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Could aid from Britain have altered the outcome of the Civil War?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: April 18, 2013 
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Had Britain sent military and naval aid to the South, could it have altered the outcome of the Civil War in favor of the Confederacy?

? ? ?

If the British had committed a large enough land force to Canada and some of its powerful navy, it may have worked to the Confederacy's favor, especially if they could coordinate their efforts. After all, just six commerce raiding cruisers, some of which had been sold the Confederates under-the-counter by British ship builders (e.g., Alabama, Shenandoah) were enough to wreck the U.S. Merchant Marine and knock it out of No.1 world trading status from 1865 to 1941.  

What Britain could have done became a moot point, however, in January 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Antietam victory enough to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. In so doing, he officially made slavery an issue in the war and confronted both Britain and France with the moral dilemma of whether either of them were prepared to recognize, let alone aid, a self-declared nation whose economy was founded on a system that both had renounced (Britain, in fact, being the first, in 1831). Neither power was ready to do that. In that respect, Lincoln, rather than McClellan, may have made Antietam a greater strategic victory than Gettysburg.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

 


2 Responses to “Could aid from Britain have altered the outcome of the Civil War?”


  1. 1
    Mike Davies says:

    The British Army had rested on its laurels since Waterloo. If it had taken on the Union forces in Canada it might have found itself shocked out of it's complacency before it's brush with the Boers.

  2. 2
    Stew Dalton says:

    It would of depended on when they landed. The first year and half it could of made a difference. Anytime after that it would of been different due to the size , equipment and mobility of the Union Army by that time. Also by that time the Union Navy would also be a force to reckon with. Remember in the 19th century Britain the regular army had peaked in 1813 at 250,000 and had shrunk to less that that by the 1860s. They were also required to station troops over the empire also. When they did send troops to Canada to reinforce that area in 1862 they could only sent 10,000. Canada did have around 40,000 militia to call on but again there was a large area to garrison and patrol. The Army of the Potomac was well in excess of 120,000 as were the western armys combined. Major cities were heavily garrisoned and each state kept standing forces within their borders. .



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