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Diplomatic Failures of American Civil War

In the middle of the 19th century the United States was engaged in one
of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the nation known as the
American Civil War. The U.S. was at war with a first time enemy known as
the Confederate States of America. The southern states had succeeded from
the Union and with the battle of Fort Sumter, the war had begun. Both the
Union and the Confederates had one goal in mind, respectively. For the
North it was to defeat the rebellious states and bring them back into the
Union and for the South it was to achieve recognition as an independent
country from abroad. The war lasted four years and resulted in over one
million casualties including over 600,000 deaths for both sides combined.

This was all due to the fact that the North and the South would continue to
make mistakes through the four years that would lead to the prolonging of
the war. Actions taken by both the Union and the Confederacy resulted in
the hurting of their diplomatic goals abroad, thus hurting the ultimate
achievement of their goals. This paper will illustrate these diplomatic
failures and explain the effects from the North and the South.

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1. The Mistake by the South
1.1 the King Cotton policy
One of the first steps that the Confederacy took to hinder its goal of
independence would actually happen several years before the start of the
war. With the possibility of a conflict with the northern states looming
largely in the minds of the citizens in the southern states, precautions
began to be put into place. With this, the idea of what would later become
known as the King Cotton policy was beginning to be accepted. In a speech
given by a former Senator James H. Hammond of South Carolina in 1858,
Hammond described the importance of the southern crop and that a lack of
cotton being exported would do much more damage to the rest of the world
than it would to the South if a war arose with the North. It was the idea
of the southern leaders to blackmail Europe, especially England, by
refusing to plant and export cotton as long nations did not give the South
recognition. The deal of cotton in exchange for recognition had been
established. Many of the southerners agreed with the idea of the King
Cotton policy and the numbers certainly supported the idea. Of the 800
million pounds of cotton that was used by Great Britain in the years prior
to the start of the war, 77% of it was produced and imported from the
American south. Not only did cotton play a huge part in the British economy
but in the world economy as well, with around 60% of the world’s supply of
cotton coming from the south.

The numbers without a doubt support the idea of King Cotton but it’s
the numbers themselves that ultimately lead to failure of the policy. It is
true how important cotton was but the southern planters and traders made a
crucial mistake. Before the Civil War southern states exported huge numbers
of cotton during the late 1850’s and in 1860, this lead to markets in
Western Europe having a huge overstock of the crop. This rendered the
South’s tactics involving their cotton trade ineffective. Unfortunately for
the South this would only be the first of setbacks concerning King Cotton.

During the beginning of the Civil War famine struck much of Europe and its
governments were forced to find other ways of getting food for their
people. Many countries turned to the U.S. for their need. With the vast
amount of corn that was being exported to Europe, the South’s King Cotton
was replaced with the North’s King Corn as the most important crop in

Because the South had made huge miscalculations with its cotton, Europe
was able to endure their lack of cotton from the South which gave them time
to look elsewhere for their needs. Along with the fact that European
countries needed the food from the North, recognizing the South or
providing any sort of aid was ill advised; in this case nations would risk
being cut off from the supply of food by the North if they did so. The
policy of King Cotton was a very good idea on paper but the South misjudged
not only their situation but the situations of other. Along with some other
unforeseeable circumstances the South’s first diplomatic action in the
process to achieve recognition had failed.

1.2 The Battle of Antietam
Within the first two years of the war both sides saw defeats, victories
and tactical missteps but it was becoming clear that the South was gaining
momentum and emerging as the side that would come out victorious, having
put together a number of victories during the summer of 1862. Although the
North by far had more resources and more man power than the South, the
confederate states only needed to hold out long enough to convince the
European powers of their legitimacy as a stable and independent nation.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was aware of the South’s position and
knew that they could not win a prolonged war with the Union. With this in
mind, Lee decided that the time to invade the Union was now. On September
4, 1862 Lee began moving his army out of Virginia, across the Potomac River
and into Maryland near Frederick, approximately 40 milessouthof
Washington D.C. After the rest of his army arrived in Maryland three days
later, Lee was now in position to make his stand were he would meet General
George B. McClellan, who Lee had defeated in an earlier engagement. Lee’s
plans for his invasion were all set but he would encounter problems that
plagued the South throughout the war. Soldier movement details and rank
strength reports had fallen into the Union’s hands and given the North the
information they needed to defeat the South. On September15the
Confederate’s army of 18,000 men met the Union’s army of 28,000 and unable
to reinforce his troops and hold certain positions, Lee would lose what
would later be called the Battle of South Mountain; both sides would have
combined total of over 5000 casualties. Although Lee’s invasion of the
North had started off with a significant setback, the general was not
willing to retreat back to south just yet.

Lee looked to regroup his forces after McClellan failed to take
advantage of his victory. McClellan left the opportunity for Lee to re-
mobilize his forces and move them to the city of Sharpsburg. Along with
fellow generals, Lee and McClellan met again on the battle field this time
with a vastly greater number of troops. On September 17 over 75,000 Union
troops and almost 40,000 Confederate troops clashed near the town on
Sharpsburg. Even though the Northern troops made a number of mistakes, the
Southern troops were unable to achieve victory due to the sheer number of
men that the North had at their command. Because the Confederates had
withdrawn from the area, the battle was considered a victory for the Union
from a military stand-point but most saw it as a stalemate, a stalemate the
resulted in almost 30,000 casualties. This would become known as the
bloodiest day in American History otherwise known as the Battle of

Lee’s invasion and defeat in the north not only blew a great blow to
the confidence of the southern states but to the confidence of the European
nations hoping to find an opportunity to get involved. Before the invasion
attempt, the South was in a position to achieve the recognition that it was
striving for, but due to miscalculations the Confederacy had wasted its
opportunity. Most of Europe had taken a stand of neutrality in the war but
was very interested in its development. With many European nations leaning
towards the Southern because these nations were waiting for the most
opportune moment to intervene. Unfortunately due to the South’s disastrous
Maryland campaign, Europe was forced to retreat on their position of
intervention and go back to being a spectator.

2. The Mistake by the North
2.1 The Trent Affair
After the South’s mistake the North followed with one of their own and
put the Confederacy back into the prospects of achieving recognition from
Europe, and in this case Great Britain, with the Trent Affair. In 1861
Confederate President Jefferson Davis dispatched a diplomatic envoy on
board of a British mail shipnamedtheTrentthatlivedtwo
representatives, James Mason and John Sidell, that were on the mission to
carry out diplomatic talks with England and France in the hopes to gain
favorable trading policies but most importantly recognition from the two
countries after the South was able to put together a string of victories in
the beginning of the war. Achieving recognition would have been a big step
towards the South’s goal of gaining independence; The North was also aware
of this however and certain individuals decided to act. After the Trent’s
set sail Navy officer Charles Wilkes acted without order, intercepted the
ship, and captured the two Southern diplomats. The North had hoped to
prolong the South’s efforts of achieving recognition by retaining Mason and
Sidell to give themselves more time to defeat the Confederacy or to put
themselves into a position, diplomatically, that would force the South to
surrender with the acknowledgment that no recognition was going to take
place. Wilkes and the North believed that they were within their legal
rights of their taking of the diplomats but upon hearing of the event in
England, wide spread outcries against the North began to believe that the
North’s actions were a direct attack on the country’s honor. This is most
evident when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Lord Palmerston,
shouted to his cabinet “I don’t know whether you are going to stand this,
but I’ll be damned if I do.”
With the pressure of England intervening and taking a side more aligned
with the South’s the North had no choice but to accept their mistake and
release the diplomats. Despite the North’s efforts to stop Southern
recognition, their part in the Trent Affair was far from the answer and had
in fact led to the Confederacy being able to put their casefor
independence on the world stage. The Union had made one of its first
mistakes in in the war, damaging their chances of attaining their goal of

2.2 The Emancipation Proclamation
After the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln anticipated that the
Union was in the best position to cut off all the hope that the Confederacy
had of achieving recognition from abroad. The South, after having run of
victories in the war, where now retreating from Northern forces. Lincoln
decided it was time to take a drastic move against the South and eliminate
the English altogether from the equation. Slavery had been one of the
biggest issues during the war, one that the South had tried to overlook and
one that the North had tried to exploit. The U.S. government had constantly
tried to highlight the fact that the lively hood of the South had been
based on the institution of slavery. This was a problem for the South, due
to the fact that Great Britain had outlawed the institution in all of its
empire by the year 1843. The North argued that the British were in no
position to align themselves with the South due to a direct conflict of
interest, not to mention a conflict of morals. Many government officials in
Britain supported the South mainly because any war that the U.S. was
involved in would weaken its status and would allow Britain to maintain its
status as the foremost world power. England Prime Minister Palmerston’s
opinion of the Union can best be seen in a letter to Queen Victoria that
read “Great Britain is in a better state than at any former time to inflict
a severe blow upon and read a lesson to the United States which will soon
not be forgotten.” This letter was sent only a few short months before the
start of the war and it can be seen that England was aware of that would
have dealt a great deal of damage to the U.S. Despite the opinion of its
leaders, the people of England more or less sided with the North because
they cared little for who was the strongest nation and worried more of the
morals that were at stake. With all this in mind, Lincoln and the rest of
the government pushed the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation
into effect.

The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order that the North
hoped would be the final push in ending the war with the South. The order
basically stated that all slaves in the U.S. and in the rebelling states,
with a few exceptions, were now free and that the institution of slavery
was officially abolished. With such a bold move, Lincoln had hoped to place
the war on the grounds of morals rather than one of politics and economics.

By officially declaring the Union position on slavery, Lincoln had hoped
that it would put England in a spot that would force them to withdraw any
ideas they may have had in assisting the South. The hope was that England
could not be able to justify intervention in favor of a belligerent that
was in direct conflict of the policies of the British government. This
however is not what had happened. Upon hearing of the Emancipation
Proclamation, nations in Europe including England saw this move by the
Union to be one of desperation. Many saw the proclamation as an effort by
the North to inspire slave riots and rebellion in the south in order to
weaken the Confederacy. Some countries around the world claimed that the
U.S. was trying to insight a race war. This only made England more likely
to intervene by claiming that such an attempt to instigate a race war was
that of a desperate and uncivilized nation and that something had to be
done to stop it. Lincoln specifically stated in the proclamation “I hereby
enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence,
unless in necessary self-defense” in an effort to ensure other nations that
a race conflict was not in the agenda of the Union. Despite the clear
message in the proclamation, nations around the world only saw the
headlines and not the fine print.

With an opportunity to bring a close to the Civil war, the Union took
what was to be believed as a sure fire way to do it. The North thought that
gaining a moral high ground on the South and aligning themselves with same
morals as the British and other European nations would end the chances of
Southern recognition. But with what had become a common sight in the war,
the North’s plans had backfired and hurt their diplomatic standing. Europe
now saw the Union as being is somewhat of a troublesome situation and the
backing of the Confederacy was again back on the table.

Despite mistakes by the North, they were able to reestablish themselves as
the dominate force in the war. This is best seen after the Battle of
Gettysburg when 46,000 casualties and a Confederate retreat set the tone
for the rest of the war in the Union’s favor. After the battle, the
Confederates began their retreat south, with General Sherman following and
burning behind them, and would continue their retreat until the war’s end.

This is very important from a diplomatic point of view, due to the fact
that the Southerners would no longer be able to appeal to European nations
because of what appeared to be their path to defeat. The European nations
also had to remove themselves from their motives of helping the South
because they could ill afford to begin to support a losing side. Finally on
April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered the Army of North Virginia to General Ulysses
S. Grant at Appomattox Court House essentially ending the American Civil

3. Conclusion
When it comes to the Civil War, the vast importance of diplomatic
standing, policy, and recognition are not the first things that come to
mind. But in order to have a complete grasp of the events and decisions of
the war, it is essential to have all the facts and effects. Achieving
recognition for the South was of the most importance; it was believed that
it was the only likely way to gain their independence and that a long war
with the North was not an option. The Union also wanted to avoid a lengthy
war if only to spare the destruction of parts of the U.S. and its people in
both the north and south; the Union also knew that the Confederacy
achieving independence was a very real possibility if it was to gain
recognition. Despite the fact that both sides were extremely aware of the
situation neither side was able to take the right course of actions and end
the war sooner. Every mistake would lead to their opponent gaining ground
on the other and then losing it. It can easily be said that if the
Confederacy was able to capitalize on its victories and avoid certain
situations, the European powers like England would have intervened and
mediated and end to the war giving the southern states their independence.

It can also be said just as easily as if the Union were to have planned
more carefully and put more thought and effort into their decisions that
the war could have ended much earlier than it did by discouraging European
powers better and not letting the Confederacy have a window of opportunity.

Works Cited
???. ???????????????????????[J]. ????, 2005(8):122-124.

Busey, John W., and David G. Martin. Regimental Strengths and Losses at
Gettysburg, 4th ed. (Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 2005), 66-67.

Carroll F M. The American Civil War and British Intervention: The Threat of
Anglo-American Conflict[J]. Canadian Journal of History, 2012, 47.

Eicher D J, Mcpherson J A. The Longest Night: A Military History of the
Civil War[J]. Parameters, 2002, 32.

“Civil War Facts,” Civil War Trust, Last modified January 1, 2013. Accessed
November 22, 2014.
“Cotton and the Civil War,” Mississippi History Now, Last modified January
1, 2013. Accessed November 22, 2014.
“Cotton,” History, Last modified January 1, 2013. Accessed November 22,


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