American Civil War
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 9 13:20:39 MDT 2003
Mark Lause wrote:
> I'm still waiting to hear some concrete questions on this subject.
> Marx and Engels weren't here...and they sure didn't have the knowledge
> about the subject we have today.
The British Involvement in the American Civil War
In 1861, the United States of America split into two, the industrial
North and the agricultural South. The reasons were complicated enough,
but the motivation for the split revolved around the election of Abraham
Lincoln as President. One of his policies was the abolition of slavery,
which he saw as being against the principles of the Constitution. That
same Constitution outlined that each state could act 'in its sovereign
and independent character'.
These 'state rights' were interpreted by some as the right to set their
own laws and not have them imposed by federal government. To the
Southern States, this promised imposition threatening their economy was
the last straw. One by one they left or seceded from the Union.
There was much talk about Free Trade - the trading of goods without let
or hindrance. The Northern States supported home trade and imposed high
tariffs on imports from Europe (mainly Britain). This, the South
supposed, allowed them to sell goods like tools or machinery at inflated
prices, while making imports even more costly. Since these Northern
States held the majority in Congress, it was not easy to change these
The South's major exports were cotton and tobacco - crops whose main
destination was Britain. Both of these products were grown on vast
plantations and cultivated using slave labour. The abolition of slavery,
they claimed, would make them slaves to the Northern industrialists. If
they were free of federal intervention, they could sell direct to their
suppliers and obtain imported goods from them at lower prices.
The Secession started in January 1861, and on 9 February they formed a
government under Jefferson Davis and blockaded federal forts within
their territory. Despite assurances from Lincoln on his inauguration, on
12 April, the Confederate States began bombarding Fort Sumner and the
American Civil War began. It was to last four bloody years.
Britain and North America
Britain had no love for the United States as it had suffered humiliating
defeats in the Wars of Independence. In 1812, when the USA tried and
failed to take Canada, Britain took revenge in 1814 by invading and
burning the Capitol in Washington. The Northern States in particular
disliked the idea of being subservient to the British and their
imposition of import tariffs hit British exports hard.
Free Trade was seen as being 'British' and many believed (and still do)
that British finance and influence in the South was akin to a British
colony within the USA. Given the trade links with the Southern cotton
and tobacco industries, and the hostility with the North, it was natural
that the British should side with the Confederate States. The
recognition of the Confederate States as a belligerent power did nothing
to improve relations between Britain and the Union.
Britain and the Blockade
On the outbreak of war in 1861, the US Navy was directed to blockade all
maritime traffic into and out of Confederate ports. This effectively cut
off all legitimate imports. This was particularly galling for the
Confederates as they had no major arms or manufacturing industry and had
to import most of their military goods from Europe. They were lucky to
have a number of agents in England who were able to acquire large
amounts of arms and equipment.
Both sides used the Enfield Pattern 1853 rifled musket but the South
also bought Armstrong rifled cannon and muskets. The Armstrong rifle was
especially valued for its accuracy and it was used as a sniping rifle.
Footwear for the South was manufactured in Northampton and amounted to
$1 million in the first 18 months alone. The Confederate army also
depended on procuring supplies from Europe. As well as arms, they
purchased uniforms, leather goods, hospital stores, and numerous other
The US Navy blockade necessitated a new route for imports. Nassau in the
Bahamas was used as a staging post for Confederate supplies along with
Bermuda and Havana. The supplies were then loaded onto blockade runners,
ships of mainly British registration, and taken to the ports on the Gulf
of Mexico. About $200 million worth of goods from British ports got
delivered to the Confederacy this way. The blockade was still effective
at preventing the export of Confederate goods and, since these were to
pay for the goods imported, it caused many financial problems for the South.
So few blockade runners were caught, about 1500 vessels all told – about
18% - that the British argued that it was only a 'paper blockade' and
therefore not recognisable by international law. The Confederates
expected the British to break the blockade or escort ships through it,
but this never happened. Unusually, Britain did not even object to the
seizure of British ships running the blockade.
Confederate Commerce Raiders
One aspect that the Union did object to was the building of Confederate
ships in British dockyards. These were purely commercial transactions
with civilian shipbuilders to build unarmed vessels. These were built,
engined and fitted out for seaworthiness before they were dispatched to
a rendezvous with supply ships and fitted out as fighting ships. The
crews were generally European, mainly British, but with the guns came
Confederate officers. Thus manned, equipped and led, these ships wreaked
havoc with Union shipping, forcing an increase in insurance for merchant
Although not in the same league as the Royal Navy or US Navy ships, they
made names for themselves. The CSS Alabama (built Liverpool 1862) went
to the Indies and took 40 US merchantmen1. After putting into Cherbourg
for refit in June 1864, she sailed out to attack the USS Kearsarge and
was sunk. The CSS Shenandoah (built Glasgow 1864) went to the North
Pacific and attacked the US whaling fleet. On hearing the news of the
Confederate defeat, she sailed to Britain and surrendered to the Royal
Navy in Liverpool on November 1865, six months after the war ended.
The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org
More information about the Marxism