He was a mystery man. There have been a lot of legends and a lot of ill-founded gossip, and I thought it was time to nail him down. … He is known by historians as the most famous figure of the Civil War to not have a biography on him,” McKay said.
The biography took four years and $250,000 to make, and currently is being optioned by the BBC for a radio show, a documentary and a possible film.
Currently, the book is being read by the Naval War College, the Secretary of the Navy and President Obama.
“President Roosevelt, considered the father of modern naval strategy, credited Bulloch with … the ideas of the modern U.S. Navy … Bulloch did more for the Confederate navy and for the United States, than any other single individual, and yet, he’s over-looked,” McKay said.
From reports of Union officers to State Department counterintelligence documents, McKay was able to detail where Bulloch was, what he looked like and what he did each day.
As McKay put it, Wilson took the “white hat” side, and he took the “dark hat” side of the biography. Wilson researched Bulloch’s life, creating the timeline to the book’s extensive bibliography, and McKay prosecuted and questioned everything Bulloch said to prove that he either did or did not do all the things he claimed to have done.
One of the biggest discoveries by McKay and Wilson was Bulloch’s involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
“Bulloch was involved in the attempt to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. This, in turn, led to the assassination of Lincoln, and that’s about as bombshell as you get. It is even more of a bombshell given that the uncle of a future president of the United States is connected by documentation to the plan for the kidnapping and assassination of an American president,” McKay said.
The book is part of an ongoing trilogy by McKay about the last three great naval commanders. The first is “The Sea King: The Life of James Iredell Waddell.” The book on Bulloch is the second, and the working title of the third, which is in progress, is “Brightest Southern Star,” a biography about Thomas Jefferson Page.
McKay and Wilson’s biography is written from Bulloch’s perspective, with America beginning to discover itself and Britain being the dominant world power. The book chronicles the rise of one of America’s most admired maritime figures, his pivotal role as one of its greatest enemies, and his transformation into one of America’s greatest forgotten naval heroes.
On its opening night at Bulloch Hall in Roswell, Ga., the book sold 296 copies on sight. Only six books remained for sale at the Statesboro Library, but McKay promised those interested he would get them a copy autographed by both authors. The book sells for $55 on Amazon.com.
“This is a big thing for Bulloch County, because if there is a USS James D. Bulloch built, Statesboro can fight it out with Roswell with who is the commissioning city,” McKay said.