The American Civil War in Britain

by Thomas E. Sebrell II

Relations between London and Washington at the outbreak of the American Civil War were neither strained nor harmonious. While Britain and the United States, both North and South, had developed vital and profitable trade ties since the end of the War of 1812, the two governments remained skeptical of each other’s long-term intentions, allowing both Anglophobia and anti-American sentiment to remain rife, albeit “controlled.”

The mid-19th century saw both countries rapidly industrializing, and although this created competition between the two world powers, it also allowed them to boost each other’s economies. British and Northern industrialists were exchanging patents and ideas, firm trade links had been forged, and shipments of corn and wheat were steadily traversing the Atlantic. Similarly, Britain was one of the South’s most prolific tobacco purchasers, while cotton was shipped to England so regularly that the north-western county of Lancashire became the cotton-spinning capital of the world and was reliant almost exclusively on cotton from the South. Britain and the whole of the United States, therefore, were reliant on each other economically by 1860.

When news of South Carolina’s secession from the Union arrived in London in January 1861, feelings were mixed.[1] British concerns ranged from a potential disruption of trade to how Canada (then known as British North America) might be affected, as well as effect on the British Empire as a whole. While a decision regarding the British government’s position concerning the American situation remained undisclosed at this early stage, many government officials privately sided with the secessionists. That month Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell wrote in a letter to his minister to Washington, Lord Lyons, “The best thing now would be that the right to secede should be acknowledged, & that there should be a separation.”[2]

One particular institution, however, made favoring the Confederacy rather difficult for many prominent Britons—slavery, a practice which had been abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. Furthermore, anti-slavery sentiments had grown steadily in the American North since 1820 and many Britons suspected the Southern states’ secession from the US was done so with the sole purpose of protecting the future of the South’s peculiar institution from the threat of abolition. For Whitehall, there was also the question of whether the Confederacy might wish to reopen the transatlantic slave trade, which had ended in 1807. Skepticism about the South became more rampant as these and similar questions arose.

The British, however, were also not terribly keen on the American North. Anti-British sentiment was far more often expressed in this region of the US than in the South, owing to both industrial rivalry, and its sizeable Irish immigrant population.

Although the majority of Britons were adamantly in opposition to slavery, many were uncertain during the secession crisis as to whether or not it was the root of disruption. Lincoln’s inaugural address in March 1861, in which he stated that he had no intention to interfere with the peculiar institution anywhere it existed and that he had no right to do so, convinced the British press, and therefore many British politicians and subjects, that slavery was not at the heart of the debate. Rather, it appeared that the newly-established Confederacy was simply on the precipice of fighting for what many perceived to be its democratic right of independence from Washington. This potentially paved the way for eventual British involvement on the South’s behalf without Her Majesty’s Government appearing to support a slave regime. Britain decided at this early stage to refrain from recognizing the Confederates’ full independence, instead opting to declare their rights as belligerents. Under international law this meant that captured Southern soldiers would have to be treated as prisoners of war and not charged and tried for treason against the United States, and that the Confederates would be permitted to purchase arms and supplies from foreign countries, including from Britain even after the Queen’s Act of Neutrality was issued at the war’s commencement.

After the start of the conflict, Confederate leaders realized they would likely need foreign assistance in order to win their war for independence, similar to France’s intervention in the Revolutionary War. But the South could be aided tremendously by Britain without foreign recognition. As the Confederacy lacked industrial capacity almost entirely, the government in Richmond dispatched a number of agents to Britain to procure what could not be readily produced at home.

The start of the war in April alarmed Britons, as did to an even greater degree Lincoln’s ordering of the naval blockade of the entire Southern coastline. This strategy was implemented for two reasons – to destroy the Confederacy’s economy by preventing the trade of cotton and tobacco with Europe and to prevent the latter from supplying the former with munitions of war. With north-western England’s massive cotton-spinning industry under threat of losing nearly all of its supply of cotton, the war did suddenly become of great concern to Britain. Furthermore, British consuls remained stationed at Southern ports after the Confederacy was created. Regardless of how the war impacted Britain from its onset, the Queen’s Proclamation of Neutrality, issued in May 1861, threatened to prosecute any British subject participating in the conflict either through combat or the construction naval ships for either side.

Although this meant Britain would largely stay out of the war directly, it certainly did not prevent either North or South from exporting their war to the British Isles. At the start of the war, the leaders of the predominantly agricultural Confederacy realized they were in a nearly-identical situation to that of the American colonists at the commencement of the War of Independence. The South had a mere third of the manpower compared with that of the North, which also dominated the United States’ industrial output capable of producing weapons of war. The construction of arms factories commenced immediately, but it was clear to the Confederate Congress that procurement of arms from Europe was required for victory. Consequently, the South sent numerous agents abroad for this purpose, with most heading to Britain, working mainly in Liverpool, Glasgow and London.

In the decades prior to the war, the American South had forged deep connections with Liverpool. The extensive trade of Southern cotton saw countless cargo ships delivering the valuable staple from Southern ports. From Liverpool, the bales of cotton were then distributed to the numerous spinning mills scattered throughout Lancashire and Cheshire. Cotton, therefore, was not only the most prominent economic force in the American South, but also in Liverpool and other areas of north-west England. Consequently, the two regions became largely reliant on each other.

By the start of the war in 1861, numerous Southern cotton trading firms had established offices in Liverpool to oversee this trade. When the blockade of the entire Confederate coastline was implemented, however, these agents were suddenly cut off from their partners based in Southern ports. Lincoln’s decision to implement the blockade put the economy of north-west England at great risk. Nevertheless, Whitehall remained committed to its firm stance of neutrality at this early stage of the war. But Southern agents in Liverpool had plans of their own.

Realizing they would see very little business activity, these Southern cotton traders began exploring ways in which they could help their home states win independence from Washington, which would, ultimately, hopefully, restore the cotton trade to a state of normalcy.

Charles Kuhn Prioleau and J. H. Ashbridge became the most active in orchestrating Confederate activities in Merseyside. While the latter became a dealer in Confederate securities, Prioleau’s plans were far more daring and dangerous – running ships through the Union blockade carrying cargoes of war munitions bought by Confederate agents stationed throughout Britain and other areas of Europe to Southern ports.

Blockade-running involved numerous shallow-draft, light ships powered by steam and large paddle wheels leaving chiefly from the Rivers Mersey and Clyde for, initially, the British ports of Bermuda or Nassau. From there, the ships proceeded towards the Confederate coast, scheduled to run through the US Navy’s blockade under the cover of darkness on moonless nights. This rather risky business drew interest not only from Southerners based in Merseyside, but also British merchants and sailors excited by the ample financial reward for those who ran the blockade successfully. Consequently, a number of Liverpudlian mercantile companies, many rooted in the cotton trade, became involved in blockade running.

Not all merchant companies in Liverpool were pro-Confederate, as many had ties with the North through the corn and wheat trades. However, a majority favored the South. Recognizing the close ties Liverpool had with the South through trade, Northern leaders knew there was a risk the Confederates would exploit this sympathy in the form of orchestrating blockade running and possibly even constructing naval vessels. Lincoln appointed Thomas H. Dudley as United States Consul for the Port of Liverpool to conduct a campaign of espionage there.

While most Southern agents sent to Liverpool and Glasgow were responsible for commissioning the construction of naval vessels for the Confederate Navy and orchestrating the running of supplies through the blockade, those sent to London were charged with different tasks acting as agents for purchasing, diplomatic and commercial purposes.

Two prominent Southern agents in London were Caleb Huse and Matthew Fontaine Maury. Their partnership started very poorly. Although Maury, owing to his internationally-recognized contributions to oceanography, was well-respected in London, Huse was disappointed in his work, specifically complaining that Maury spoke too freely about his operations in the capital’s social circles. The Confederate Government, therefore, reassigned Maury to Manchester, where he carried out the same task but often had the same problem of not being secretive enough about his activities. Caleb Huse, on the other hand, succeeded in purchasing over £10 million worth of rifles, artillery pieces and other weaponry, all of which was sent to the port cities of Liverpool and Glasgow to be run through the blockade. Approximately three of four such ships succeeded in making their deliveries for the first three years of the war. Benjamin Ficklin was dispatched to London as a purchasing agent, with most assignments in the British capital involving the printing of the South’s postal stamps and the Confederate Government’s stationary.

William Yancey, of Alabama, was chosen to be the principal Confederate Commissioner to London.

Perhaps the most interesting Confederate agent sent to Britain during the war was Henry Hotze, whose task it was to deal in propaganda and lobbying.

Abraham Lincoln, realizing the necessity of keeping Britain from forming an alliance with the Confederacy, and ultimately preventing their entry into the war, was very careful with his choice of Minister to London. One of his greatest obstacles as far as staying on friendly terms with Whitehall was actually his own Secretary of State, William Seward. Seward was unpopular and distrusted in Britain because of his openly-hostile language, and well-known anti-British sentiments, making the role of the US Minister to London that much more vital.

Lincoln appointed Charles Francis Adams, the son of sixth US President John Quincy Adams and grandson of second President John Adams, as United States Minister to London in 1861. Adams’ appointment as US Minister to London was a wise decision, as both his father and grandfather had previously held the same position, and so he had spent some of his formative years in London developing a strong knowledge of the British people.

Adams’ role was most crucial in the Union war effort – ambassador to a country which generally distrusted the United States, the newly-formed Republican Party, the Union war effort (which many British tended to view as one of “violent conquest”), Lincoln and, of course, Seward. The latter’s role as Secretary of State was to correspond with other countries’ governments, and in London it was Adams’ role to present his communications to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell. This often required rewording Seward’s letters. Adams’ great talent for conveying Seward’s harsh words in amiable ways was crucial in preventing the tense, and often strained Anglo-American relations from boiling over. Joining Adams in London was his son, Henry, who served as his secretary. In a letter to his brother during the war, Henry Adams clearly expressed the difficulty he and his father had in London throughout the conflict – “We have friends here, but very few.”[3]

By the end of 1861, the Confederates were not pleased with their commissioner’s ineffectiveness, and decided to replace William Yancey with James Murray Mason, the grandson of American Founding Father George Mason, as Confederate Commissioner to London. Although Mason managed to successfully run the blockade to Cuba, while enroute to Southampton, England, aboard the British mail steamer RMS Trent he was taken prisoner together with the new Southern Commissioner to Paris, John Slidell, by the USS San Jacinto, which illegally stopped and boarded the Trent in international waters.

Britons were outraged upon hearing the news of the Trent affair, their anger being fuelled by anti-American London-based newspapers. Fortunately for Lincoln, Parliament was not in session at the time of the incident. However, Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary respectively, were so angered that they wrote a hostile letter intended for Washington demanding the release of the Confederate prisoners, a prompt apology for the incident, an expression of disgust for the actions of the US Navy, and insisted that these demands be fulfilled within three weeks or the North faced war with Britain. The draft ultimatum was forwarded to Queen Victoria recommending that she demand reparation and redress. Prince Albert, the Queen’s husband, who exclaimed, “This means war!” upon seeing the letter, responded for her.[4] He redrafted the letter to state that Britain felt the American naval officer responsible for the affair was acting without orders, and that Her Majesty’s Government was aware that the US would never show such hostility or disrespect with a country with which she was at peace. By crafting the letter so carefully, Prince Albert created a loophole the Lincoln administration could use so as to avoid responsibility for the event. The demand for the release of the two prisoners remained, however, and Lincoln elected to concede, realizing risking war with Britain at such a crucial stage of the Civil War was simply too risky. Simultaneously, a letter from John Bright to William Seward warned him of a probable war between Great Britain and the United States if Lincoln did not give into the demands. “At all hazards, you must not let this matter grow to a war with England,” he wrote. “Even if you are right and we are wrong, war will be fatal to your idea of restoring the union.”[5]

The two Confederate commissioners were sent to Southampton in January 1862, where they were given a near-hero’s welcome. As a result of the Trent affair, many Britons who were previously neutral towards the events occurring on the other side of the Atlantic became firmly anti-North.

James Murray Mason was far better received in the British aristocratic and upper-class social circles than was the previous Confederate Commissioner, frequently being invited to dinners, banquets and other social engagements. He was no more successful, however, in persuading Lord John Russell to intervene on behalf of the South or to grant the Confederacy recognition as an independent nation. The Foreign Secretary only held one informal meeting with Mason, where he refused to accept Mason’s diplomatic papers owing to the fact that Britain had not recognized the existence of the Confederacy.

The Lincoln administration’s fears of Confederate shipbuilding on the Mersey were well-founded. In 1861, the Confederate Government dispatched Georgian James Dunwoody Bulloch to Liverpool to oversee the construction of naval vessels. The following March a powerful, fast warship called the Oreto, constructed at Liverpool’s Toxteth Dock by British shipbuilder W. C. Miller & Sons, set sail for the Atlantic. Five months later the ship was commissioned by the Confederate Navy and renamed the CSS Florida.

Shortly after seeing the Florida set sail, Bulloch secured a contract with John Laird, a pro-Confederate Member of Parliament and owner of a prominent shipbuilding company across the River Mersey in Birkenhead, to construct a powerful naval vessel. Building warships for either belligerent was a violation of the Queen’s Act of Neutrality. The ship was purposefully not armed while in Britain, so as to prevent it being classed as a warship. In July 1862 the ship, at that point named the Enrica, set sail under the British flag and left the Mersey. The following month the Enrica reached the Azores, where it was armed and re-christened with a new name – the CSS Alabama. Dudley, along with his counterparts in Washington, was furious.

Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that most of the Alabama’s crew was, in fact, British—a violation of the declared neutrality of Great Britain. In October 1862, one Liverpudlian crewman wrote a letter to the Liverpool Mercury:

It would be an endless task for me to attempt to give you even an outline of the fearful havoc we have committed among the Yankee vessels since we left the shores of the Mersey, or of the destruction of many splendid ships, of which not one plank was left fastened to another. Previous to the 20th of this month our prize-money alone was worth from £400 to £500 a man. So I am looking forward to the day when I shall return to Liverpool, and, relieved from the drudgery of a sea life, spend my remaining years in peace and contentment beneath the shadow of the extended wings of the Liver.[6]

The London American, the Union propaganda newspaper printed in London, responded angrily to the revelation of Confederate naval ships being built in Liverpool. In an article printed in October 1862 titled, “What Constitutes Piracy?” the newspaper stated:

Let the men at Liverpool and Glasgow who are working day and night to fit out privateers for the slave-holding rebels, learn what was the opinion formerly held by Lord Brougham of such transactions. This is what he once declared: - “If any persons, subjects of England, fit out a vessel against another country with which the English are at peace, that constitutes a piratical act; and the men so interfering, if captured, would be hanged.”[7]

Confederate activity in Britain had a growing social dimension in 1862. By early that year, Liverpudlian and pro-Southern propagandist James Spence’s book The American Union, which argued that the South’s secessionist campaign was ethical and in Britain’s interests, had become very popular throughout Britain within the aristocratic and upper-class circles.[8]

In July 1862, the Liverpool Southern Club was formed. The club was formed for two reasons – to increase the popularity of the Confederacy in Liverpool, and to raise funds to aid the purchasing of supplies for the South’s armies and navy and to slip them through the blockade. The Index, the Confederate propaganda journal based in London edited by Henry Hotze, said of the society, “Thanks to such organized and united efforts, the Southerners in Europe have been enabled to contribute in no small degree to the results of the battles waged across the ocean, while raising their country’s character in the eyes of foreigners.”[9]

By 1862, many of the London-based newspapers were openly-hostile towards the North. Indeed, sympathy for the Southern cause had become more prevalent in the capital. Even many people in London who did not favor the South felt that the North’s objective of restoring the Union was impossible, and consequently felt the war’s aims were only resulting in needless bloodshed. Confederate Commercial Agent Henry Hotze felt that sympathy for the South had grown strong enough that the Confederacy should establish a newspaper of its own in the British capital. With this in mind, the Alabamian snuck through the blockade and met with the Confederate Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter, to plea the case for such a journal. Hunter was skeptical, but agreed to finance a weekly newspaper for a year-long trial period. Hotze returned to London and on May 1, 1862 the Confederacy’s broadsheet was first published, titled, The Index.

Hotze’s newspaper’s inception could not have come at a more opportune time, as May 1862 was also when New Orleans, the Confederacy’s largest city, fell to Union forces. Although this was certainly a military defeat for the South, it proved to be a great opportunity for The Index to gain prominence. Union General Benjamin Butler assumed command of the occupied city and issued the infamous “Woman’s Order,” stating that any woman who showed any sign of disrespect towards officers of soldiers of the United States “by word, gesture, or movement” would be arrested and treated as a prostitute.[10] Shortly after, he announced that he would not recognize the legitimacy of the British consulate in the port city. These events gave Hotze exactly the sort of stories The Index needed in order to paint Northerners as barbarians and Southerners as victims of a vicious invasion. Almost instantly, The Index was a well-known journal in London, even described by Lord Campbell in Parliament as “a more lively and dramatic view of that extraordinary contest than any other source of printed information.”[11] As a result of Londoners wanting to learn the Southern perspectives of the war’s events, the journal’s subscription list began expanding rapidly.

While The Index grew in popularity, the opposite was true of The London American, where subscription numbers began to plummet. As sympathy for the South continued to spread in 1862, the pro-Union journal became, in addition to anti-Confederate, rather anti-British. John Adams Knight’s weekly frequently attacked the monarchy, the established Church of England, the British aristocracy, and even suggested scrapping the Houses of Parliament for a United States-style Congressional system. Additionally, the Fenian Movement in Ireland won praise from The London American. Upon the United States Navy’s decision to build dozens of ironclad ships that summer, Knight’s journal boldly stated that “all the wooden walls of Old England succumbed” to the new era of iron, before stating:

We have conquered a rebellion extending over a territory greater in area than that of England and France combined. We at the same time…have improvised a navy of sufficient force, and an army of six hundred thousand men to accomplish it. This army we can double in sixty days’ time if the necessity for so doing should arise, which God forbid; but those who venture upon the doubtful experiment of provoking a war with the United States, under the delusion that we are helpless, owing to the prevalence of the rebellion, had better count the cost before doing it.[12]

Indeed, The London American was losing so much money owing to loss of subscriptions that Knight wrote letters directly to President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward asking for financial assistance required to keep the journal afloat. In his letters, he argued that it was necessary for a pro-Union newspaper to exist in London owing to “those foreign journals, which sympathize with the unholy attempt to dismember our Union have been generously subsidized from the Rebel purse.”[13] Seward agreed with Knight, but Lincoln would not act, and so financial aid from Washington was not made available to The London American. Consequently, Knight travelled to the American North and went on a speaking tour to raise money for the journal’s continuance.

Simultaneously, the South appeared to be winning the war during the summer and early autumn of 1862. A Union advance on Richmond had been hurled back, the Confederates won a major victory at Manassas, Virginia, followed by their invasion of the North. In fact, the situation appeared so desperate for the Union cause that in September Lord Palmerston wrote to Lord John Russell, expressing his desire to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation. The Foreign Secretary responded:

I agree with you that the time is come for offering mediation to the United States Govt with a view to the recognition of the independence of the Confederates. I agree further that in case of failure we ought ourselves to recognise the Southern States, as an Independent State.[14]

A date was set for a Cabinet meeting to formally decide on the matter early the next month, but by then news arrived of the battle of Antietam, which resulted in the Confederate army retreating back into Virginia, followed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Palmerston argued that it was unwise for Britain to offer mediation unless the South was clearly winning, and so deferred the decision over intervention until a Cabinet meeting in the spring of 1863.

Response in Britain to the Emancipation Proclamation was certainly mixed. The majority of the aristocratic and upper-classes openly condemned the Emancipation Proclamation owing to its freeing slaves only in areas of the United States in rebellion against the Union, and maintaining the institution in all areas under Union control in addition to allowing regions under Confederate occupation to maintain slavery should they re-join the Union by January 1, 1863. The mainstream British press, therefore, accused Lincoln of rewarding slavery for loyalty, and removing it as a punishment for disloyalty. Lord John Russell publically disapproved of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he referred to as an illegal decree and blatant violation of the US Constitution.

Membership of the London Emancipation Society, on the other hand, grew tremendously. However, the majority of members were of working-class backgrounds, unable to vote, and therefore were not influential members of London society, although this did not stop them from voicing their concerns. In addition to holding frequent meetings in the Strand’s Exeter Hall and St. James’s Hall in Piccadilly, the group sent a party to raid a Confederate States Aid Association meeting in Fitzrovia in December 1862.

Confederate Commissioner James M. Mason continued to make acquaintances with London’s elite, even being invited to give a speech at Mansion House by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir William Rose, in February 1863. The following week, London’s Emancipation Society met at St. James’s Hall where George Thompson, a subscriber of The London American, motioned for a resolution condemning the Lord Mayor for having met Mason, who Thompson branded as “so black a felon, so dire an enemy of God and man,” as a guest.[15]

Early 1863 was a rather bleak period for the Union cause in London. John Adams Knight returned from an unsuccessful fundraising tour of the American North only to discover that the staff member he had placed in charge of The London American during his absence had taken a huge portion of the journal’s earnings and fled the country. Desperate to keep the newspaper afloat, he arranged for hundreds of free issues to be delivered to economically deprived areas in east and south London, containing articles encouraging the working classes to rise up and start a French Revolution-style movement against the upper classes and aristocrats, and painting the war to liberate the slave in America as going hand-in-hand with a future conflict to liberate the working man in Britain. The plan failed, and Knight’s newspaper went out of business in March 1863, leaving the North without a propaganda organ in the British capital.

By mid-1863, Charles K. Prioleau and James D. Bulloch carried on financing the construction of naval vessels on the Mersey, only the latter wanted to build ships capable of far more destruction – ironclad rams. But 1863 would prove to be less favorable for Confederates in Liverpool. Although two vessels destined for the South’s navy were built in Laird’s shipyard, they were detained by the British Government in October 1863 at the decision of Foreign Secretary Earl Russell upon his realization that he could not turn a blind eye to the fact that the piercing rams protruding below the waterline at the ships’ bows could only mean the vessels were fitted for war. Additionally, US Consul to Liverpool Thomas H. Dudley and Charles Francis Adams, the US Minister to London, who were both fully-aware of the power of the Laird Rams, as they were called, made very clear to Russell that their escape to sea to prey on US ships could easily lead to a state of war between Britain and the United States. At last, Dudley was able to effectively execute the tasks Lincoln had assigned him.

Earlier in the same year pro-Union activities became louder, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, bringing the issue of slavery directly into the war. Simultaneously, Northern merchant ships arrived in Liverpool loaded with barrels of flour to be distributed throughout Lancashire, which was suffering from the cotton shortage owing to the Union blockade preventing cotton from arriving at Liverpool and numerous Lancastrian mills consequently shutting. Additionally, that January a meeting occurred at the Liverpool’s Clarendon Hotel where a resolution was adopted by numerous Liverpudlians endorsing the Emancipation Proclamation. Another anti-slavery meeting chaired by John Cowper was held at the Royal Court Theatre the following month, though it was interrupted by a strong pro-Confederate contingent. In fact, the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce remained pro-Southern in 1863. During a meeting early that year, both MPs for the city, Thomas Berry Horsfall and Joseph Ewart, although declaring themselves as pro-emancipation, re-proclaimed their disdain for the blockade and openly advocated a Southern victory. Ewart went so far as to say:

I think the time is rapidly approaching when the Northern States ought to bow to what I believe to be the general opinion of Europe, and allow her erring sister – if she so consider her – to go in peace. I am as strong an advocate as any man can be for negro emancipation, but if the abolition of slavery is to be the real object of this war, I am afraid they are attempting to promote immediate freedom at too great a sacrifice of human life.

His words were met with cheers of, ‘Hear! Hear!’[16]

In spite of much of the city’s ruling classes maintaining pro-Confederate sympathies, the increased activities in support of the North and detainment of the Laird Rams convinced Bulloch to transfer the South’s naval shipbuilding and fitting to Glasgow in 1864. The summer of that year, the Mersey-built Confederate warships, the Florida and Alabama, were both sank at sea. After preying on the US merchant fleet in the Atlantic for two years, the ships took a combined 65 prizes. When they set sail in the summer of 1862, over half of all merchant ships sailing in the Atlantic flew the “Stars & Stripes.” By the time the Florida and Alabama sank two years later, that figure had been reduced to 27%.

Adding to the South’s difficulties in Britain, the Confederate Government recalled Commissioner James M. Mason from London that autumn in protest against the Palmerston Government’s unwillingness to aid the South’s diplomatic and military efforts. Now the British capital lacked a Southern ambassador.

Although 1863 had some discouraging moments for the Southern campaign in Britain, it did witness a more organized pro-Confederate movement in London. That autumn the Southern Independence Association (SIA) was formed in Manchester. By December, there were branches scattered throughout Britain and Ireland, with the London chapter being most prominent. A. J. B. Beresford-Hope was named Chairman, and he sought a London SIA membership that would include “a systematic canvass of men of influence, MPs, peers, litterateurs, city men.”[17] In spite of the long list of esteemed gentlemen patrons of the SIA, it was doomed to fail owing to its members’ strong anti-slavery attitudes. Confederates based in Britain and British sympathizers like the SIA failed to work together as a result.

Although by 1864 the majority of those in Britain felt the South remained unconquerable, the pro-Confederate movement began to weaken. Realizing the Southern Independence Association had become ineffective, Reverend Francis Tremlett, vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Belsize Park, London, formed a new group consisting almost exclusively of Church of England clergymen – the Society for Promoting a Cessation of Hostilities in America. This new society met with Lord Palmerston asking him to intervene in the war in the name of peace, not for Confederate recognition. Palmerston said he agreed with them in heart and mind, but insisted it was pointless to get involved, as Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were more entrenched than ever and determined to fight to the end. Shortly after the meeting, the Society disbanded.

There was a brief resurgence of pro-Southern sympathy in Liverpool that autumn when it was decided that the city would host a five-day-long “Confederate Bazaar,” with the aim of raising money to provide food and blankets for Southern soldiers held captive in Northern prison camps. Although organized by prominent members of the Liverpool Southern Club, in addition to numerous members of the Southern Independence Association, the event was largely orchestrated by women. Liverpudlian Mary Elizabeth Prioleau, the wife of Confederate financier Charles K. Prioleau, served as the official hostess of the Bazaar. Assisting her were the wives of other Confederate agents and numerous officers of the SIA, and the event was attended by thousands of people representing all classes from Liverpool, Lancashire and Cheshire. Simultaneously, J. H. Ashbridge created the Southern Prisoners’ Relief Fund, allowing Britons from all over the country unable to attend the Bazaar at Liverpool to send cheques supporting the cause. Combined, over £21,000 was raised. US Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, however, refused to accept the funds, in spite of the campaign’s being backed by Charles Francis Adams. The event demonstrated that there was continued British sympathy for the Southern cause.

During its evacuation of Richmond at war’s end, members of the Confederate cabinet attempted to escape from America for Britain, and two succeeded: Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin and Secretary of War George Wythe Randolph. Although Randolph went back to Virginia the following year, Benjamin never returned to the United States.

1865, the final year of the conflict, saw continued American Civil War-related activities in Merseyside. Early in that year, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory wrote a letter to James D. Bulloch requesting a large sum of money for an undisclosed purpose. It is possible that Bulloch was unaware of the fact that the funds he subsequently sent from Liverpool to Richmond were intended to provide financial assistance for the tentative plans of kidnapping Abraham Lincoln and his subsequent transport to Virginia as a prisoner. It was this strategy which changed radically so as to result in the assassination of the President in April 1865, just two weeks after the Confederate capital fell to Union forces. One of the conspirators, John Surratt, fled persecution by escaping to Montreal before arriving in Liverpool that September. The following month, he fled to the continent and was arrested in Italy in 1866. After a mistrial, he was acquitted for his role in the Lincoln assassination plot.

A little-known fact is that the American Civil War “ended” in Merseyside, the final Confederate surrender. In the summer of 1865, the CSS Shenandoah; a one-time tea clipper refitted in Glasgow as a Southern war-ship, was sinking US whaling vessels in the Pacific Ocean when a passing British ship delivered news of the war’s ending months earlier. Fearing persecution for piracy, owing to the conflict having ended and British recognition of Confederate forces as belligerents revoked, Captain James Waddell opted to not surrender to US authorities and instead circumnavigated the globe, reaching the River Mersey in November. On November 6, 1865, the surrender of the Shenandoah was formally recognized by British authorities, and the last hostile Confederate flag was lowered. Upon paroling the ship’s crew, each British sailor claimed to be Southern and was released.

For Liverpool, the effects of the war were heavily felt even beyond the end of the bloody conflict. As early as 1864, Washington had been pressing Whitehall for compensation for damages suffered to the United States merchant fleet at the hands of the British-built Confederate warships Florida, Alabama and Shenandoah. Before the war’s end, Britain refused all calls for compensation, but when demands continued after the conflict came to a close, a tribunal was created which resulted in Britain’s paying £3.5 million ($15,500,000) in compensation to the United States.

Another hangover from the war was the presence of Confederate agents who never returned to America, instead living the rest of their days in Liverpool. One of them, James D. Bulloch, was visited relatively frequently by his nephew, a young Teddy Roosevelt. This future US President credited his “Uncle Jimmie” for influencing his early interests in the navy. Bulloch told his nephew repeatedly that the most powerful country in the world must have the most powerful fleet. Roosevelt eventually became US Secretary of the Navy, and upon becoming President constructed a large naval fleet of battleships.

Henry Hotze decided to keep publishing The Index, making it a publication lobbying in favor of expanding the British Empire in the name of white supremacy, arguing that doing so would spread civilization around the globe. Londoners, however, lost interest in the newspaper as soon as the war ended. For this reason, combined with the fact that the Confederate Government no longer existed and therefore could no longer subsidize the journal, Hotze closed shop and moved to the continent. He never returned to the United States and died in his native Switzerland.

The American Civil War in Britain was conducted on many fronts – economic, diplomatic, social, propaganda, espionage and the supplying of the means to wage war. Sympathy for the South and North waxed and waned throughout the course of the war. The Confederacy’s failure to achieve its two most important objectives in Britain, obtaining formal recognition and direct intervention in the war by Her Majesty’s Government, was a significant contributor to ultimate defeat of the South.

  • [1] As the transatlantic telegraph cable was disconnected for the entirety of the Civil War, news could take up to three weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
  • [2] Russell to Lyons, Russell Papers, Public Record Office, 30/22/96, 10 Jan. 1861.  
  • [3] J. C. Levenson, Ernest Samuels, Charles Vandersee, & Viola Hopkins Winner (eds.), The Letters of Henry Adams, Vol. I: 1858-1868 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 263-4.
  •   [4] Weintraub, Stanley.  Albert: Uncrowned King (London: John Murray Publishers, 1997), 418.
  • [5] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone: Vol. II (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1903), 58.  
  • [6] “On Board the Alabama”, The Index, 11 Dec. 1862, reprinted from the Liverpool Mercury, 30 October 1862.
  • [7] “What Constitutes Piracy?” The London American, 15 Oct. 1862.
  • [8] James Spence, The American Union: It's Effect on National Character and Policy, with an Inquiry into Secession as a Constitutional Right, and the Causes of the Disruption (London: Richard Bentley, 1861).  
  • [9] “Southern Patriotism in Europe”, The Index, 17 July 1862.
  • [10] United States War Department, War of the Rebellion:  Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Series I, volume 53, p.526.
  • [11] Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, Ser. 3, 168: 408.  
  • [12] “The Iron Age of Naval Architecture”, The London American, 2 Apr. 1862; “The Great Rebellion”, The London American, 2 July 1862.
  • [13] Knight to Lincoln, Lincoln Papers, Ser. 1, Gen. Correspondence, LOC, 24 June 1862.
  • [14] Russell to Palmerston, Broadlands Papers, GC/RU/728, SU, 19 Sept. 1862.    
  • [15] “England”, The Index, 19 Feb. 1863.  
  • [16] “Liverpool Chamber of Commerce”, The London American, 28 Jan. 1863.
  • [17] Beresford-Hope to Wharncliffe, Wharncliffe Muniments, Wh.M. 418 (A278), SA, 19 Dec. 1863.

If you can read only one book:

Sebrell II, Thomas E. Persuading John Bull: Union and Confederate Propaganda in Britain, 1860-65. Langham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2014.


  • Blackett, Richard. Divided Hearts: Britain & the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

  • Cullop, Charles P. Confederate Propaganda in Europe: 1861-1865. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1969.

  • Ellison, Mary. Support for Secession: Lancashire & the American Civil War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.

  • Ferris, Norman B. The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977.

  • Fuller, Howard J. Clad in Iron. The American Civil War & the Challenge of British Naval Power. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2008.

  • Jenkins, Brian. Britain & the War for the Union, 2 vols. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974 & 1980.

  • Jones, Howard. Blue & Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union & Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

  • Myers, Phillip E. Caution & Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2008.

  • Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

  • Wilson, Walter & Gary McKay. James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent & Mastermind of the Confederate Navy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2012.

  • Jones, Howard. Blue & Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union & Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

  • Myers, Phillip E. Caution & Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2008.


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