Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Civil War: Trent Affair

As early as 1861 it must have been clear to many of the leaders of the Confederacy that victory would be difficult, unless someone in Europe intervened on their behalf.  The Union had started effecting the blockade of the South, establishing a base of operations at Point Royal which the Confederacy was helpless to oppose without a much greater presence in the sea.
The best chance for Great Britain was the Trent Affair.  The Confederacy was sending diplomats to Europe to seek recognition.  However the U.S. Navy intervened.  The USS San Jacinto under command of Captain Charles Wilkes, stopped the British mail packet RMS Trent and removed the diplomats by force, James Mason and John Slidell. 
The initial reactions of the citizenry of Great Britain was very different.  In the U.S. Captain Wilkes was seen as a hero, while in Britain the stopping of a British ship was seen as an act of war, which could have lead to open hostilities.  Those in the know found hope in the prospects of a British/American war.
The time it took to communicate in those days allowed for both sides to rethink their initial reactions.  The British demanded an apology and the release of the diplomats.  The U.S. rethought their position, knowing that a war on two fronts would have been disastrous.  The U.S. did not issue a formal apology, but explained the move as the removal of contraband which was within the laws of the sea.  The U.S. explained that Captain Wilkes acted without orders, and released the men.  They continued their journey to England, but could never win recognition of the Confederacy which had been their goal.

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