Civil War Times: May 2000 Editorial

9/23/2000 • Civil War Times Archives

From the Editor
From the Editor
Civil War Times
Civil War Times


The United States was back, but not everyone was happy about it. It comes as no surprise that the soldiers and civilians of the Confederate States of America were disappointed in the events of mid-1865. But the Confederates were not alone in their unhappiness. They were joined by England and France, soon to be followed by Spain.

You may have noticed in your reading that England and France seemed to go out of their way to help the Confederacy, though short of actually recognizing its independence and joining the war as allies. Even the prospect of taking this latter, more drastic course of action came up repeatedly during the war. One of Robert E. Lee’s aims in his two invasions of Northern territory seems to have been to win recognition from England and France by demonstrating the Confederacy’s strength and viability. Had the British and/or French gotten involved in our Civil War, it would have been a very different conflict, one which might eventually have involved other European powers, such as Russia. It might have turned into a world war.

The underlying question in all this is, why? Why would England or France, the world powers of their day, consider siding with a breakaway American republic? The answer is that the United States posed a threat to their domination of the seas, of colonial territories, and of world affairs. The United States, which had won its nationhood by beating the British army and navy, had in less than a century become a major maritime and mercantile power, rich in resources and ambition. Strong enough to intervene in and change the outcome of international conflicts, the young United States had changed the balance of world power. For England and France, nothing could be better than for the United States to break apart, cutting its strength in half. They were all for Confederate independence, regardless of whether or not they had any regard for the Southern cause.

Reunited, if grudgingly, by the Civil War, the United States quickly set about demonstrating that England and France had had every reason to be worried. In Mexico, where the French had set up the puppet emperor Maximilian I, U.S. pressures on France led to the French army’s withdrawal by the spring of 1867. Maximilian’s empire collapsed and he was put to death. In 1869, the United States started demanding that Great Britain pay damages for having supplied the Confederacy with the commerce raider Alabama, which did millions of dollars of damage to U.S. merchant shipping on the high seas. An international tribunal eventually sentenced the Crown to pay $15.5 million. All the while, the United States kept working to secure dominance in the Pacific Ocean, making treaties with Hawaii and Samoa.

Spain joined the list of world powers that wished the Confederacy had won when, toward the close of the 19th century, the United States set about limiting and opposing Spanish involvement in the Americas. This culminated in the Spanish-American War in 1898, where officers of the erstwhile Confederacy–like Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler–fought side by side with former Union generals to win the conflict.

There would be others who would, perhaps, pine for the days when the United States was disunited. The opening of a U.S. navy base in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor in 1887 would put the United States in the way of another ambitious world power in the next century, and we know how that story goes.

Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times

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