The Spy Who Came in from the Confederacy

1862_LON_14_1862_NPL_P385[SVC1]He was, at first, another young shadow hurrying through Westminster Hall. He carried flimsier credentials than most, papers hastily sent by a new nation called the Confederate States of America. It was November 1862, and, since spring, he had stretched expenses to accommodate the bare $750 granted to fund his secretive mission. Still, regular sightings of the worn, 29 year-old Swiss-American stranger, who had shipped to London via the fiery newsrooms of Richmond and Mobile, caused a flutter of concern among British peers. Within weeks, the constant American shadow near Parliament became a very real worry. “He is but a private gentleman, it is true,” one M.P. fretted, “yet he may leave his card at the Foreign Office, and possibly find his way upstairs.”

Sneaking “upstairs” and into the elite corridors of British power was the stranger’s plan. Fresh off a three-month stint in the Confederate Army, editor and commercial agent Henry Hotze (1833-1887) had turned his talents toward securing British support for a Southern revolution. Born in Zug, Switzerland, Hotze emigrated to Alabama, apprenticed at a string of newspapers, and translated volumes of Arthur de Gobineau’s white supremacy theory for English-language publication. The South of 1784 claimed only 15 newspapers; by 1850, roughly 67 dailies, 59 tri-weeklies, and 475 weeklies flourished there. This was the second home where Henry Hotze learned to write Southern history, on deadline, for the Mobile Register. Hotze’s racialist writing, European quasi-Southernness, and scientific understanding quickly won him notice among members of the Confederate administration. The title of the London newspaper that Hotze produced every Thursday, from 1862 to 1865, encapsulated his mission: The Index, A Weekly Journal of Politics, Literature, and News; Devoted to the Exposition of Mutual Interests, Political and Commercial, of Great Britain and the Confederate States of America.

Hotze promised Southern poetry, and delivered Confederate politics instead. As a three-year propaganda project meant to quicken European sympathy for the Confederacy, Hotze’s Index manipulated history, literature, and science to shape a Southern cultural canon for foreign markets. “The task of making Europe known to the South,” Hotze observed, “is not so urgent nor so difficult as that of making the South known to Europe.” In a cultural counter-offensive to the Northern press that dominated abolitionist Europe, Hotze paired battle results with Southern odes. And, from its Continental haven, the Index filled Southern needs by invoking Anglo-French historical roots for the Confederacy’s rise, thus fortifying cultural resistance to the North.

Admittedly, the Index represents a literary genre (propaganda) that is most historically possible—and least historically reliable—during war. Mixing polemics with poetry, Hotze’s Index fulfilled the modern literary criteria for propaganda. He offered false statements that he believed to be true regarding Confederate victory; published lies about racial “inferiority;” suggested falsehoods about Southern nationalists’ motives; suppressed accounts of diplomatic failures; and slanted news to fit Confederate ends.

On a contemporary note, the Index posed a research challenge for me: How should we, as historians, read propaganda? That question pushed me through roughly 2,752 pages of the Index, pulling apart the weekly chapters of Henry Hotze’s manual for achieving Southern nationhood. At different turns in the war, I managed to ground Index rhetoric in the Southern/transatlantic worlds charted by Jennifer Rae Greeson, Drew Gilpin Faust, William R. Taylor, Frank L. Owsley, Jr., Charles M. Hubbard, John McCardell, Lewis P. Simpson, J.V. Ridgely, Michael O’Brien, Amanda Foreman, and Lonnie A. Burnett. To do so, I read closely for intent, content, and tone. Often, Hotze’s newspaper felt like a text at war with itself. But his precise manufacture of regional historicism—pinned with erudite literary allusions and cannily aimed at elite British readers—made it impossible to dismiss as simple Confederate puffery.

When I looked beyond the bruise of propaganda, I saw the Index as new literary evidence of American intellectuals’ exertions to reattach Southern interests with European culture. To organize my research and provide some cultural context, I chose to draw on the language that Hotze used repeatedly to describe this process as it unfolded—specifically, the parallel terminology of “Southern prospects” and “literary wants” that recurred throughout the Index and also appeared in 19th-century literature before and after the Confederate period. A serious interpretation of the Index’s rhetoric pointed to the convictions of Southern cultural creativity that Greeson includes in the region’s “nationalizing imperatives.” For his “Confederate Clio” and others, Hotze had to showcase the worldliness of a Southern nation. “To say that the South has no literature would be to do it great injustice,” Hotze reminded 2,000 subscribers in the June 5, 1862 issue. “It has a poetry, also, of its own…which indicates both taste and power.” As a form of highbrow propaganda, the Index froze the process of Southern nationalism like literary amber, infinitely suspending the Confederacy as an “imagined community” still held in the act of Southern creation.

What, exactly, did the poetry of taste and power look like, and how to “crack” it? The Index closely resembled its English model, The London Index. Choosing a bland but authoritative name and a familiar broadsheet layout, Hotze introduced the Index in April 1862. He intended it to disseminate war news and to sway influential British readers to back the Confederate cause. Hotze crammed each 16 page-edition with three columns of minute type on Southern commercial affairs. He reviewed new books in a “Literary Notes” column, inserted poetic odes to the South, and listed new plays opening in Covent Garden. Ads listed shipping notices, Confederate bond sales, and constant reminders of the cotton market that tied Britain to the South. Hotze solicited donations for two charitable projects: a Southern prisoners-of-war relief fund, and a pledge drive to build a memorial statue of Stonewall Jackson in London. Under Hotze’s guiding pen, the Index published book reviews and “private letters,” as well as a pageant of “historical parallels” for the rising republic to consider. Low on staff and funds, Hotze often wrote an editorial, planted it in a French paper, and then extracted it in the Index as a “sign” of foreign support—a literary mirror trick that made the Confederate community loom larger than it actually appeared.

Propaganda means little unless the audience shows signs of investment in the message. Beyond studying authorial intent, content, and tone, I searched for Index readers. From Index letters and subscriber data, I saw that Southerners who supported the Confederate cause sought to imagine a new national literature and history with European guidance. In turn, Hotze’s work prodded Europeans to rethink perceptions of the American South. Index rhetoric made old economic webs reverberate with half-forgotten or half-imagined cultural (and colonial) connections. As horrific losses mounted on both sides, the Index reinvigorated Confederate nationalism. “As your fellow-citizen and fellow-sufferer, I beg you to go on with the good work,” Sen. William Cabell Rives (Va.), wrote to Hotze in 1863. “Let the South continue to be the South, and let God declare the result. It may be her destiny to suffer, but it is not her policy to despair.”

Henry Hotze

Henry Hotze

With every issue, Hotze gilded the Southern character. His Index produced a much-needed canon that Confederates and their sympathizers could, however briefly, share. Together, they tested which “Southern” traits operated best abroad. Per the Index, Hotze’s Southerners were resourceful, astute, chivalrous, and, thanks to the “Northern fictions” of “savage slave-drivers,” they were also “thoroughly misunderstood.” Rich in natural beauty and history, his South possessed a spirit of European compatibility that the North did not. Hotze was less optimistic about the American states remaining united in any fashion, calling “all this talk of brotherhood” between North and South “sheer cant.”

As a commercial agent “selling” the Confederacy’s national character, Hotze worked hard to convince the British that Southerners had begun a principled war for self-government. On the page, it was a hard editorial tone to strike. “The English are an impressionable people and I understand them well,” Hotze cautioned a colleague. “You set them against you the moment you show any strong feeling.” When he wrote about his South, Henry Hotze oscillated between two extremes of thought: an idealized colonialism embracing the “mother country” of England, and a sterner historicism instructing readers how to relate the rise of a Confederate republic. Southerners, by the Index’s lights, had embarked on an endeavor sanctioned by the law of nations and blessed by God. Agreeing with the Southern press’ notion that “Yankees have no appreciation of the sublime in human character,” Hotze tied Confederate nationalism to the older literary tradition of the human sublime. Secession, in Hotze’s eyes, was a humanitarian and transcendent enterprise despite the proslavery underpinnings. He gloried in the “sublime spectacle” of a whole nation rising as one, powered by an inexhaustible supply of divine grace.

A fresh influx of $10,000 came in winter 1862, but Hotze’s long-term problems of publication echoed the inherent conundrum of the Southern writer. Hotze’s proslavery attitude negated membership in a greater Republic of Letters, and, worse, committed his Southern history-writing to reifying (or ignoring) the “peculiar institution” that elided the framework of modern civilization. Southern literary wants guided the Index’s reportage. Index classifieds coaxed Southern authors to publish books at home rather than in “Yankee land.” Regional pride, printers hoped, would morph into a national canon. “Southern books have always been far superior to the trash gotten up at the North,” The Charleston Daily Courier declared via an Index reprint, seemingly siphoning literary criticism directly from a prevailing racial theory. “For we have no ‘isms’ in them—they are pure and unadulterated.”

At war’s end, Hotze disparaged Southern war poetry and advised planter exiles to seek refuge in the West Indies. He mulled reinventing the Index as a transatlantic edition to be printed “on thinner, but good and substantial paper,” with offices in London, America, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. His polemical mastery waning, the war-sick propagandist offered lighter fare: an “American Personals” gossip column, horse-race sketches, and essays on German musical composition. “The very stones cry out against the policy of the North,” Hotze wrote as the final Confederate cities fell. “The sublimity of heroism has been attained.” Largely broken by a world that had never welcomed his vision of a Southern nation, and anxious to “strip the tinsel from Northern anecdote,” Hotze now feared that the “Yankee muse of history” plotted to overwrite his Index. The normally diligent editor ignored a subscriber’s query about the Stonewall Jackson statue project, and immersed himself in comparing new books on “Oriental Travels” and “Siberian Serfs.” Once war cancelled the Index, Swiss retirement beckoned. Henry Hotze hurried to return home, still looking for other Souths.

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