European Recruits in the American Civil War

Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1774. It was followed by Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1781), New Hampshire (1783), Connecticut (1784), New York (1799) and New Jersey (1804). The new states of Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Oregon, California and Illinois also did not have slaves. The importation of slaves from other countries was banned in 1808. However, the selling of slaves within the southern states continued.

Conflict grew between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery. The northern states were going through an industrial revolution and desperately needed more people to work in its factories. Industrialists in the North believed that, if freed, the slaves would leave the South and provide the labour they needed. The North also wanted tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect their new industries. The South was still mainly agricultural and purchased a lot of goods from abroad and was therefore against import tariffs.

The vast majority of European immigrants that arrived at the beginning of the 19th century opposed slavery. Leaders of immigrant organizations such as Carl Schurz (Germany),Tufve Nilsson Hasselquist (Sweden) and Hans Christian Heg (Norway) became involved in the struggle for abolition.

Abraham Lincoln, a northern opponent of slavery, was elected as president in 1861. It has been pointed out that without the support of an overwhelming number of immigrants, Lincoln would have lost the election. After Lincoln became president eleven southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) decided to leave the Union and form their own separate government in the South.

This resulted in the outbreak of the American Civil War. European immigrants joined the Union Army in large numbers. Over 6,000 Germans in New York immediately responded to Lincoln's call for volunteers. Another 4,000 Germans in Pennsylvania also joined. The French community were keen to show its support of the Union. The Lafayette Guards, an entirely French company, was led by Colonel Regis de Trobriand. The 55th New York Volunteers was also mainly composed of Frenchmen.

It is estimated that over 400,000 immigrants served with the Union Army. This included 216,000 Germans and 170,000 Irish soldiers. There were several important German born military leaders such as August Willich, Carl Schurz, Alexander Schimmelfennig, Peter Osterhaus, Franz Sigel and Max Weber. One Irish immigrant, Thomas Meagher, became a highly successful commander in the war. Another important military figure was the Norwegian soldier, Hans Christian Heg, who was mainly responsible for establishing the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers (also known as the Scandinavian Regiment).

An estimated 4,000 Swedes fought in the Union Army. Hans Mattson had a successful career as a colonel in the Union Army and later became Secretary of State for Minnesota (1870-1872).

At Chickamauga 63% of the Scandinavian Regiment were killed, wounded or captured. This included Colonel Hans Christian Heg, the highest ranking officer in Wisconsin to die in the war. Heavy losses were also experienced by the Scandinavian Regiment at Pickett's Mill (27th May, 1864).

The Confederate Army had few foreign-born soldiers. There main support came from Irish immigrants and an estimated 40,000 joined the forces fighting the Union Army. The Irish tended to support the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. This led to the Irish taking part in draft riots in Boston and New York City during the summer of 1863.

The Irish had little sympathy for slaves as they feared that if they were given their freedom they would move north and threaten the jobs being done by Irish immigrants. One leading Irish-American politician, John Mitchel, wrote in his newspaper, The Citizen in 1856: "He would be a bad Irishman who voted for principles which jeopardized the present freedom of a nation of white men, for the vague forlorn hope of elevating blacks to a level for which it is at least problematical whether God and nature ever intended them."

He would be a bad Irishman who voted for principles which jeopardized the present freedom of a nation of white men, for the vague forlorn hope of elevating blacks to a level for which it is at least problematical whether God and nature ever intended them.

It became harder and harder to get along as our family increased and expenses grew. London seemed to offer no response to our efforts towards betterment. About this time we began to hear more and more about the United States. The great struggle against human slavery which was convulsing America was of vital interest to wage-earners who were everywhere struggling for industrial opportunity and freedom. My work in the cigar factory gave me a chance to hear the men discuss this issue. Youngster that I was, I was absorbed in listening to this talk and made my little contribution by singing with all the feeling in my little heart the popular songs, "The Slave Ship" and "To the West, To the West, To the Land of the Free".

The sympathy of English wage-earners was with the cause of the Union which was bound up with the anti-slavery struggle. We heard the story from the Abolitionists. This was true of all the workers of Great Britain even though their own industrial welfare was menaced as was that of the textile workers who were dependent upon cotton shipped from our southern ports. Even against their own economic interests the British textile workers were opposed to the Palmerston diplomatic policy of recognition for the Confederacy and the plan of the British and French governments to raise the blockage of the cotton ports.

The Cigarmakers' Society Union of England, whose members were frequently unemployed and suffering, established an emigration fund - that is, instead of paying the members unemployment benefits, a sum of money was granted to help passage from England to the United States. The sum was not large, between five and ten pounds. This was a very practical method which benefited both the emigrants and those who remained by decreasing the number seeking work in their trade. After much discussion and consultation father decided to go to the New World. He had friends in New York City and a brother-in-law who proceeded us by six months to whom father wrote we were coming.

There came busy days in which my mother gathered together and packed our household belongings. Father secured passage on the City of London, a sailing vessel which left Chadwick Basin, June 10, 1863, and reached Castle Garden, July 29, 1863, after seven weeks and one day.

Our ship was the old type of sailing vessel. We had none of the modern comforts of travel. The sleeping quarters were cramped and we had to had to do our own cooking in the gallery of the boat. Mother had provided salt beef and other preserved meats and fish, dried vegetables, and red pickled cabbage which I remember most vividly. We were all seasick except father, mother the longest of all. Father had to do all the cooking in the meanwhile and take care of the sick. There was a Negro man employed on the boat who was very kind in many ways to help father. Father did not know much about cooking.

When we reached New York we landed at the old Castle Garden of lower Manhattan, now the Aquarium, where we were met by relatives and friends. As we were standing in a little group, the Negro who had befriended father on the trip, came off the boat. Father was grateful and as a matter of courtesy, shook hands with him and gave him his blessing. Now it happened that the draft and negro rights were convulsing New York City. Only that very day Negroes had been chased and hanged by mobs. The onlookers, not understanding, grew very much excited over father's shaking hands with this Negro. A crowd gathered round and threatened to hang both father and the Negro to the lamp-post.

At this time life is not very pleasant in this so-called wonderful America. The country is full of danger, and at no time do we feel any security for our lives or property. Next month (October) there is to be a levy of soldiers for military service, and our county alone is to supply 118 men, in addition to those who have already enlisted as volunteers.

Last week we, therefore, all had to leave our harvesting work and our weeping wives and children and appear at the place of enlistment, downcast and worried. We waited until 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Then, finally, the commissioner arrived, accompanied by a band, which continued playing for a long time to encourage us and give us a foretaste of the joys of war. But we thought only of its sorrows, and despite our reluctance, had to give our name and age. To tempt people to enlist as volunteers, everybody who would volunteer was offered $225, out of which $125 is paid by the county and $100 by the state.

Several men then enlisted, Yankees and Norwegians; and we others, who preferred to stay at home and work for our wives and children, were ordered to be ready at the next levy. Then who is to go will be decided by drawing lots. In the meantime, we were forbidden to leave the country without special permission, and we were also told that no one would get a passport to leave the country. Dejected, we went home, and now we are in a mood of uncertainty and tension, almost like prisoners of war in the formerly do free country. Our names have been taken down - perhaps I shall be a soldier next month and have to leave my home, my wife, child, and everything I have been working for over so many years.

But this is not the worst of it. We have another and far more cruel enemy nearby, namely, the Indians. They are raging, especially in northwestern Minnesota, and perpetrate cruelties which no pen can describe. Every day, settlers come through here who have had to abandon everything they owned to escape a most painful death. Several Norwegians have been killed and many women have been captured.

From this you may see how we live: on the one hand, the prospect of being carried off as cannon fodder to the South; on the other, the imminent danger of falling prey to the Indians; add to this the heavy war tax and everybody has to pay whether he is enlisted as a soldier or not. You are better off who can live at home in peaceful Norway. God grant us patience and fortitude to bear these heavy burdens.

Abraham Lincoln appointed General Franz Sigel as the commander of the First Army Corps of the Army of Virginia. The German-American troops welcomed Sigel with great enthusiasm, which the rank and file of the native American regiments at least seemed to share. He brought a splendid military reputation with him. He had bravely fought for liberty in Germany, and conducted there the last operations of the revolutionary army in 1849. He had been one of the foremost to organize and lead that force of armed men, mostly Germans, that seemed suddenly to spring out of the pavements of St. Louis, and whose prompt action saved that city and the State of Missouri to the Union. On various fields, especially at Pea Ridge, he had distinguished himself by personal gallantry as well as by skillful leadership.

The question whether immigration shall be encouraged or restricted, and whether naturalization shall be made more difficult or not, must be considered both from the political and from an industrial point of view; and in each case it is necessary to glance back and see what have been the character, the conduct, and the political leaning of the immigrant, and what he has done to develop and enrich our country.

If we look at the political side first, and, as our space is limited, we will go back to 1860, calling attention, however, to the fact that up to that time, no matter from what cause, the immigration had been almost entirely to the Northern and free States, and not to the slave States. These, when carefully examined in connection with election returns, will show that but for the assistance of the immigrant the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States would have been an impossibility, and the nineteenth century would never have seen the great free republic we see, and the shadow of millions of slaves would today darken and curse the continent.

The Scandinavians have always, nearly to a man, voted the Republican ticket. The Germans, likewise, were nearly always Republicans. In fact, the States having either a large Scandinavian or a large German population have been distinguished as the banner Republican States. Notably is this true of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, which has a large Scandinavian population; and of Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have a very large German population.

Europe and the American Civil War

When America underwent the crisis of secession in the 1860s, the democratic way of life and anti-slavery movement came under intense threat. Old World states sent over their warships to see what would happen as an imminent civil war brewed in the Americas. Many believed the New World would be lost forever as the people fought against each other for power and land.

Spain positioned its naval fleet off Havana and made the first attack in spring of 1860. They landed in the Dominican Republic and turned it back to Spanish rule. President Lincoln made no retaliation and so Spain, France and Britain gathered later that year to discuss a potential invasion of Mexico.

Spain and Britain did not proceed but France Emperor at the time was Napoleon Bonaparte and he had ambitions to make Mexico a new acquisition for France. The French colluded with the Mexicans and caused its leader to escape the capital and install an Austrian duke as Mexico’s leader.

Many believed that America would return to some kind of monarchic rule, as republicanism was waning in both the new and old worlds.

America bided its time and after four years re-emerged with a large powerful Army and around one million troops. Seeing this development, old world powers retreated back to Europe and Mexico was handed back to the Mexicans.

In 1867, Britain retreated from North America and established Canada, which would be a coalition of British colonial land, but could operate under its own self-government. At the same time the Russians retreated and sold Alaska to the Americans.

Cuba was the only state within the Americas to remain under a European power – the Spanish. The Cubans remained loyal to Spain as they feared revolution by the hundreds of slaves that were based there. But republicans in the country eventually threw their own rebellion and started a 10 year war with the Spanish. Cuba freed its slaves in 1886, as did Brazil in 1888, the Opinionator reports.

When America’s Civil War ended it turned to popular government and democracy.

The war was one of the first industrial wars, where railways, telegraph communications, steam and weaponry was used on a mass scale. Factories, mining, ship-building yards, financial institutions, transport and supplies all manned by civilians were utilised to create the war’s industrial machine.

More than 750,000 soldiers died during the conflict, with hundreds of thousands of injured. It is estimated that around 10% of all North American men between the ages of 20 and 45 were killed during the war, while around 30% of soldiers from the southern states aged between 18 and 40 were killed.

The U.S. Civil War, European Politics, and a Changing World

What a great book! Most Americans know the history of the Civil War by the roll call of its bloody battles — Bull Run, Antietam, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor. While good books continue to be written about the war, by now the basic American narrative is pretty well set.

In The Cause of All Nations, though, Don Doyle has brought a whole new perspective to our “second American revolution” by contextualizing the war in the international currents of republicanism and liberalism sweeping through the Atlantic nations in the 1840s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. After the rise of liberalism in Europe and the failure of the European revolutions of 1848, the American Civil War became the cause of human rights and self-government advocates in the Atlantic world. Friends and foes alike saw it as a critical test of republican democracy and of human rights. Its outcome had profound international repercussions.

Initially, Lincoln believed, the war was fundamentally a test of whether government “of the people, for the people and by the people” (as Giuseppe Mazzini said in 1851) could long survive. In the Europe of the 1860s, torn between monarchy and the rising tide of liberal republicanism, the nobility and ruling classes — and especially those of Great Britain and France — rejoiced at the war’s proof that republicanism was doomed to failure. Liberals, like those in England agitating for expanding the voting franchise, and Italian revolutionaries like the great Giuseppe Garibaldi, an international hero, saw it as the great test of their time.

The other issue was slavery. In addition to the survival of liberal democracy, Europeans also saw the war as a profound contest over the perpetuation of slavery in the Atlantic world. The preservation of slavery was fundamental to the Southern cause (Doyle quotes from the Confederate constitution and Vice President Alexander Steven’s “Cornerstone Speech”, in which he said “…the negro is not the equal to the white man… slavery, subordination to the superior race is his natural … condition). As the war went on, though, the South’s obdurate (and often obtuse) attempts to justify “the peculiar institution” increasingly became a millstone around its neck. (Interestingly, Garibaldi was nearly commissioned a Union general officer in 1861, but turned it down, because, as he said, the Union was denying that the war was about slavery. “You may be sure,” he said later, “that had I accepted to draw my sword for the cause of the United States, it would have been for the abolition of slavery, full, unconditional.”)

After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the causes were joined — the preservation of democracy and the abolition of slavery. Even so, European intervention was a close-run thing Doyle points out that in the fall of 1862 Great Britain and France had already decided to recognize the South, undeterred by either Antietam or the Emancipation Proclamation. But then Garibaldi, an international celebrity, and his “red shirts” invaded Italy to free Rome from the French. Wounded, the great revolutionary issued a sensational letter in October supporting “the Great Republic”, and the resulting European uproar gave the Lincoln administration time to forcefully inject the slavery question into European politics. By the winter intervention had become politically impossible, even for the British. So it’s arguable that the Civil War was won not only the courage of the Union Army at Sharpsburg and by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — but also by intervention in Europe by Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Spain and France took advantage of American preoccupation to launch their own monarchial schemes in Latin America during the war, all of which collapsed after the Union victory. The end of slavery in the U.S. led to the end of slavery in the new world — and the end of France’s adventure in Mexico, about which not enough has been written. Doyle throws interesting light on the role of U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman in supporting the Mexican revolution, though not enough. The topic warrants a book in its own right.

The Cause of All Nations is extensively well-researched, and is a useful history of both the American story and European states’ international relations during this period. It is crammed with the European intrigues of U.S. and Confederate agents as they crisscrossed the Continent writing pamphlets, hiring hack writers, buttonholing politicians and interviewing emperors. It digs into the role of the Pope and the Catholic Church in supporting the South. It analyzes the waves of immigration from Europe that played so large a role in Union manpower — thousands of immigrants wore Union blue — and the role of the U.S. government and the Homestead Act in recruiting them. Above all, it sets the Civil War in its proper place in history, as a global affirmation of self-government and freedom. Anyone interested in the Civil War should have Doyle’s book on his or her shelves.

Colonel (USA ret) Bob Killebrew writes and consults on national defense issues as a member of the Board of Advisors at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to his retirement from active duty he served for thirty years in a variety of Special Forces, infantry and staff duties.

European Recruits in the American Civil War - History

1. Q: What were the northern states called?

2. Q: What were the southern states called?

3. Q: About how many lives were lost in the American Civil War?

4. Q: Where did the Civil War start?

5. Q: What year did the Civil War begin?

6. Q: What fort did Confederate General P.G.T Beauregard fire on to start the Civil War?

7. Q: When did the last Confederate army surrender?

8. Q: Who was elected President of the United States in 1860?

9. Q: What was the South's main source of income?

10. Q: Which side was against high tariffs?

11. Q: Prior to the Civil War what was the Federal Governments chief source of income?

12. Q: Which current state was not part of the Northwest Territory?

13. Q: Which side preferred stronger state government and less federal government?

14. Q: Why were the western territories so politically important to both the North and the South?

A: They had vast untapped riches

B: They would decide who had control in congress

C: They were good tourist spots

D: They would tip the scales in case of war

15. Q: What was the Missouri Compromise?

A: A land agreement with Native Americans

B: An agreement between the Northern and Southern factions of Missouri

C: A tariff agreement on goods exported from Misssouri

D: An agreement that said Missouri was a slave state while Maine would be a free state.

16. Q: What book did Harriet Beecher Stowe write about slavery?

17. Q: What was the antislavery political party that ran John C. Fremont in the 1856 presidential election?

A: A leader of the Whig party.

B: President Lincoln's close advisor.

C: A slave who sued for his freedom.

D: A General at Gettysburg

19. Q: Who raided a federal armory in Harper's Ferry (VA) and planned to march south to free the slaves?

20. Q: What was the first southern state to secede from the United States?

21. Q: Who was president of the Confederacy?

22. Q: How many states had already seceded when Lincoln took the oath of office?

23. Q: Who was the General-in-Chief of the Union army at the start of the war?

24. Q: What was the Anaconda Plan?

A: A plan for rescuing slaves

B: A plan for uniting the North and South

C: A strategy to get more recruits for the Union Army

D: A military strategy for the the Union

25. Q: Which of the following military technologies was not used in a major conflict prior to the Civil War?

26. Q: What was the CSS Hunley?

27. Q: In both the North and South a draftee could hire a substitute to go to war for him?

28. Q: How did the Confederacy get funds for the war?

A: By gifts from the plantation owners

29. Q: What was the first major victory for the South?

B: First Battle of Bull Run

D: Second Battle of Bull Run

30. Q: "Who gained the nickname ""Stonewall"" for his great stand at the First Battle of Bull Run?"

31. Q: Who was the first Union general over the Army of the Potomac?

32. Q: What was the Trent Affair?

A: When two Confederate representatives were taken by the Union from the British Ship Trent

B: When Senator Trent of Virginia changed sides to the North

C: When Abraham Lincoln had an affair with Mrs. Trent

D: When the Trent (KY) citizens revolted against the Union

33. Q: Who was the Confederacy's famous calvary commander that gathered the information to help win the Seven Day's Battle?

34. Q: What battle pitted the two Western generals (Grant of the Union and Johnston of the Confederacy) against each other?

35. Q: What were The Monitor and The Virginia?

36. Q: In 1862 where was the capital of the Confederacy?

37. Q: Who's military genius and personality is often credited with holding the Confederate Army together?

38. Q: What Union general was charged with capturing Richmond, VA in the Peninsular Campaign?

39. Q: What Confederate city did David Farragut capture that was the key to the Mississippi?

40. Q: After claiming victory, what Union general suffered a humiliating defeat at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run?

41. Q: With 23,000 casualties, what was the bloodiest one-day battle in US history?

42. Q: Who was President of the United States during the Civil War?

43. Q: What was the main motivation behind Lincoln making the abolition of slavery a war aim?

A: To win the media battle amongst the middle class

B: Because they needed another cause to keep the war going

C: To keep Great Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy

D: To get freed slaves to join the army

44. Q: "What document stated that ""Slaves of any state. in rebellion. shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free""?"

A: Declaration of Independence

D: Emancipation Proclamation

45. Q: Who issued the Emancipation Proclamation?

46. Q: Who won the Battle of Fredericksburg?

47. Q: Who became commander of the Union Army of the Potomac after the loss at Fredericksburg?

48. Q: In 1860 the South exported $191 million of cotton. About how much were they able to export in 1862?

49. Q: In what battle did Stonewall Jackson die?

B: Battle of Chancellorsville

50. Q: Who led the ill-fated Confederate charge on the the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg?

51. Q: "What speech starts out ""Fourscore and seven years ago. ""?"

B: Emancipation Proclamation

52. Q: Who wrote the Gettysburg Address?

53. Q: What was the nickname for the Northern Peace Democrats who opposed Lincoln and the War?

54. Q: Which killed more men in the Civil War?

55. Q: Who formed groups to help the Union Soldiers that later became the Red Cross?

56. Q: What became Union General George Thomas' nickname after he held his ground at Chickamauga Creek?

57. Q: What Union general captured Atlanta?

58. Q: Who was elected President of the United States near the end of the war in 1864?

59. Q: Where did Sherman march to from Atlanta while burning and destroying property on the way?

60. Q: Where did Robert E. Lee agree to terms of surrender?

61. Q: During 1860 to 1870 the northern wealth increased 50 percent. What was the impact to southern wealth over the same period?

A: increased by 10 percent

C: decreased by 20 percent

D: decreased by 60 percent

62. Q: What amendment was added to the Constitution after the war that freed slaves?

63. Q: What percentage of military-aged southern white men became part of the Confederate Army?

This is what other countries thought about the US Civil War

It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.

Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.

England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.

General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.

The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.

One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.

Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.

Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.

The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.

London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.

The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.

British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.

One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.

The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.

Unidentified State Department Messenger Donaldson Unidentified Count Alexander de Bodisco Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated) Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister Henri Mercier, French Minister William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated) Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated) and Sheffield, British Attache.

The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.

Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.

U.S. Civil War: The US-Russian Alliance that Saved the Union

April 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, which began when Confederate forces opened fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The following essay by Webster Tarpley, tells about the largely untold alliance between President Abraham Lincoln and Russian Tsar Alexander II, which by many accounts was key to the North winning the U.S. Civil War, sealing the defeat of the British strategic design.

At the point of maximum war danger between Great Britain and the United States, the London satirical publication Punch published a vicious caricature of US President Abraham Lincoln and Russian Tsar Alexander II, demonizing the two friends as bloody oppressors. From Punch, October 24, 1863.

"Who was our friend when the world was our foe." -
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1871

One hundred fifty years after the attack on Fort Sumter, the international strategic dimension of the American Civil War represents a much-neglected aspect of Civil War studies. In offering a survey of some of the main issues involved, one feels required to justify the importance of the topic. It is indeed true that, as things turned out, the international strategic dimension of the 1861-65 conflict was of secondary importance. However, it was an aspect that repeatedly threatened to thrust itself into the center of the war, transforming the entire nature of the conflict and indeed threatening to overturn the entire existing world system. The big issue was always a British-French attack on the United States to preserve the Confederate States of America. This is certainly how Union and Confederate leaders viewed the matter, and how some important people in London, St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin did as well.

The result is that today, the international dimension is consistently underestimated: even a writer as sophisticated as Richard Franklin Bensel can repeatedly insist in his recent Yankee Leviathan that the US development over the decade before the Civil War was “acted out in a vacuum,” while asserting that “the relative isolation of the United States on the North American continent contributed to the comparative unimportance of nationalism in American life prior to secession.” [1] Reports of American isolation, however, were already exaggerated in the era of a British fleet that could summer in the Baltic and winter in the Caribbean.

Views of the domestic side of the Civil War have often been colored by the sectional loyalties of the authors. In the diplomatic sphere, the international alignments of 1861-65 have been experienced as something of an embarrassment or aberration by American scholars of the twentieth century, at least partly because they inverted the alliance patterns that emerged after 1900. In 1865, the United States was friendly to Russia and Prussia, and resentful and suspicious in regard to Britain and France, whose governments had sympathized with and supported the Confederacy. The general tendency of US historians in 1915 or 1945 or 1952 seems to have been to put the best possible face on things, or, better yet, turn to another area of inquiry. As the Civil War centennial approached, the historian Allan Nevins addressed this issue rather directly in a chapter of his 1960 “War for the Union”. Here he dramatically evoked the immense worldwide significance of Civil War diplomacy in a fascinating paragraph to which Howard Jones calls attention. Nevins, horrified by the idea of US war with Britain, wrote:

It is hardly too much to say that the future of the world as we know it was at stake. A conflict between Great Britain and America would have crushed all hope of the mutual understanding and growing collaboration which led up to the practical alliance of 1917-18, and the outright alliance which began in 1941. It would have made vastly more difficult if not impossible the coalition which defeated the Central Powers in the First World War, struck down Nazi tyranny in the Second World War, and established the unbreakable front of Western freedom against Communism. Anglo-French intervention in the American conflict would probably have confirmed the splitting and consequent weakening of the United States might have given French power in Mexico a long lease, with the ruin of the Monroe Doctrine and would perhaps have led to the Northern conquest of Canada. The forces of political liberalism in the modern world would have received a disastrous setback. No battle, not Gettysburg, not the Wilderness, was more important than the context waged in the diplomatic arena and the forum of public opinion. The popular conception of this contest is at some points erroneous, and at a few grossly fallacious…. (Nevins II, 242)

While Nevins does make the point that these questions are important, he feels that many accounts are unfair to Lord Russell, the British foreign secretary, and to Prime Minister Palmerston. Nevins sees Palmerston as a man of peace, an attitude which is impossible to square with the bellicose imperialist bluster of Lord Pam’s civis romanus sum interventionism. Between about 1848 and 1863, the British Empire was at the aggressive height of its world power, had launched attacks on China, India, and Russia, and in the 1860s was backing Napoleon III’s adventure in Mexico and Spain’s in Santo Domingo, both direct challenges to the US Monroe Doctrine. This is a context which often gets lost. Otherwise, Nevins’ assertion that Britain “did not like other nations to fight” turns reality on its head the greatest art of the Foreign Office was that of divide and conquer. Finally, Nevins pays no attention to the deterrent effect of Russia’s refusal to countenance any European intervention against the Union.

Like so many other historians, Nevins would seem to have allowed the needs of the Cold War present to shape his view of the past — the tendency against which Sir Herbert Butterfield, long Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, warned in the 1930s when we wrote that “it is part and parcel of the Whig interpretation of history that it studies the past with reference to the present….” [2] In Butterfield’s view, this is a method which “has often been an obstruction to historical understanding because it has been taken to mean the study of the past with direct and perpetual reference to the present….it might be called the historian’s ‘pathetic fallacy.’” (Butterfield 11, 30) The following comments are inspired by the conviction that Union diplomacy was Lincoln’s diplomacy, and that it offers valuable lessons for today.

As far as I have been able to determine, there exists no modern exhaustive study of Civil War diplomacy. Of the books I have seen, D. P. Crook comes closest. Crook’s 1974 work is a very serviceable and reliable survey of the entire topic. Crook naturally places US-British relations at the center of his account, focusing on the three crises when UK and/or French intervention against the Union was threatened: the Trent affair of late 1861-1862 the push for intervention by Lord Russell and Gladstone after Antietam in October-November 1862 and the mid-1863 Laird rams/Polish rebellion flare-up (which Howard Jones, by contrast, omits from consideration). For Crook, Secretary of State Seward is the center of attention on the Union side, rather than Lincoln. But Lincoln repeatedly had to override Seward, as in the case of the Secretary of State’s 1861 reckless “foreign war panacea” proposal for a US war against France and Spain (probably involving Britain as well), which Lincoln wisely rejected in favor of his “one war at a time” policy. Here Bensel is of the opinion that Seward’s proposal “revealed the new secretary of state’s profound awareness of the narrow basis of northern nationalism during the early months of the Lincoln administration.” (Bensel 12n) Another view is that Seward was looking for a means of saving face while permitting the south to secede. Seward’s panacea theory can also be seen as a flight forward, a kind of political nervous breakdown. Crook has almost nothing to say about the pro-Union role of Prussia (which surely dissuaded Napoleon III from greater activism), nor about the Holy See, where Pius IX – who had lost his moorings after having been driven out of Rome by Mazzini in 1849 — was pro-Confederate and highly controversial at the time. He also plays down the central importance of Russia for the Union. As for Napoleon II, Crook follows the misleading tradition of stressing the conflicts and suspicion between Napoleon III and Palmerston while downplaying the fundamental fact that Napoléon le petit (who had once been a British constable) always operated within the confines of a Franco-British alliance in which he provided the bulk of the land forces but was decidedly the junior partner.

In contrast to Lincoln, Confederate President Jefferson Davis took almost no interest in diplomatic affairs. The Confederacy sent envoys to London and Paris, but never bothered to even send a representative to St. Petersburg, which turned out to be the most important capital of all.

The Threat of British Intervention

The two great interlocutors of Union foreign policy were Great Britain and Russia, and the geopolitical vicissitudes of the twentieth century tended to distort perceptions of both, minimizing the importance of both British threat and Russian friendship. Crook, in his valuable bibliographical essay, traces this tendency back to the “Great Rapprochement” between Britain and the US in the early twentieth century. The standard work on US-UK relations, Crook notes, was for many years E. D. Adams’ Great Britain and the American Civil War, which plays down friction between London and Washington, and narrates events “from the meridian of London.” (Crook 381)

The Russia-American Special Relationship that Saved the Union

Adams tells his reader that he does not view his topic as part of American history rather, he poses for himself the contorted question of “how is the American Civil War to be depicted by historians of Great Britain…?” (Adams I 2) Adams treats the autumn crisis of 1862 as the main danger point of US-UK conflict, writing that “here, and here only, Great Britain voluntarily approached the danger of becoming involved in the American conflict.” (Adams II 34) He pleads for understanding for the much-vituperated British role, recalling that “the great crisis in America was almost equally a crisis in the domestic history of Great Britain itself…,” and providing valuable materials in this regard. (Adams I 2) Adams generally relegates Russo-American diplomacy to the footnotes, mentioning the “extreme friendship” and even the “special relationship” of these two nations. In the North, he notes, Russia was viewed as a “true friend” in contrast to the “unfriendly neutrality” of Great Britain and France. (Adams II, 45n, 70n, 225) But for Adams, the main lesson is that the Anglo-American disputes of the Civil War era have “distorted” the “natural ties of friendship, based upon ties of blood and a common heritage of literature and history and law” which exist or ought to exit between the two countries. Those disputes, he suggests, can be relegated to the category of “bitter and exaggerated memories.” (Adams II 305)

Seward, 1861: A US-UK War Would “Wrap the World in Flames”

Kenneth Bourne’s Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908 provides an effective antidote to such sentimental thinking in the form of a notable chapter (singled out for attention by Crook) on the British planning for war with the United States at the time of the Trent affair in December-January 1861, when Seward threatened to “wrap the world in flames” and the British lion roared in reply. [3] Two Confederate envoys, Mason and Slidell, were taken off the British merchant ship Trent by a US warship as they were sailing to plead the cause of intervention in London and Paris the London press became hysterical with rage, and the anti-Union group in the cabinet saw their chance to start a transatlantic war. This study draws not only upon the British Admiralty archives in the Public Record Office, but also on the papers of Admiral Sir Alexander Milne in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Bourne depicts the British predicament as their “defenceless” position in Canada, even with the help of the 10,000 additional regular infantry which Palmerston deployed in response to the crisis. (Bourne 211) A recurrent British fear was that their soldiers would desert to the American side, urged on by “crimps.” (Bourne 217). Their Canadian vulnerability, the British thought, encouraged Seward and others to twist the tail of the British lion. The US had the only serious warships on the Great Lakes, British fortifications were weak, Canadian volunteers were scarce, and there were few decent muskets for them. The greatest problem was that the Saint Lawrence River was blocked by ice in winter, preventing re-enforcements from reaching Quebec City by water the only roads inland went dangerously parallel to the Maine border. Some of the British staff officers had to land in Boston and take the Grand Trunk Railway to Montreal. [4] One is left with the impression that winter ice might have cooled Palmerston’s aggressivity even before Seward’s release of the captured Confederate envoys Mason and Slidell did.

Admiralty Plans to Bombard and Burn Boston and New York

The heart of the British strategy in case of war was “overwhelming naval strength based on a few select fortresses,” especially Bermuda and Halifax (in today’s Nova Scotia). (Bourne 208) British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston dispatched a powerful squadron of eight ships of the line and thirteen frigates and corvettes under Admiral Milne to the western Atlantic, and wanted to use the Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world, as a troop transport. London even considered ways to foment secession in Maine. Bombarding and burning both Boston and New York was actively considered as a contingency it was concluded that the reduction of Boston would be very difficult because of the channels and forts New York was seen as more vulnerable, especially to a surprise attack. An Admiralty hydrographer saw New York City as “the true heart of [US] commerce, — the centre of …maritime resources to strike her would be to paralyse all the limbs.” (Bourne 240)

New US Monitors Deterred the British Fleet

By the time spring of 1862 came, the Monitor had come on the scene, further complicating British intervention. The Royal Navy had ironclads, but they were only usable in deep water. Bourne aptly notes that “the American monitors might have played havoc with any attempt by the older wooden frigates to maintain a close blockade” of Union ports. (Bourne 240) As more vessels of the Monitor type were produced by the US, this aspect of the British predicament became even more acute. The point of detailing these facts here is to suggest the existence of a fascinating array of neglected issues. Crook at least sketches this strategic picture before he falls back on the maudlin tradition that it was the dying Prince Albert who was instrumental in restraining Palmerston’s jingoism and avoiding war. Crook also recognizes that in any warlike denouement to the Trent affair, “world-shaking trading and political alignments would be forged.” (136)

Howard Jones, in his account of Anglo-American relations written just after the Thatcher era and the end of the Cold War, pays very little attention to the salient military aspects of the Atlantic situation. Jones offers a limited and legalistic interpretation of the threat of British intervention. He calls “special attention” to the fact that “the most outspoken opponent” of intervention in the British cabinet was the Secretary for War, George Cornewall Lewis. This role emerged through public speeches and cabinet memoranda issued in the wake of Gladstone’s well-known speech in praise of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy at Tyneside on October 7, 1862. However, the role of Lewis had already been highlighted at some length by Crook, who classified Lewis as “one of the ‘do-nothing’ school rather than a partisan,” and possibly urged on by Palmerston for invidious reasons. (Crook 233) Jones argues that “the great majority of British interventionists were not malevolent persons who wanted the American republic to commit national suicide so they might further their own ends they wanted to stop the war for the sake of humanity in general and British textile workers in particular.” (Jones 8 ) It is hard to ascribe such humanitarian motives to a group of politicians who had, according to contemporary accounts, recently shocked the world by their murderous atrocities carried out during the repression of the Sepoy Mutiny in India. Jones regards Lewis’s memoranda more as legal briefs rather than strategic estimates: “Lewis knew that they key person he had to dissuade from intervention was Russell. He also knew that the foreign secretary relied on history and international law to justify his stand and that the only way to undermine his argument for intervention was to appeal to that same history and international law.” (Jones 224) This analysis does not capture what actually went on in the brutal deliberations of the dominant power politicians and imperialists of the age, who were more impressed by American monitors and by Russian infantry divisions than by legalistic niceties or high ideals. Given this emphasis, it is not surprising that Jones has little interest in the Russian aspect of the problem, although he does concede that “Russia’s pro-Union sentiment prevented participation in any policy alien to the Lincoln Administration’s wishes.” (Jones 228)

The Union and Russia

The Russian-British rivalry was of course the central antagonism of European history after the Napoleonic era, and the Russian attitude towards London coincided with the traditional American resentment against the former colonial power. Benjamin Platt Thomas’s older study shows that the US-Russian convergence became decisive during the Crimean War while Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire attacked Russia, the United States was ostentatiously friendly to the court of St. Petersburg. He depicts Russian minister to Washington Éduard de Stoeckl as a diplomat “whose sole aim was to nurture the chronic anti-British feeling in the United States.” (Thomas 111) According to Thomas, Stoeckl succeeded so well that there was even a perceptible chance that the United States might enter the Crimean War on the Russian side. The US press and public were all on the side of Russia, and hostile to the Anglo-French, to the chagrin of the erratic US President Pierce (who had been close to Admiralty agent Giuseppe Mazzini’s pro-British Young America organization) and the doughface politician James Buchanan. The latter, at that time US envoy to London, embraced the British view of the Tsar as “the Despot.” (Thomas 117) Thomas finds that “the Crimean War undoubtedly proved the wisdom of Russia’s policy of cultivating American friendship, and in fact, drew the two nations closer together.” (Thomas 120) But Thomas glosses over some of the more important US-UK frictions during this phase, which included British army recruiting in the US, and the ejection of the British ambassador as persona non grata. (Thomas 120)

Turning to the conflict of 1861-65, Thomas points out that “in the first two years of the war, when its outcome was still highly uncertain, the attitude of Russia was a potent factor in preventing Great Britain and France from adopting a policy of aggressive intervention.” (Thomas 129) He shows that the proposed British-French interference promoted by Lord Russell, the Foreign Secretary, in October 1862 was “deterred at this time mainly” by the Russian attitude, and cites Russell’s note to Palmerston concluding that Britain “ought not to move at present without Russia.” [5] (Thomas 132)

The critical importance of Russian help in deterring the British and Napoleon III as well is borne out by a closer analysis. As early as 1861, Russia alerted the Lincoln government to the machinations of Napoleon III, who was already scheming to promote a joint UK-France-Russia intervention in favor of the Confederacy. [6] As Henry Adams, the son and private secretary of US Ambassador to London Charles Francis Adams, sums up the strategic situation during Lee’s first invasion of Maryland, on the eve of the Battle of Antietam: These were the terms of this singular problem as they presented themselves to the student of diplomacy in 1862: Palmerston, on September 14, under the impression that the President was about to be driven from Washington and the Army of the Potomac dispersed, suggested to Russell that in such a case, intervention might be feasible. Russell instantly answered that, in any case, he wanted to intervene and should call a Cabinet for the purpose. Palmerston hesitated Russell insisted….” [7]

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln used the Confederate repulse at Antietam to issue a warning that slavery would be abolished in areas still engaged in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863. The Russian Tsar Alexander II had liberated the 23 million serfs of the Russian Empire in 1861, so this underlined the nature of the US-Russian convergence as a force for human freedom. This imminent Emancipation Proclamation was also an important political factor in slowing Anglo-French meddling, but it would not have been decisive by itself. The British cabinet, as Seward had predicted, regarded emancipation as an act of desperation. The London Times accused Lincoln in lurid and racist terms of wanting to provoke a slave rebellion and a race war,

Gladstone’s Open Hostility to the United States, October 7, 1862

On October 7, 1862, despite the news that the Confederates had been repulsed at Antietam, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, who spoke for Lord John Russell, pressed for British intervention against the Union and on the side of the Confederacy in a speech at Tyneside, saying: “. . . We know quite well that the people of the Northern States have not yet drunk of the cup [of defeat and partition] — they are still trying to hold it far from their lips — which all the rest of the world see they nevertheless must drink of. We may have our own opinions about slavery we may be for or against the South but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army they are making, it appears, a navy and they have made, what is more than either, they have made a nation… We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North”. [8]

It was practically a declaration of war against the Lincoln government, and it also contained a lie, since Gladstone knew better than most that the only navy the Confederacy ever had was the one provided with British connivance.

On October 13, 1862 Lord John Russell called a meeting of the British cabinet for October 23, with the top agenda item being a deliberation on the “duty of Europe to ask both parties, in the most friendly and conciliatory terms, to agree to a suspension of arms.” [9] Russell wanted an ultimatum to Washington and Richmond for an armistice or cease-fire, followed by a lifting of the Union blockade of southern ports, followed then by negotiations leading to Washington’s recognition of the CSA as an independent state. If the Union refused, then Britain would recognize the CSA and in all probability begin military cooperation with the Confederates.

US Ambassador Charles Francis Adams asked Russell in advance of the October 23 cabinet meeting what he had in mind. As his son and private secretary Henry Adams recounts, “On October 23, Russell assured Adams that no change in policy was now proposed. On the same day he had proposed it, and was voted down.” Henry Adams was doubtless correct in his impression that “every act of Russell, from April, 1861, to November, 1862, showed the clearest determination to break up the Union.” [10]

At this point, Napoleon III of France invited London to join him in a move against the Union. According to Adams’ memoir, “Instantly Napoleon III appeared as the ally of Russell and Gladstone with a proposition which had no sense except as a bribe to Palmerston to replace America, from pole to pole, in her old dependence on Europe, and to replace England in her old sovereignty of the seas, if Palmerston would support France in Mexico…. The only resolute, vehement, conscientious champion of Russell, Napoleon III, and Jefferson Davis was Gladstone.” [11] Napoleon III had conferred with the Confederate envoy Slidell and proposed that France, England, and Russia impose a six-month armistice on the US and CSA. Napoleon III believed that if Lincoln did not accept his intrusion, this would provide a pretext for Anglo-French recognition of the CSA, followed by military intervention against the Union. [12] There was no real hope of getting pro-Union Russia to join such an initiative, and the reason Napoleon III included Russia was merely as camouflage to cloak the fact that the whole enterprise was a hostile act against Washington.

Russia Rejects the Anglo-French Intrigues for Interference

The clouds of world war gathered densely over the planet. Russell and Gladstone, now joined by Napoleon III, continued to demand aggressive meddling in US affairs. This outcome was avoided because of British and French fears of what Russia might do if the continued to launch bellicose gestures against the Union. On October 29, 1862 there occurred in St. Petersburg an extremely cordial meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Gortchakov with US chargé d’affaires Bayard Taylor, which was marked by a formal Russian pledge never to move against the US, and to oppose any attempt by other powers to do so. Taylor reported these comments by Gortchakov to the State Department: “You know the sentiments of Russia. We desire above all things the maintenance of the American Union as one indivisible nation. We cannot take any part, more than we have done. We have no hostility to the Southern people. Russia has declared her position and will maintain it. There will be proposals of intervention [by Britain and France]. We believe that intervention could do no good at present. Proposals will be made to Russia to join some plan of interference. She will refuse any intervention of the kind. Russia will occupy the same ground as at the beginning of the struggle. You may rely upon it, she will not change. But we entreat you to settle the difficulty. I cannot express to you how profound an anxiety we feel — how serious are our fears.” [13]

The Journal de St. Petersbourg, the official gazette of the Tsarist government, denounced the Anglo-French intervention plan against the US, which had been inspired by Russell. This article helped prevent a wider war: the British cabinet, informed of the Russian attitude by telegraph, voted down Russell’s aggressive project. Russell made his last bid to swing the British cabinet in favor of a policy of interference together with Napoleon III against the Union on November 12, 1862, but he was unable to carry the day, and this turned out to be his last chance for the year.

Seward thought that if the Anglo-French were to assail the Union, they would soon find themselves at war with Russia as well. He wrote to John Bigelow early in the war: “I have a belief that the European State, whichever one it may be, that commits itself to intervention anywhere in North America, will sooner or later fetch up in the arms of a native of an oriental country not especially distinguished for amiability of manners or temper.” (Thomas 128)

Adams to Russell: Superfluous to Point Out this Means War

The summer of 1863, despite the news of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, was marked by another close brush with US-UK war. It was on September 5, 1863 that US Ambassador Charles Francis Adams told Lord Russell that if the Laird rams – powerful ironclad warships capable of breaking the Union blockade which were then under construction in England — were allowed to leave port, “It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war.” [14] Lord Russell had to pause, and then backed off entirely. The Laird rams were put under surveillance by the British government on September 9, and finally seized by the British government in mid-October, 1863. (Adams II 147) They never fought for the Confederacy.

A revolt against Russian domination of Poland, incited by the British, started in 1863 and lasted into late 1864. Crook points out that it was Lord Russell who told Lord Lyons in March 1863 that the Polish issue had the potential to create a Russo-American common front and thus revolutionize world power relations, evidently to the detriment of London. (Crook 285) Such a prophecy was coherent with the then -fashionable ideas of de Tocqueville about Russia and America as the two great powers of the future.

The Russian Fleets in New York and San Francisco

The most dramatic gestures of cooperation between the Russian Empire and the United States came in the autumn of 1863, as the Laird rams crisis hung in the balance. On September 24, the Russian Baltic fleet began to arrive in New York harbor. On October 12, the Russian Far East fleet began to arrive in San Francisco. The Russians, judging that they were on the verge of war with Britain and France over the British-fomented Polish insurrection of 1863, had taken this measure to prevent their ships from being bottled up in their home ports by the superior British fleet. These ships were also the tokens of the vast Russian land armies that could be thrown in the scales on a number of fronts, including the northwest frontier of India the British had long been worried about such an eventuality. In mid-July 1863, French Foreign Minister Droun de Lhuys was offering London the joint occupation of Poland by means of invasion. But the experience of the Confederate commerce raiders had graphically illustrated just how effective even a limited number of warships could be when they turned to commerce raiding, which is what the Russian naval commanders had been ordered to do in case of hostilities. The Russian admirals had also been told that, if the US and Russia were to find themselves at war with Britain and France, the Russian ships should place themselves under Lincoln’s command and operate in synergy with the US Navy against the common enemies. It is thus highly significant that the Russian ships were sent to the United States.

US Navy Secretary Gideon Welles: “God Bless the Russians”

Coming on the heels of the bloody Union reverse at Chickamauga, the news of the Russian fleet unleashed an immense wave of euphoria in the North. It was this moment that inspired the later verses of Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the most popular writers in America, for the 1871 friendship visit of the Russian Grand Duke Alexis:

Bleak are our shores with the blasts of December, Fettered and chill is the rivulet’s flow Thrilling and warm are the hearts that remember Who was our friend when the world was our foe. Fires of the North in eternal communion, Blend your broad flashes with evening’s bright star God bless the Empire that loves the Great Union Strength to her people! Long life to the Czar! [15]

The Russians, as Clay reported to Seward and Lincoln, were delighted in turn by the celebration of their fleets, which stayed in American waters for over six months as the Polish revolt was quelled. The Russian officers were lionized and feted, and had their pictures taken by the famous New York photographer Matthew Brady. When an attack on San Francisco by the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah seemed to be imminent, the Russian admiral there gave orders to his ships to defend the city if necessary. There were no major Union warships on the scene, so Russia was about to fight for the United States. In the event, the Confederate raider did not attack. Soon after the war, Russia sold Alaska to the United States, in part because they felt that an influx of Americans searching for gold was inevitable, and in part to keep the British from seizing control of this vast region. Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote in his diary, “The Russian fleet has come out of the Baltic and is now in New York, or a large number of the vessels have arrived…. In sending them to this country at this time there is something significant.” Welles was fully justified in his famous concluding words, “God bless the Russians!” [16]

This exceedingly cordial Russo-American friendship set the tone of much nineteenth-century historiography Thomas indicates that a darker view of Russian motivation began to be heard around 1915 with the work of Professor Frank A. Golder, who emphasized that the Russians were only following their own national interests. [17] According to Thomas, it was “not until Professor Golder published the result of his researches that the matter was finally cleared up and those who were less gullible were found to be correct.” (Thomas 138) Surely no one needs to be reminded that great nations defend their national interests. Disinterested philanthropists are admittedly rare in foreign ministries. However, when the interests converge, alliance de jure or de facto may result, and these can have far-reaching significance. During the American Civil War, the Russian attitude was the most powerful outside factor deterring Anglo-French interference. The need of Russia to prepare its own defenses during the Polish crisis of 1863 was perfectly legitimate and a secret to no one. Nevertheless, Thomas feels compelled to harp repeatedly on point that “the policy of Russia was dictated solely by self-interest.” (Thomas 127)

For Crook, the visiting squadrons were not a fleet, but a “fleet,” and a “not very seaworthy” one at that. In his view, the entire matter can be written off as “popular hysteria” and “folklore”. (Crook 317) The attempt to play down the Russian angle is evident. When Simon Cameron is sent to St. Petersburg as US Ambassador, Woldman and others can see nothing in this but an “exile in Siberia.” (Woldman 115) Another favorite target is Cassius Clay, the very capable US Ambassador to Russia for most of the Civil War (apart from the brief Simon Cameron interlude). Crook retails Bayard Taylor’s crack to Horace Greeley that Clay was “better suited to the meridian of Kentucky than of St. Petersburg.” (Crook 44) In reality, St. Petersburg was on a par with London as one of the two most sensitive and important diplomatic posts the Union had. Cassius Clay, who called himself a “remote relative” of Lincoln’s great American System mentor Henry Clay, was a distinguished American diplomat who played a critical role in saving the Union. Another important US diplomat of the time was the Bostonian John Lothrop Motley, who became a friend of the future Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck while studying at the University of Goettingen. Motley served in US legation in St. Petersburg and from 1861-1867 as the US minister to the Austrian Empire, and later wrote an important biography of Oldenbarneveld, the father of the Dutch Republic, and other studies of Dutch history.

Woldman, at the height of the Cold War, devoted an entire book to denigrating the importance of the US-Russian entente cordiale and of the Russian fleet in particular. In addition to Golder, he cites Professor E. A. Adamov as a key precursor of his views. [18] For Woldman, the Russia of 1863 was already an international pariah, “the most hated nation in Europe,” whose policy reflected “no concern or friendship for the United States.” At the hands of Woldman, the well-established Russo-American amity of the 1850s, 1860s, and beyond is reduced to a “myth.” (Woldman, 156-7) This is not history, but propaganda laced with bile.

Russian friendship provided an economic as well as a military brake on the Anglo-French. Statistics provided by Crook show that in 1861-64, the US and Russia together provided more half or more of all Britain’s wheat imports (16.3 million cwt out of a total of 30.8 in 1863). In case of war with either the US and Russia (and a fortiori in case of war with both), the British would have faced astronomical bread prices, insufficient supply, and an overall situation of famine which would have been conducive to serious internal revolt against the privileged classes — all in all a situation which aristocrats and oligarchs like Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone had to think twice about courting. King Wheat was therefore more powerful than King Cotton. [19]

Confederate commerce raiders built and fitted out with the help of the British had a devastating and long-lasting effect. As Chester Hearn details, Confederate raiders fitted out in Europe, including the Alabama, Shenandoah, and Florida, destroyed 110,000 tons of US merchant shipping, and were factors in the transfer of 800,000 tons to foreign registry, thus partially crippling the merchant marine of the North over decades. [20] On July 11, 1863 Adams indicted London for “active malevolence” on the question of the Laird rams, which were ironclad battleships capable of breaking the blockade as noted, on September 5 he told Foreign Secretary John Russell, “It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war.” (Crook 324, 326) Forty years later, Henry Adams remained “disconcerted that Russell should indignantly and with growing energy, to his dying day, deny and resent the axiom of [US Ambassador] Adams’s whole contention, that from the first he meant to break up the Union. [21]

Any international history must tackle the question of the effectiveness of the Union blockade of Southern ports. Crook does a workmanlike job of refuting the Owsley thesis that the blockade was not effective. He reminds us that the statistics used by Owsley and Marcus W. Price are far from conclusive. Crook suggests that the aggregate tonnages of successful blockade runners need to be examined rather than simply the number of ships getting through, since blockade runners were designed to sacrifice cargo capacity for speed. He notes that many successful runs took place during the first year of the war, “before the cordon tightened.” (Crook 174) Many successful runs counted by Price were actually coastwise traders bound for other parts of the Confederacy. “More realistic,” Crook sums up, “would be an attempt to compare wartime clearances with pre-war figures.” (Crook 174) Using Price’s figures for South Carolina, Crook suggests that the blockade may have cut the number of ships leaving the ports of that state by one half during the first year of the war, and by almost two thirds over 1862-1865. Crook’s finding is that “modern naval opinion is inclined to the broad view that the blockade achieved its major objectives by scaring off a potentially massive trade with the south.” (Crook 174)

The British Working Class

A controversial issue linked to Britain’s failure to intervene on the side of the Confederacy involves the attitude of the British working classes, and the role of working class resistance in deterring the Palmerston government from taking action against the US. The traditional view, reflected during the war by contemporaries from President Lincoln to Karl Marx, is that the textile workers of Lancashire, despite the privations imposed on them by the cutoff of southern cotton deliveries, nevertheless heroically supported the Union, especially once it had become clear that this was the anti-slavery cause. This attitude by the British workers was another factor in dissuading Palmerston from pursuing armed intervention. [22]

Owsley, in his King Cotton Diplomacy, mocks any notion that the British working class might have influenced the London cabinet in any way, writing contemptuously that “the population of Lancashire and of all industrial England was politically apathetic, sodden, ignorant, and docile, with the exception of a few intelligent and earnest leaders. They wanted bread, they wanted clothes, they needed medicines to give their sick children and aged parents, they wanted pretty clothing for their daughters and sisters who were being forced into prostitution.” (Owsley 545-6) But on this point as well, Owsley is blinded by class prejudice and is thus highly vulnerable.

Philip Foner provides a useful summary of this issue in his 1981 British Labor and the American Civil War. Foner starts from the acknowledged fact that the British aristocracy was pro-Confederate. Free traders like Cobden and Bright were momentarily antagonized by the Union’s highly protectionist Morrill Tariff of February 1861 (passed the instant the southerners had left the Congress) the Liberals in general were split. But this leaves out the working classes altogether, who remained disenfranchised and alienated from the party structures. He takes issue with the school of writers who claim that British labor was actually sympathetic to the Confederacy. Foner dates the attempt to revise the traditional view of British labor as pro-Union especially from a 1957 article by Royden Harrison of the University of Warwick, which argued that the older thesis was a “legend” Harrison based his view on an analysis of the labor press, where he discovered that “working-class newspapers and journals were, on the whole, hostile to the Federals” both before and after the Emancipation Proclamation. [23] (Foner 15) Harrison adduced evidence from such papers as Reynolds’ News and the Bee-Hive, which were sympathetic to the Confederacy. Foner calls special attention to a second article by Harrison, published four years later, which seemed to repudiate much of the first article. Writing in 1961, Harrison found that “from the end of 1862, there is overwhelming evidence to support the view that the great majority of politically conscious workmen were pro-Federal and firmly united to oppose war.” [24] Foner points out that subsequent historians have often cited Harrison’s first article while ignoring his subsequent retractions and qualifications. In Foner’s view, the “apex of revisionist historiography” on this issue came in 1973 with the appearance of Mary Ellison’s Support for Secession: Lancashire and the American Civil War, with an epilogue by Peter d’A. Jones. [25] Ellison’s conclusion was that the workers of the Lancashire textile mills were pro-Southern, suspicious of Lincoln, and adamant for British action to break the Union blockade and save the Confederacy. Peter d’A. Jones seconded her efforts, dismissing the older view as (yet another) “myth.” Foner criticizes Ellison’s handling of the evidence in blunt terms. “Ellison’s methodology in proving her thesis is simplicity personified,” writes Foner. “It is to assert repeatedly that pro-Northern meetings were contrived, while pro-Southern gatherings were spontaneous.” (Foner 20) For Foner, pro-Confederate sentiment was limited to certain limited types of labor functionaries and to newspaper publishers, who were sometimes suspected of being on the Confederate payroll. Foner shows how the pro-Union agitation, in which British intelligence asset Karl Marx had to participate to keep any credibility along the workers of England and the continent, eventually lead to the extension of the British franchise through the Reform Bill of 1867.

More recent research would seem to decide this controversy in favor of Foner and the traditional view. R. J. M. Blackett of the University of Houston published an extensive study of how the British public viewed the American conflict, with significant attention for the problem of working class attitudes. Blackett’s study is largely based on the British press, from the London Times to the Bee-Hive to the Confederate-controlled Index. The result is a detailed analysis which in some ways approximates the methods of social history, albeit in regard to a distinctly political topic. Blackett’s title, Divided Hearts, relates to his finding that British society as a whole split over the Civil War. “The Tories were with the Confederacy, so too were the Whigs, but among Liberals there were deep divisions, enough to undermine the unity and strength of the party.” (Blackett 11) After some initial hesitation, Cobden and Bright took up the cudgels for the Union. Free traders were alienated by the Morrill tariff, while abolitionists were unhappy with Lincoln, especially until the end of 1862. British Garrisonians split over whether the Union was worth saving. There was a crisis in the British anti-slavery movement over whether they had lost their old vim of the West Indies abolition era. Literary men like Trollope endorsed the government in Richmond, and Thomas Carlyle’s racism made him a CSA sympathizer others backed the Union. Chartists split, with Ernest Jones supporting the Union, while most Chartist leaders favored the South. The Church of England went with the South, while Dissenting ministers favored the North. Quakers divided over whether slavery could be extirpated by violence. The overall impression is that the American war stimulated an active politicization which the privileged orders could hardly have welcomed.

Confederate and Union agents were active in Britain, Blackett shows. The Confederate factotum was James Spence, an indefatigable activist who wrote articles, set up organizations, hired speakers, and bribed journalists. Spence was the author of The American Union, a best-selling apology for the Confederacy. Spence’s prize recruit was Joseph Barker, who enjoyed the confidence of working class audiences because of his earlier agitation for working-class causes. Among the elite, a leading pro-Confederate was A. J. B. Beresford-Hope, the brother in law of Lord Robert Cecil of the celebrated and influential political clan, which was itself anti-Union. An energetic Confederate agent was Henry Hotze, who published the pro-Confederate weekly, the Index. Pro-Confederate organizations included the Society for Promoting the Cessation of Hostilities in America, the Southern Independence Association, the Liverpool Southern Club, the Manchester Southern Club, and others.

The pro-Lincoln operative Thurlow Weed provided money and encouragement for friends of the North during a visit early in the war. On the Union side, there were working-class activists like George Thompson. Black Americans like Frederick Douglass, William Andrew Jackson (the former coachman of Jefferson Davis), J. Sella Martin, and others (Blackett provides a detailed list) were highly effective as lecturers on the Union side. They were joined by Henry Ward Beecher and other touring lecturers. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams restricted his own activity to the diplomatic sphere, but encouraged his consuls to become very active on the political front. Among the pro-Union groups were counted the Union and Emancipation Society, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and more. Blackett describes the way the contending forces attempted to operate through public meetings and resolutions, using tactics that including packing the podium, fixing the agenda, deceptively worded resolutions, parliamentary maneuvers, rump sessions, goons, and intimidation. These meetings and the resolutions they passed were regarded as being of great political importance. Blackett notes that “Lincoln was so concerned that these resolutions express the right sentiment that he crafted and had sent to Charles Sumner for transmission to John Bright a set of resolutions that could be adopted by public meetings in Britain.” (Blackett 209) Jefferson Davis, by contrast, took no personal interest in such mass organizing.

Part of Blackett’s project is to evaluate the Ellison revisionist thesis. He tests Ellison’s assertions of pro-Confederate sentiment in representative towns like Ashton and Stalybridge, and finds that “distress did not drive the towns’ textile workers to declare in favor of an independent Confederacy.” (Blackett 175) Blackett’s survey of meetings further concludes that “if public gatherings can be used to measure levels of activity and support, then over the country as a whole the Confederacy was at a distinct disadvantage.” (Blackett 198) Even in the textile mill towns of Lancashire, Blackett finds substantial support for the Union. He concludes that “if…the adoption of resolutions are [sic] reasonably accurate indicators of levels of support, then it appears that Ellison has exaggerated the degree to which meetings in Lancashire voted in support of the Confederacy.” And if “in Lancashire the opposing forces seem to be equally divided, the rest of the country voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Union…All the indications are that…even in Lancashire, where Spence and his co-workers had hoped to exploit the crisis to rally support for the Confederacy, the friends of the Union carried the day.” (Blackett 210-212)

Charles Francis Adams wrote to Seward on June 9, 1864 that the British aristocracy was hostile to the Union because “of the fear of the spread of democratic feeling at home in the event of our success.” (Adams II 300) The Civil War awakened the British working class to the degree that Bright in 1866 was able to convince Gladstone that at least part of the urban working class had to be given the vote. Through interaction with Disraeli, the Reform Bill of 1867 was passed the reactionary romantic Carlyle complained that this was “shooting Niagara.” Foner shows that the measure was due in large part to the agitations unleashed by American events. The formation of the federation of Canada in 1867 was another postwar result.

Crook, to his credit, grapples with the issue of why the Union never attempted after 1865 to use its preponderant power to settle scores with the European powers who had proven hostile, especially Britain. He writes that “one of the puzzles of Civil War history is to explain why the immense anger generated against foreign foes during the war was not translated into expansionist revenge after Appomattox.” (Crook 361) Grant’s and Sherman’s armies were the most effective in the world, and Gideon Welles’ navy was at least among the top three, and most likely preponderant on the coasts of Canada, Mexico, and Cuba, the likely sites of northern revanche. Foner sees a brush with transatlantic war in 1869-70, before the British finally agreed to pay the Union’s claims for damages to compensate the depredations of the Alabama and the other CSA commerce raiders built by the British. But Lincoln had promised an exhausted nation an end to warfare, and this proved to be the last word.

The British government and aristocracy wanted to split the Union as long as the Confederates were winning successes on the battlefield, they felt they could bide their time as the US further weakened, thus facilitating intervention if required. The twin Confederate disasters of Gettysburg and Vicksburg on July 3-4, 1863 came as a rapid and stunning reverse, and the arrival of the Russian fleets that same summer on both US coasts radically escalated the costs of Anglo-French military meddling. Shortly thereafter, the Danish War of 1864 placed Bismarck’s moves towards German unification at the center of the European and world stage, making it even less likely that the British could tie their own hands by a risky strike against the Union. At the same time, Bismarck’s growing activism made Napoleon III – fearing the Prussian threat — less and less likely to denude his eastern border of troops in order to employ them for intervention in the New World. These factors, and not the moderation or humanitarianism of Palmerston, Russell, or Gladstone, prevented an Anglo-French attack on the United States and, quite possibly, on Russia.

If the British had attacked the United States during the Civil War, this move might well have ushered in a world war in which the United States, Russia, Prussia and perhaps Italy would have been arrayed against Great Britain, France, Spain, and perhaps the Portuguese and Austrian Empires. There is reason to believe that the US-Russia-Prussia coalition would have prevailed. This war might have destroyed the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonial empires almost a century early, and would have made the later creation of the triple entente of Britain, France, and Russia by British King Edward VII impossible. World War I would have taken place during the 1860s rather than half a century later. Fascism and communism might not have occurred in the form they did. As it was, Lincoln fell victim to an assassination plot in which British intelligence, through Canada and other channels, played an important role. Alexander II was killed in 1881 by Russian terrorists of the London-centered post-Bakunin anarchist networks.


Adams, Ephraim Douglas. Great Britain and the American Civil War. London: Longmans, Green, 1925. 2 vols.
Bensel, Richard Franklin. Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Blackburn, George M. French Newspaper Opinion and the American Civil War. Westport CN: Greenwood, 1997.
Blackett, R. J. M. Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.
Bourne, Kenneth. Britain and the Balance of Power in North America 1815-1908. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
Callahan, James Morton. The Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1901 reprint New York: Greenwood, 1968.
Clay, Cassius. The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
Crook, D. P. The North, the South, and the Powers 1861-1865. New York: John Wiley, 1974.
Foner, Philip S. British Labor and the American Civil War. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981.
Hearn, Chester G. Gray Raiders of the Sea How Eight Confederate Warships Destroyed the Union’s High Seas Commerce. Camden ME: International Marine Publishing, 1992.
Jones, Howard. Union in Peril: The Crisis Over British Intervention in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Nevins, Allan. The War for the Union. New York: Scribner, 1960. 2 vols.
Owsley, Frank Lawrence. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959. Second edition.
Thomas, Benjamin Platt. Russo-American Relations 1815-1867. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1930.
Woldman, Albert A. Lincoln and the Russians. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1952.

Field Correspondents

PAUL BARBA is an assistant professor of history at Bucknell University. He graduated with a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2016. His first book project, tentatively titled Country of the Cursed and the Driven: Slavery and the Texas Borderlands, tracks and analyzes the multiple forms of slaving violence that emerged, dominated, and intersected throughout Texas from the early eighteenth century into the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is currently under contract with the University of Nebraska Press. Prior to Bucknell, Dr. Barba served as a managing editor at the journal Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos. You can contact Dr. Barba at [email protected]

MICHELLE CASSIDY is assistant professor of history at Central Michigan University. She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 2016. Her current project emphasizes the importance of American Indian military service to discussions of race and citizenship during the Civil War era. She has presented her research at numerous conferences, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Ethnohistory, and the American Historical Association. Her article in the Michigan Historical Review, “‘The More Noise they Make’: Odawa and Ojibwe Encounters with American Missionaries in Northern Michigan, 1837-1871,” explores how Anishinaabe cultural logic, leadership, and perceptions of spiritual power shaped Native life in the mid-nineteenth century and influenced some Anishinaabe men to enlist in the Union army. Dr. Cassidy can be contacted at [email protected]

NIELS EICHHORN is an assistant professor of history at Middle Georgia State University. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Separatism and the Language of Slavery: A Study of 1830 and 1848 Political Refugees and the American Civil War, is under contract with LSU Press. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History. You can find more information on his personal website, and he can be contacted at [email protected]

ANGELA ESCO ELDER is an Assistant Professor of History at Converse College. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a PhD in History, she became the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech. She is currently revising her dissertation on Confederate widowhood for publication her dissertation won the Southern Historical Association’s C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize and St. George Tucker Society’s Melvin E. Bradford Dissertation Prize. At Converse, she teaches a variety of American history courses, including in her speciality of gender history and the Civil War era. In addition to book chapters, encyclopedia articles, and book reviews, Elder recently published a co-edited collection, Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. She has also presented her research at numerous conferences, including the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society of Civil War Historians, and Southern Association for Women Historians. You can contact Dr. Elder at [email protected]

P. GABRIELLE FOREMAN co-directs Penn State’s Center for Black Digital Research (also called #DigBlk) and is the founding faculty director of the award-winning Colored Conventions Project . She is finishing a manuscript entitled The Art of DisMemory: Historicizing Slavery in Poetry, Print and Material Culture as well as an edited collection called Praise Songs for Dave the Potter: Art and Poetry for David Drake about the enslaved master poet and potter who was one subject of her ongoing performance collaborations with artistic director Dr. Lynnette Overby and poet Glenis Redmond. Foreman’s co-edited volume The Colored Conventions Movement:Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century, forthcoming with UNC Press, will be the first collection on this an understudied movement for Black rights that spanned seven decades. For Muster, Foreman will be writing about digital and distributed archive building, nineteenth-century Black organizing and Black memory and the arts. Foreman holds an endowed chair in Liberal Arts and is Professor of English, African American Studies and History as well as affiliate faculty at the Penn State University Library. She’ll be the Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society in 2021-2022. You can find her on twitter at @profgabrielle and @ccp_org.

BARTON A. MYERS is Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Ethics and History at Washington and Lee University and the author of the award-winning Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 (LSU Press, 2009), Rebels Against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists (Cambridge, 2014), and co-editor with Brian D. McKnight of The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU Press, 2017). Dr. Myers received his B.A., Phi Beta Kappa from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Professor Myers has taught at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, and Texas Tech University, and before becoming a professor, he served as a public historian with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park where he led tours of some of America’s most historic battlefields. He is also a past nominee for the Rising Star Faculty Award given by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the recipient of a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for his research on violence, aggression, and dominance in American history. Dr. Myers’ work has been featured in the national media, including the Los Angeles Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch,, Sirius XM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program,” CSPAN’s “American History TV,” National Public Radio’s Virginia Insight, and Civil War Monitor. He lives in historic Lexington, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. He can be contacted about speaking engagements through his website. He also has a Facebook page, “The Art of Command during the American Civil War.”

NICK SACCO is a public historian and writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a master’s degree in History with a concentration in Public History from IUPUI (2014). In the past he has worked for the National Council on Public History, the Indiana State House, the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center, and as a teaching assistant in both middle and high school settings. Nick recently had a journal article about Ulysses S. Grant’s relationship with slavery published in the September 2019 issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era. He has written several other journal articles, digital essays, and book reviews for a range of publications, including the Indiana Magazine of History, The Confluence, The Civil War Monitor, Emerging Civil War, [email protected], AASLH, and Society for U.S. Intellectual History. He also blogs regularly about history at his personal website, Exploring the Past. You can contact Nick at [email protected].

HOLLY A. PINHEIRO, JR. is an Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History, Anthropology, & Philosophy at Augusta University. He received his bachelor’s degree (2008) from the University of Central Florida. Later, he earned his master’s degree (2010) and doctoral degree (2017) from the University of Iowa. His research focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the military from 1850 through the 1930s. His monograph, The Families’ Civil War, is under contract with the University of Georgia Press in the UnCivil Wars Series. You can find him on Twitter at @PHUsct.

Substitutes (Civil War)

As the Civil War dragged on and enthusiasm for volunteer enlistments lagged, both sides resorted to conscription to fill their ranks. This practice became even less popular and seemed even more unfair because the draft laws allowed men of means to hire substitutes to take their places. Under the Confederate conscription law, a draftee could evade service by hiring someone who was exempt from the draft to replace him-someone under or over the mandatory conscription age, one whose trade or profession exempted him, or a foreign national. Generally, the "principal," as those supplying substitutes were called, paid a fee to the government as well as a large sum to his substitute. Prices for hiring substitutes in the South reportedly ranged as high as $3,000 in specie and even higher in Confederate currency. At such prices, only the wealthy could afford substitutes. The substitute laws reinforced the perception that the war was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Many soldiers earning scanty military pay simmered with anger over serving with the richly rewarded substitutes, whom they considered little better than mercenaries. Other men served halfheartedly, hoping somehow to hire substitutes of their own.

Although many soldiers and civilians thought that it was wrong to hire substitutes, the practice was widespread. The number of substitutes in the Confederate army is difficult to determine, though some wartime estimates ranged from 50,000 to 150,000. Newspapers carried many ads from men seeking, or offering service as, substitutes. There were even "brokers" who took fees for finding substitutes. Many substitutes quickly deserted or were unfit for military service due to their age, poor health, or alcoholism. Because of such abuses, the Confederate Congress tightened the rules regarding substitution and finally abolished the practice. Men who had hired substitutes found themselves again subject to conscription when the laws changed. They were given a specified length of time to report for duty, and their substitutes still in the service were retained as well.

North Carolina became embroiled in controversy with the Confederate War Department over these changes in the draft laws. In February 1864 Chief Justice Richmond M. Pearson of the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to force men into the army if they had furnished substitutes. Eventually, however, the full state supreme court reversed Pearson's judgment, confirming the Confederate government's right to annul substitute contracts.

Gordon B. McKinney, Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader (2004).

Memory F. Mitchell, Legal Aspects of Conscription and Exemption in North Carolina, 1861-1865 (1965).

Albert Burton Moore, Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy (1924).

Richard E. Yates, The Confederacy and Zeb Vance (1958).

Additional Resources on Conscription and Draft Evasion in the Civil War, for both the Union and Confederate Armies:

How did European Nations react to the American Civil War?

Mate, this question comes up from time to time, and it's been answered several times. You might try searching past answers in case mine isn't sufficient. Basically, reactions varied from country to country as well as within countries, with most perspectives favoring the Union and a minority of conservative Europeans favoring the Confederacy.

Here's a piece from the Nov. 29, 1860 London Times, reprinted Dec. 15, 1860 in the New York Times. The key feature is this:

"Can any sane man believe that England and France will consent, as is now suggested, to stultify the policy of half a century for the sake of an extended cotton trade, and to purchase the favor of Charleston and Milledgeville by recognizing what has been called "the isothermal law, which impels African labor towards the tropics" on the other side of the Atlantic?"

Britain and France sent observers to monitor the war, as did Prussia. As much as we talk about the cotton trade's importance to Britain, modern scholarship has revealed the extent to which Britain depended on the grain trade, using it as a tool to explain that while British merchants and shipbuilders were happy to sell to the Confederacy, the British government was unlikely to intervene despite intense diplomatic effort from the Confederacy.

While the French government was inclined to intervene, Napoleon III would not do so without the support of the British Empire. Even if he wouldn't intervene directly in the war, he still saw opportunity.

Spain, France and Britain took advantage of the Union's preoccupation to push forward colonial ambitions in the Western Hemisphere. France invaded Mexico. Spain landed in the Dominican Republic. In Cuba, even as Spain maintained its hold, slaves sang "Avanza, Lincoln, avanza! Tu eres nuestra esperanza!” (Onward, Lincoln, Onward! You are our hope!), viewing, as many in Europe did, that this was a fight between slavery and liberation.

Indeed, many Europeans saw this fact before Americans themselves did. Lincoln and many in the North saw the war in 1861 as one to preserve the Union. Only as the fighting progressed did it become a matter of emancipation and justice.

The Italian liberator and general Garibaldi twice was encouraged to come to the United States and fight on the side of the Union army. "Tell me if this agitation is regarding the emancipation of the Negroes or not," he asked in 1861, then declined.

Prussia heavily favored the Union cause. After the failed revolutions of 1848, hundreds of thousands of Germans emigrated to the United States. They brought a strong work ethic and the progressive ideals of central Europe. These included notions like universal free public education, human rights, and emancipation.

When the American Civil War broke out, Germans flocked to volunteer in huge numbers. Of all the immigrant populations in the United States, only the Irish contributed more soldiers to the Union. More than just weight of arms, the Germans were among the first to believe that the war was about abolishing slavery as much as it was preserving the Union.

There were German officers as well, commanding predominantly German-speaking units. Franz Siegel is perhaps the most famous, but there many men like Col. Ernst von Vegesack ─ in reality a Swedish nobleman, he shouted Bahn Frei! as the 20th New York (mostly German) streamed into battle at Antietam.

Behind the lines, there were men like Francis Lieber, who I've written about before. Lieber, already famous as an intellectual at the outbreak of war, used liberal German values to help formulate laws of war for the Union Army. He strongly pressured Lincoln in favor of the Emancipation Proclamation.

With so many Germans in the Union Army, it's no wonder that popular opinion in Germany favored the United States. You're more likely to appreciate and cheer for the side that most closely resembles your own, after all. Furthermore, the Union appeared ─ particularly later in the war, and particularly among European revolutionaries ─ to be fighting to end slavery, even if American diplomats and most Americans would not admit that until the last two years of the war. That was an incredibly popular aim, and particularly so in Germany.

Now, keep in mind the acclaim for the United States wasn't universal. If you're interested in reading a contemporary account of the American Civil War in German, find the writings of Justus Scheibert. He was a Prussian observer who sneaked into Charleston aboard a blockade runner in 1863 and proceeded to write about the war. He took a strongly pro-Confederate approach, believing the South had elite origins, just as Prussia did.

To counter that, you may want to consider some of the other works edited by Frederic Trautmann, including the regimental history of the all-German 9th Ohio Infantry and the prison memoirs of Bernhard Domschcke.

Russia had long supported the United States, and especially after the Crimean War viewed it as a potential counterweight to Great Britain. During the war scare of 1863, when it appeared that French and British intervention in Poland was a possibility, Russia sent large components of its Atlantic and Pacific fleets to the United States as a precaution against having them trapped in Russian ports if war broke out. Americans viewed this as the first step toward Russian support of the war ─ it wasn't.

Volunteers from almost every country in Europe could be found in the Union ranks, though Germans and Irish get the top billing in popular history. There was the 55th New York Infantry, for example. That regiment's original recruits came from French émigrés in New York City. Even by January 1862, six of the regiment's nine companies were predominantly French. As James Johnston wrote in 2012, "Some of the men were veterans, having served in the French Army in Algeria, the Crimean War and Italy. The rest were a motley international bunch, including German, Irish, Italian and Spanish immigrants, as well as a few Americans."

The Civil War Was Won By Immigrant Soldiers

In the summer of 1861, an American diplomat in Turin, then the capital of Italy, looked out the window of the U.S. legation to see hundreds of young men forming a sprawling line outside the building. Some wore red shirts, emblematic of the Garibaldini who had fought the previous year with Giuseppe Garibaldi and, during their campaign in southern Italy to unite the country, were known for pointing one finger in the air and shouting l’Italia Unità! (Italy United!). Now they wanted to volunteer to take up arms for l’America Unità!

U.S. diplomats posted in countries across Europe and Latin America reported crowds of men showing up at their offices and pleading to enlist in America’s war. Active recruiting violated the neutrality laws of foreign nations and could not be encouraged. The U.S. minister to Berlin finally posted a sign on the door: “This is the legation of the United States, and not a recruiting office.”

Meanwhile, immigrants already in the United States responded to the call to arms in extraordinary numbers. In 1860, about 13 percent of the U.S. population was born overseas—roughly what it is today. One in every four members of the Union armed forces was an immigrant, some 543,000 of the more than 2 million Union soldiers by recent estimates. Another 18 percent had at least one foreign-born parent. Together, immigrants and the sons of immigrants made up about 43 percent of the U.S. armed forces.

America’s foreign legions gave the North an incalculable advantage. It could never have won without them. And yet the role of immigrant soldiers has been left in the shadows and ignored in the narrative of a brothers’ war fought on American soil, by American soldiers, over issues that were uniquely American in origin.

In the 1860s, Confederate diplomats and supporters abroad were eager to inform Europeans that the North was actively recruiting their sons to serve as cannon fodder. In one pamphlet, Confederate envoy Edwin De Leon informed French readers that the Puritan North had built its army “in large part of foreign mercenaries” made up of “the refuse of the old world.” Chief among these dregs of European society were “the famished revolutionaries and malcontents of Germany, all the Red republicans, and almost all the Irish emigrants to sustain its army.”

Embarrassed Northerners claimed the Confederacy exaggerated how many foreign recruits made up the U.S. armed forces—pointing to immigrant bounty jumpers who enlisted to collect the money given to new recruits, deserted, and then re-enlisted, multiple times, thus inflating the numbers of immigrant recruits. The underlying premise was that foreigners were not inspired by patriotic principle and, except for money, had no motive to fight and die for a nation not their own. The accusation was that these were soldiers of fortune, no different from the notorious Hessian troops King George had sent to fight his rebellious American subjects in the previous American Revolution.

It was not true. Immigrants tended to be young and male, so they made up a significant share of the military-age population. But even after accounting for that, they enlisted above their quota. Labor was in short supply and many immigrants left paying jobs to fight for the Union, enlisting long before the draft—and the bounties—were even introduced. They volunteered, they fought, and they sacrificed far beyond what might be expected of strangers in a strange land. The zeal with which immigrant soldiers embraced the Union cause stands in stark contrast to the dissatisfaction among the ranks of immigrant soldiers in the nation’s previous war, against Mexico, when these troops abandoned the field in droves, and some Irish units famously switched sides.

While historians have done an excellent job of retrieving the distant voices of ordinary soldiers and citizens from the Civil War era, these voices almost always belong to native-born and English-speaking soldiers. The voices of the foreign legions remain silent—thanks to the paucity of records in the archives, the language barriers posed to historians, and, perhaps, a lingering bias that keeps foreigners out of “our” civil war.

Why did they fight? What were they fighting for? A trove of recruitment posters in the New York Historical Society provides rare and wonderful hints at the answers to these questions.

One poster reads: Patrioti Italiani! Honvedek! Amis de la liberté! Deutsche Freiheits Kaempfer! (Italian patriots! Hungarians! Friends of liberty! German freedom fighters!) Then, in English, it urges “250 able-bodied men … Patriots of all nations” to “Arouse! Arouse! Arouse!” and fight for their “adopted country.”

Another recruitment broadside called on New York’s German immigrants to fight for “your country”: Bürger, Euer Land ist in Gefahr! Zu den Waffen! Zu den Waffen! (Citizens, your country is in danger! To arms! To arms!)

Many of the recruitment posters featured images of soldiers in the colorful Zouave uniforms inspired by the French army in North Africa and adopted by the famous 11th NY Volunteer Infantry “Fire Zouaves” and many other Union units. The soldiers in these posters also wore red banners and shirts, evoking the image of European radicals, or “red republicans.” The Phrygian cap, commonly known as the red cap of liberty, is a soft conical cap that was a symbol of emancipation in ancient Rome and an iconic emblem of 18th century French revolutionaries. The cap was featured on many of the Civil War posters, often worn by Lady Liberty or held aloft on a spear she carried.

Peter Welsh, a poor Irish immigrant who left his wife and children in New York City to fight for the Union, wrote to his father-in-law back in Ireland in 1863 to explain his motivation:

It “should seem very very strange that i should volunteerly joine in the
bloody strife of the battlefield … ,” he wrote. “Here thousands of the sons and daughters of Irland have come to seek a refuge from tyrany and persecution at home … America is Irlands refuge Irlands last hope. … When we are fighting for America we are fighting in the interest of Ireland striking a double blow cutting
with a two edged sword.”

Welsh re-enlisted in 1864 and died that year from wounds sustained at Spotsylvania in Virginia.

One immigrant mother gave poignant testimony in 1863 to the antislavery Women’s Loyal National League convention in New York as to why her 17-year-old son was fighting for the Union. “I am from Germany where my brothers all fought against the Government and tried to make us free, but were unsuccessful,” she said. “We foreigners know the preciousness of that great, noble gift a great deal better than you, because you never were in slavery, but we are born in it.”

Immigrant soldiers often saw themselves carrying on the battles they, or their parents, had fought in the Old World, and in the stories they told their loved ones back in Europe they employed familiar analogies. In the summer of 1861, August Horstman explained himself in a letter to his parents back in Germany: “Much the same as it is in Germany, the free and industrious people of the North are fighting against the lazy and haughty Junker spirit of the South. But down with the aristocracy.”

Following the failed Revolution of 1848, thousands of young Germans fled to America, many of them with military training in the Prussian army. They now took up arms in what they saw as yet another battle in the same revolutionary struggle against the forces of aristocracy and slavery. “It isn’t a war where two powers fight to win a piece of land,” one German enlistee explained to his family. “Instead it’s about freedom or slavery, and you can well imagine, dear mother, I support the cause of freedom with all my might.”

In another letter written to his family in Europe, a German soldier gave about as pithy an explanation of the war as any historian has since: “I don’t have the space or the time to explain all about the cause, only this much: the states that are rebelling are slave states, and they want slavery to be expanded, but the northern states are against this, and so it is civil war!”

So it was civil war, but for many foreign-born soldiers and citizens, at home and abroad, this was much more than America’s war. It was an epic contest for the future of free labor against slavery, for equal opportunity against privilege and aristocracy, for freedom of thought and expression against oppressive government, and for democratic self-government against dynastic rule. Foreigners joined the war to wage the same battles, in other words, that had been lost in the Old World. Theirs was the cause not only of America, but of all nations.

Don H. Doyle is the author of The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. He is McCausland professor of history at the University of South Carolina. Follow him on Facebook at

He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

Watch the video: Ο Ελληνικός Εμφύλιος πόλεμος 1944-1948. 1999 (November 2021).