The Trent Affair leads to war 1861

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#1
A war between the US and UK breaks out because Lincoln does not return the captured Confederate agents to British custody. Palmerston regards this as an opportunity to break the US blockade of Southern ports and restore the flow of cotton imports to British factories. Moreover Britain can recognize the Confederacy and diminish the potential of the US as a competing world power.

There is little doubt the British Navy can break the blockade and even blockade Northern US ports. Some British forces can be landed to advise and support Confederate forces but what the South really needs are supplies. Given that, Palmerston can reasonably anticipate achieving his objective of a Union defeat and peace treaty favorable to British interests (as Palmerston would understand them).
 
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stevev

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Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#3
The Royal Navy could break the Union blockade and restore trade with Confederate states, but the South would still have to win the war on the ground. Palmerston could justify a naval war based on freedom of the seas, but many of his voters were anti-slavery and active support for the Confederacy would be unpopular.
Agreed. I don't know how much of a political factor slavery would be vs economic issues. The House of Lords didn't care much about the issue and most PMs were coming from the Upper House at that time. This was before the Second Reform Bill which expanded the franchise .

In reality the South was in deep distress due to the Union Blockade but managed to hold out for four years as anti-war sentiment built in the North. The effect of the elimination of the blockade plus a British blockade of Northern ports would be dramatic IMO. Moreover some Union troops would have to be diverted to the northern border. Palmerston had already sent some 20000 British troops to Canada and local forces were about 20000. In wartime the total number could easily be 100,000 or more.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,319
Dispargum
#4
A couple of concerns about the Royal Navy.
1. Those early steam engines were grossly inefficient, consuming lots of coal for very little distance sailed. Britain was able to operate steam ships in the Crimea, but I don't know if they could sustain a large force in North American waters. How much coal did Canada produce back then?
2. During the war the US Navy grew larger than the Royal Navy by 1865, but then quickly shrank back to its pre-war size. While the RN was larger than the USN in 1861, would it still be larger in 1865?
3. During the CW the USN was at the forefront of several important naval technologies - steam propulsion, screw propellers, rotating turrets, iron clads. I'm not so sure the RN had a technological advantage. The RN was an inherently conservative institution. Yes, they did build the world's first (or second?) ironclad warship but it was incapable of sailing across the Atlantic on steam alone and had to use sails most of the time for added range.
4. At some point prior to 1860 Britain had become a food importing nation. Guess where most of that food came from? The Northern US states. Southern cotton was important to the British economy but so was Northern grain.
5. During the war the Northern states never fully tapped their manpower reserves. The Union could have easily mobilized another 100,000 men if they had to.
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#6

2. During the war the US Navy grew larger than the Royal Navy by 1865ye, but then quickly shrank back to its pre-war size. While the RN was larger than the USN in 1861, would it still be larger in 1865?
3. During the CW the USN was at the forefront of several important naval technologies - steam propulsion, screw propellers, rotating turrets, iron clads. I'm not so sure the RN had a technological advantage. The RN was an inherently conservative institution. Yes, they did build the world's first (or second?) ironclad warship but it was incapable of sailing across the Atlantic on steam alone and had to use sails most of the time for added range.
4. At some point prior to 1860 Britain had become a food importing nation. Guess where most of that food came from? The Northern US states. Southern cotton was important to the British economy but so was Northern grain.
5. During the war the Northern states never fully tapped their manpower reserves. The Union could have easily mobilized another 100,000 men if they had to.


This elegant raider and a number like it sunk hundreds of Union commercial ships around the world. It is true that the Union Navy had more ships than the Royal Navy in 1865, but did that include riverboats operated by the Army? Overall the British blue water fleet was superior to that of the US in 1865. However it's not relevant because a war with Britain would not drag on that long. A blockade of Northern ports would force Lincoln to bargain. Many outcomes are possible. What Palmerston wanted was Southern cotton and perhaps to humiliate this country bumpkin (Palmerston's view) who happened to be President of the United States. At the time Lincoln was not committed to ending slavery in the South. All I can say is that a tight blockade of Northern ports would not be tolerable for long and Lincoln would either have to accept Southern Independence or resign.
 
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Nov 2011
8,889
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
#7
A couple of concerns about the Royal Navy.
1. Those early steam engines were grossly inefficient, consuming lots of coal for very little distance sailed. Britain was able to operate steam ships in the Crimea, but I don't know if they could sustain a large force in North American waters. How much coal did Canada produce back then?
2. During the war the US Navy grew larger than the Royal Navy by 1865, but then quickly shrank back to its pre-war size. While the RN was larger than the USN in 1861, would it still be larger in 1865?
3. During the CW the USN was at the forefront of several important naval technologies - steam propulsion, screw propellers, rotating turrets, iron clads. I'm not so sure the RN had a technological advantage. The RN was an inherently conservative institution. Yes, they did build the world's first (or second?) ironclad warship but it was incapable of sailing across the Atlantic on steam alone and had to use sails most of the time for added range.
4. At some point prior to 1860 Britain had become a food importing nation. Guess where most of that food came from? The Northern US states. Southern cotton was important to the British economy but so was Northern grain.
5. During the war the Northern states never fully tapped their manpower reserves. The Union could have easily mobilized another 100,000 men if they had to.

1. Britain had coaling stations throughout the world, both military ones and commercial ones on British territory, mainly supplied by colliers in many cases from Britain. In the Americas there were RN coaling stations in Halifax, St John's, Bermuda, Trinidad and Barbados . It was this strategic network of bases that gave Britain command of the seas--the USN was permitted to coal ship at British ports and without that facility they would have had no East Indies or China station until after the Spanish American war--the CSS Alabama also used the facilities.
While HMS Warrior only had a range of 2100 miles under full steam, it and its sister ships were designed as frigates for European waters, a number of the wooden hulled Steam ships of the line could make the transatlantic run on full steam, however the tactical thinking at the time was that steam would only be used for extra speed in battle or to manoeuvre against the wind. Commercial ships also already crossed the Atlantic on full steam and the Great Eastern (1859) could circumnavigate the globe without refueling.

2. The US Navy had, as you are aware, just 43 serviceable vessels in 1861 and 626 by wars end, but the vast majority of these were pressed riverboats and converted barges with some metal plates attached, actual purpose build monitors numbered just 65 again suitable for river fighting and littoral action, but not a match for an ocean going ship of the line with 40 Armstrong guns. I can't find the numbers of sloops of war and frigates the Union Navy had in 1865, but it is on this site somewhere--in 1861 the RN had 348 vessels on charge with 49 under construction.

3. The US was absolutely not in the forefront of any naval technology at that time, quite the reverse, apart from the Swede John Ericcson, who moved to America when the RN turned down his screw propeller design and rather adopted Francis Petit-Smith's design, although they had earlier also turned that down. I can't think of any technical edge in steam engines either, in fact the poor quality and unreliabilty of American built steam engines was a scandal of the time, we've all read about the riverboats that blew up and reading up the career of the San Jactino before the Trent Affair is informative. One cannot put a turret on a ship that still retains it's sail masts, the RN was playing with turrets for small patrol boats, but did not fit them on a major warship until 1868. HMS Warrior an Black Prince were not "Ironclads", they were purpose-built armoured ships with iron hulls backed by teak.

4. Yes the main reason didn't antagonise the Union government was trade, the alternative to US wheat was France & Russia, but they were both unreliable and could turn nasty at any time. But even more important is that British business was the biggest investor in the USA and the banks had millions tied up in US railways and manufacturing concerns
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,382
#8
A couple of concerns about the Royal Navy.
1. Those early steam engines were grossly inefficient, consuming lots of coal for very little distance sailed. Britain was able to operate steam ships in the Crimea, but I don't know if they could sustain a large force in North American waters. How much coal did Canada produce back then?
2. During the war the US Navy grew larger than the Royal Navy by 1865, but then quickly shrank back to its pre-war size. While the RN was larger than the USN in 1861, would it still be larger in 1865?
3. During the CW the USN was at the forefront of several important naval technologies - steam propulsion, screw propellers, rotating turrets, iron clads. I'm not so sure the RN had a technological advantage. The RN was an inherently conservative institution. Yes, they did build the world's first (or second?) ironclad warship but it was incapable of sailing across the Atlantic on steam alone and had to use sails most of the time for added range.
4. At some point prior to 1860 Britain had become a food importing nation. Guess where most of that food came from? The Northern US states. Southern cotton was important to the British economy but so was Northern grain.
5. During the war the Northern states never fully tapped their manpower reserves. The Union could have easily mobilized another 100,000 men if they had to.
The Royal Navy had quite a number of steam warships. Royal Navy conservatism is overstated. It was often first with the inoovation., and certinaly was not sitting around, guns, Armour, turrets, steam were are being developed. In no way behind the US or otehr nations at this time.

HMS Royal Sovereign (1857) - Wikipedia
HMS Warrior (1860) - Wikipedia
HMS Royal Oak (1862) - Wikipedia
HMS Scorpion (1863) - Wikipedia
Defence-class ironclad - Wikipedia
HMS Achilles (1863) - Wikipedia
HMS Wivern (1863) - Wikipedia
HMS Royal Alfred (1864) - Wikipedia
HMS Prince Albert (1864) - Wikipedia
Minotaur-class ironclad - Wikipedia
HMS Monarch (1868) - Wikipedia
HMS Devastation (1871) - Wikipedia



https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/2ebm7b
"Rates the US navy in 1870 as the third most powerful navy in the world, after Britain and France, and a little less than half as powerful as the Royal Navy.
Of course by 1870, the US navy had already lost strength compared to its peak in 1865.
I got a slightly different count for the number of US warships in 1865 than RandomBritishGuy. This source: Answers - The Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions
Gives US navy warships in 1865 at 471 warships.
This source: Organisation, Strength, and Cost of the English and French Navies in 1865 on JSTOR
Gives Royal Navy ships in 1865 at 540 ships.
As RandomBritishGuy says, however, the Royal Navy ships were generally larger and more powerful.
The Royal Navy was a more powerful Blue Water Navy by far, but it might have had a tough fight against the Union Navy in coastal and riverine waters when the Union Navy was at the height of its strength in 1865."


1862foreignnavies

"Merely a name list of the British navy's vessels in 1860 would be sufficient to make the point that their fleet was an overwhelming force. In specifics, the inventory included fifty-three steam ships of the line (60 to 131 guns and 2400 to 4200 tons), plus twenty-one on the ineffective list. (The United States had no steam liners.) There were 128 steam cruising vessels -- corvettes, sloops and frigates -- plus ten sailing ships of the line and an equal number of sailing frigates and sloops. Screw and paddle-wheel gunboats of 2 to 6 guns numbered 197."
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#9
4. Yes the main reason didn't antagonise the Union government was trade, the alternative to US wheat was France & Russia, but they were both unreliable and could turn nasty at any time. But even more important is that British business was the biggest investor in the USA and the banks had millions tied up in US railways and manufacturing concerns
This raises an interesting point. The balanced letter written by Prince Albert and signed by the Queen is rejected by Lincoln. What does Palmerston do? It seems he must go to war or look incredibly weak.
 
#10
The Confederacy was WINNING the war on the ground in December 1862.

First and Second Manassas

Perryville

Fredericksburg

And Pittsburg Landing and Sharpsburg were inconclusive at best for the Lincolnites.



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Won't let me edit, so Revise and Extend.

Stonewall Jackson and his threadbare Army of the Valley spent the Spring and summer of 1862 in almost continuous combat up and down the Valley of Virginia, humiliating three union generals, despite being outnumbered nearly 3:1.

George McClellan, the Smartest Man In The Room, was humiliated on the Peninsula in the Army of Northern Virginia's first campaign, and failed to defeat Lee at the rematch at Sharpsburg.

Burnside fared even worse at Fredericksburg and the Mud March.

Bragg, as inept as he was, actually won at Perryville.

By December 1862, the only "star" in the union constellation was Grant. His sole claim to fame was capturing two forts and stalling off complete disaster at Pittsburg Landing.

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