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In March , a Spanish fleet from Havana landed troops in Santo Domingo and proclaimed the former colony re-annexed by the Spanish Empire. The Monroe Doctrine of had warned that any further efforts by European powers to colonize the American hemisphere would amount to an act of aggression against the United States.

Prelude to war

Napoleon III had become fascinated with the idea of constructing a canal between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, preferably across Nicaragua. The canal would open a western pathway to the Far East and make France the master of two oceans. The plan required stabilizing Mexico, which during forty years of independence had been through some fifty changes of government.

The Liberal Party had recently passed sweeping reforms that vastly reduced the power of the Catholic Church over land and education, to which the conservative church party responded by plunging the country into a horrific civil war known as the Reform War. He worked with Britain and Spain to form the Tripartite Alliance intended to recover debts owed to European investors by Mexico. He nominated Maximilian, the young brother of the Austrian emperor, as his candidate for the Mexican crown.

In December of Spanish troops landed in Mexico, followed by French and British forces early the next year. After French troops encountered stunning resistance from republican forces at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, , Napoleon redoubled his commitment to the conquest of Mexico, sending over more infantry, including Belgian and Austrian forces. More than a year later, the French entered Mexico City.

History of the American Civil War 1861 - 1865 Map

They set up a council of notables, made up of conservative clergy and landowners, who agreed to a monarchical form of government and nominated a delegation to offer the throne to Maximilian. In November , when an ambitious Union officer apprehended two Confederate envoys and their secretaries aboard the British mail steamer, Trent , the British press and many political leaders seemed to welcome the opportunity to ignite war fever among the British public.

Prime Minister Palmerston, long antagonistic toward America and republicanism in general, sent ten thousand troops to Canada and naval reinforcements to the Caribbean. What began as an affront to the British flag very nearly set off a world war, but cooler heads in London and Washington managed to defuse the Trent affair before it came to that. The United States was surrounded by hostile rebels and menacing European powers who, it became clear, wished the worst for America in its hour of peril.

While at first intent on rejecting the conservative idea that the American imbroglio was proof of the failure of self-government, friends of the Union began to propagate the idea of the war as democracy on trial. Karl Marx, writing for the New York Daily Tribune , saw the war as the last stand of a feudal landed aristocracy fighting to preserve enslaved labor.

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But should liberty become eclipsed in the new world, it would become night in Europe. The European understanding of the American contest as a clash of political ideologies originated with conservatives who delighted in the denouement of the democratic experiment throughout the Atlantic world, then embraced by the left. Both liberal and conservative politicians, intellectuals, journalists, and reformers came to see the American contest as something more than just a civil war in distant America.

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This was an epic battle between the forces of liberty, equality, and self-government on one side against those of aristocracy, slavery, and repression. Lincoln and Seward crafted domestic and foreign policy in tandem. Both were aware of the republican experiment as a shared, international concept, and as leaders of the Republican Party they were conversant with the language of republican ideals besieged by the forces of slavery and aristocracy. William Seward took the lead in mastering the new art of public diplomacy, sending a bevy of clergy, and political and business leaders to carry out lecture tours as unofficial spokesman for the Union cause.

His old mentor, Thurlow Weed, a seasoned journalist and political operator, arrived in Europe just in time to help defuse the Trent crisis through adept management of the press. Seward also made the diplomatic correspondence of the United States state department public by issuing voluminous annual reports, the inauguration of what became the annual FRUS series Foreign Relations of the United States beloved by historians. Seward instructed his diplomats and consuls to report on foreign public opinion and the press, along with their dispatches on government.

From numerous diplomatic posts abroad, Seward was told that the governments of Europe might be pleased to see the Great Republic dismembered, but the public was generally favorable toward the Union, if and only if this became a war for something more than merely restoring its territorial sovereignty. Writing from Spain, U. One of their most able defenders was Henry Hotze, a Swiss-born immigrant who had come to Mobile, Alabama, before the war.

Hotze was a young, intellectually gifted man with experience in journalism and diplomacy. He had collaborated with Josiah Nott, a Mobile anthropologist, in publishing an English translation of French author, Arthur Gobineau, whose Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races provided the foundation for scientific racism. After arriving in London, Hotze decided to launch his own journal, The Index: Hotze distrusted foreign spokesmen, who were inclined to denounce slavery even as they defended the right of the South to independence. Instead of apologizing for slavery as barbaric relic of the past, Hotze presented the South as a forward-leaning model for white supremacy in the new age of European imperialism.

He also brought a favorable combination of skills as a journalist with diplomatic experience and an extraordinary dose of audacity. First, the valiant South was determined to fight to the death, and its recent losses in New Orleans would only strengthen resolve. Benjamin, appointed Confederate secretary of state in spring , launched an aggressive strategy to lure France into an alliance with the Confederacy.

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In July of that year, the Confederate envoy to France, John Slidell, met with Napoleon III to offer France a highly lucrative, long-term commercial convention by which French merchants could bring their exports into the Confederacy free of duty. All France had to do was recognize the Confederacy and then break the blockade of Southern ports to open commercial relations. By the end of the first year of war, Confederate foreign policy and public diplomacy were shifting to the right, abandoning their earlier avoidance of slavery to assert a forthright defense of slavery and white supremacy.

The South was also trying to ally itself with the French European imperialist scheme to roll back republicanism in Latin America.

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As part of the same shift to the right, in the Confederacy sought the support of the pontiff of Rome, Pope Pius IX. Pio Nono, as he was known in Italy, had established a reputation as the archenemy of republicanism, liberalism of all kinds; his Syllabus of Errors listed eighty heresies all Catholics were instructed to renounce, among them freedom of speech, press, and religion; the separation of church and state; religious tolerance; and the idea that the Catholic Church must adapt to the modern world.

While the Confederacy fashioned its appeal to conservative Europe, the Union was aligning its cause with liberal Europe by appealing to antislavery and republican sympathies. William Seward was worried that an emancipation edict would appear desperate and might provoke European powers to intervene lest racial strife permanently injure cotton production in the South.

Lincoln, however, had heeded the prediction of Carl Schurz and many other advisors in Europe that popular support for a Union war against slavery would make it impossible for European governments to intervene on behalf of the South. Editorials were cynical, alarmist, and altogether negative, even some in the liberal press. Lincoln will set the negroes free; where he retains power he will consider them as slaves. Garibaldi had written from a prison hospital in Italy after being wounded and arrested for leading a march on Rome that was intended to complete the unification of Italy.


The incident set off an international crisis that forced France to abandon its plans to join Britain in their plan for multilateral intervention in the American war. Much of the early negative reaction in the British press drew on the cynical suspicion that the proclamation was an insincere ploy, but the news that the proclamation was enacted on January 1 was received with robust popular approval when word reached Europe.

More than seven hundred clergy signed a public petition imploring the Protestant clergy of England to stand by America and its war against slavery. Public support for the Union abroad drew from many sources, not only organized antislavery reformers. Insofar as the American war came to be seen as a contest between republican democratic ideals and those of slavery and aristocracy, Radicals in Britain advocating a vast expansion of voting rights and republicans in France opposing the Second Empire embraced the Union cause as their own.

In France, where government censorship forbad political debate and demonstration, the American question offered an arena in which politics could be discussed safely, so long as they were disguised as a distant foreign matter. One barometer of confidence in Confederate success can be seen in the volatile prices of Confederate cotton bonds.

After a strong opening in March , they plummeted after Gettysburg, selling at less than 40 percent of par value by the end of They rose in to 85 percent of par before the election in November. Wherever the news of the assassination arrived, by telegraph, steamship, or railroad, public demonstrations proved an astonishing interest in the American war and the leader who had led the Union to victory. Huge public meetings took place across Britain, and, in bold defiance of government bans and police force, French students staged mass demonstrations in the Latin Quarter, Masonic fraternities draped their lodges in black crape, and workers and common citizens issued letters of condolence.

John Bigelow, the U. Hundreds of letters of condolence and resolutions of sympathy, with tens of thousands of signatures, poured into U. They expressed sympathy for America and the widow Mrs. Lincoln, of course, and many took the occasion to register disgust with their governments for having taken sides against Lincoln and the Union cause. In Nantes, France, a subscription drive for a medal for Mrs. Lincoln caught the disapproving eye of government authorities who confiscated the list of donors and the money.

The resilience and fortitude of the American republic surprised many anti-republican skeptics and emboldened reformers and revolutionaries throughout the Atlantic world. One British Radical noted: It is we, now, who call upon the privileged classes to mark the result. In the face of massive public demonstrations and civil disobedience, Parliament caved in to their demands to pass the Reform Act of Meanwhile, Spain, facing fierce guerilla resistance in Santo Domingo, withdrew its occupying forces in the summer of only to face a republican uprising in Cuba two years later.

One year after taking the throne of Mexico, Emperor Maximilian issued plaintive appeals to Washington asking for recognition, all to no avail. In the summer of , General Ulysses S. Grant sent General Phil Sheridan to the Mexico border with forty thousand troops. In June Maximilian faced a Mexican firing squad whose shots echoed across the Atlantic as a somber warning against further European incursions in the Americas. In March of the Russian Empire sold Alaska to the United States and withdrew from the Western Hemisphere, and Britain, having organized Canada into a federated, self-governing polity, effectively withdrew from North America as well.

The survival of the republican experiment coincided with the death of slavery in the Americas. Two-thirds of all slaves in the American hemisphere were freed by the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December What might have been the beginning of a vast expansion of slavery in became its death knell in The republican revolution in Cuba in issued vague promises of freedom to slaves who joined their cause. In , Spain, having undergone its own republican revolution in , answered by passing legislation that granted freedom to those slaves who fought for Spain and granted eventual freedom to all children born to slave mothers in Cuba.

Slavery was abolished altogether in Puerto Rico in , Cuba in , and Brazil in An institution that had been deeply embedded in the economy and society of the Americas for centuries and had seemed on the verge of resurgence and expansion with the promise of Confederate secession in had come to an end everywhere in the Americas. Much of the best work on the Civil War and the Atlantic world has been limited to Anglo-American relations, owing in part because of the major role Britain played at the time and to the relative ease of working in English-language sources.

On Confederate diplomacy, historian James Callahan gave a succinct assessment of the subject as early as that remains useful. Howard Jones, the premier diplomatic historian of the Civil War era, has written extensively on the subject, most recently Blue and Gray Diplomacy. Other parts of the European world have barely been touched by historians.

Cortada illuminates Spanish imperial ambitions in the Americas, which is supplemented by Wayne Bowen. Tyrner-Tyrnauer, a Hungarian-born journalist, reveals a fascinating picture of imperial intrigue with special focus on the Austrian Habsburgs. It is available online at several sites, including the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center. More complete records of diplomatic correspondence, including many confidential dispatches and instructions that are not found in FRUS, are found in Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Confederate diplomatic records are less extensive and are in their original and microfilm form as Confederate States of America Records , formerly known as the Pickett Papers to avoid any semblance of official recognition , Library of Congress, Manuscript Room. A published version of most, but not all, of the CSA diplomatic correspondence is included in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, series 2, vol.

This is available online at Cornell University, Making of America. Among the numerous foreign interpreters of the war writing from abroad were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, whose selected writings on the war have been recently reissued as The Civil War in the United States , ed. Andrew Zimmerman, 2d ed. A more complete set of their many articles and private letters concerning events in America are found online at: Marx Engels Archive, at Marxists. Most of his articles are reprinted in Memoirs of Malakoff , 2 vols.

The New York Times had many other excellent overseas correspondents, and its archives are available to subscribers online. European newspapers are not as easily accessible to online researchers. The Times of London , of course, provides a conservative view of the war. A greater variety of British opinion is now available online through the British Library at British Newspaper Archive. The most important Confederate journal is. Great Britain and the American Civil War.

Russell and Russell, Britain and the American Civil War. Louisiana State University Press, Spain and the American Civil War. University of Missouri Press, Royal Boydell Press, Carwardine, Richard, and Jay Sexton. Oxford University Press, Case, Lynn Marshall, and Warren F.

The United States and France: University of Pennsylvania Press, Relations at Mid-century, — The Cause of All Nations: University of North Carolina Press, University of Tennessee Press, The Revolution of A World on Fire: The Civil War as Global Conflict: Halleck, though he remained in command of the Army of the Potomac. On the heels of his victory at Manassas, Lee began the first Confederate invasion of the North.

Despite contradictory orders from Lincoln and Halleck, McClellan was able to reorganize his army and strike at Lee on September 14 in Maryland, driving the Confederates back to a defensive position along Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg. Total casualties at Antietam numbered 12, of some 69, troops on the Union side, and 13, of around 52, for the Confederates.

The Union victory at Antietam would prove decisive, as it halted the Confederate advance in Maryland and forced Lee to retreat into Virginia. Lincoln had used the occasion of the Union victory at Antietam to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation , which freed all slaves in the rebellious states after January 1, He justified his decision as a wartime measure, and did not go so far as to free the slaves in the border states loyal to the Union.

Still, the Emancipation Proclamation deprived the Confederacy of the bulk of its labor forces and put international public opinion strongly on the Union side. Some , black soldiers would join the Union Army by the time the war ended in , and 38, lost their lives. The Confederates gained a costly victory in the battle that followed, suffering 13, casualties around 22 percent of their troops ; the Union lost 17, men 15 percent.

Over three days of fierce fighting, the Confederates were unable to push through the Union center, and suffered casualties of close to 60 percent. Also in July , Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant took Vicksburg Mississippi , a victory that would prove to be the turning point of the war in the western theater. Despite heavy Union casualties in the Battle of the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania both May , at Cold Harbor early June and the key rail center of Petersburg June , Grant pursued a strategy of attrition, putting Petersburg under siege for the next nine months.

For most of the next week, Grant and Meade pursued the Confederates along the Appomattox River, finally exhausting their possibilities for escape. On the eve of victory, the Union lost its great leader: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

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Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. Though neither the Union nor the Confederacy had a formal military intelligence network during the Civil War, each side obtained crucial information from spying or espionage operations. From early in the war, the Confederacy set up a spy network in the federal capital of These units had tenuous ties to the regular Confederate and Union Armies and were Civil War culture in America—both North and South—was greatly distinct from life in the antebellum years.