Reading Matters

Excerpt: A slave ship in Charleston Harbor. Cockroaches. Fleas. Gnats. Stench.

“There, right in the Charleston Harbor, was the horror that the South did not want to imagine -- a slave ship. Vomit and urine and feces and blood had seeped deep into the raw wood of the sunless, slapped-together slave decks in the hold, staining them indelibly with filth. Cockroaches by the milions seethed among the boards, and clouds of fleas and gnats rose up from them. The stench that came from this vessel wasn’t the smell of a ship full of cattle and horses, but that peculiar smell that surrounds humans, and only humans who are very afraid and very sick or dying or dead. And in late August, 1858, when the water in Charleston Harbor was as still and flat and thick as oil, and the air was stifling hot and heavy, that hideous odor issued from the brig called the Echo captured off the coast of Cuba a few days before.”

-- From the non-fiction book, “Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South,” by Christopher Dickey. Crown Publishers, $27.