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Critical ACW facts we were never taught

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A colleague sent me an article about current affairs which referenced something I never heard of: Russia's intervention which saved the Union! Yes, you read that correctly, and the story is astounding. As a longtime student of ACW naval and riverine warfare, I was aware the Confederacy came very close to bringing England in on its side, thanks to cotton and its effects on British mercantile interests. In fact, I've seen expansions for Yaquinto's Ironclads game (believe that was the one) in which British and French ships figure, so this possibility of intervention was not entirely novel for me. But nothing prepared me for what follows. If the material provided is correct, then Russia's naval intervention/show of force on our highly vulnerable west coast may very well have kept the Union together, mind boggling as such a thing is to contemplate. 



John Kettler

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On 2.12.2017 at 11:38 AM, Michael Emrys said:

Interesting information, but I think he overstates his case. Absent the Russian intervention, an out and out Union victory might have proven more difficult, but the Confederacy was on a downhill slide and Sherman's march to the sea dealt it a blow from which it could not have recovered.


Yeah, was it not British naval doctrine in those days, to be stronger than the next three global players?

I don’t think a few Russian ships on the East Coast would have made much of an impression.

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Here's some additional information, and Russia not only had warships present on both coasts (six ships each), but they stayed for some seven months!  



Six ships on each coast may not seem like much, but they constituted a powerful diplomatic signal and very much increased the stakes should anyone try to negatively intervene. Also, this was a powerful aid to the long overstretched Union Navy. Back then, sending a squadron was a serious expression of national concern and resolve, roughly akin to when the US sends a carrier strike group somewhere today.

We weren't taught this in school, but California was strategic for the Union and would've been a great prize for the Confederacy had it fallen. It was gold from California which was helping to power the Union war economy, California whose volunteer home guard allowed regulars to be sent East to the Union Army, California whose many forts acted as bases to hold the Confederates in check as far as New Mexico, etc.


The state recruited volunteer soldiers so that regular soldiers could leave the western territories for the battlefields of the East. From California, the U.S Army maintained and built many forts along frontier trails, suppressed Confederate activity and secured the New Mexico Territory against the Confederate forces. Although California did not send organized regiments east, so many California citizens joined the Union Army that the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was known as the California Regiment.

The above matters were but part of a vastly more complex and sinister set of military and diplomatic moves being taken or planned against our young and sundered country. The below in-depth and lengthy article on the financial, military and diplomatic aspects of the main topic is profound and meaty beyond words, but there are a few things referenced in it  to which some would abreact on sight. Therefore, I've chosen to provide the title only and no link. The site is is called Hwaairfan's Blog. There are numerous direct quotes from the participants at the time.

"American Civil War: When Russia Blocked British-led Intervention against the Union" Here's a sample of what awaits. Italics mine.

Already by the Civil War’s summer 1862 campaigns, every knowledgeable leading political figure in Europe and the United States was drawing the conclusion that foreign intervention in the American Civil War in support of the Confederacy would be taken as a casus belli by Russia.

The autumn of 1862 was extremely critical for the Union. England and France were on the verge of military intervention on the side of the Confederacy. On the Union side, everyone was girding for an Anglo-French invasion, an invasion which could include British allies Spain and Austria as well. Anglo-French pressure on Russia to abandon its pro-Union stance was stepped up to fever pitch. The Union’s salvation depended on Russia.

Lincoln, in this darkest hour of his administration, sent an urgent personal letter to Russian Foreign Minister Gorchakov for delivery to the Czar. Lincoln believed correctly that France had already decided to intervene and was only awaiting a go-ahead from England. Lincoln was under no illusions that if the Union was to be saved, it would be saved by Russia. And Russia came through.

We quote here in full Foreign Minister Gorchakov’s reply to the President, drafted in the name of Czar Alexander II. It is one of the most critical documents in American and world history:

“You know that the government of United States has few friends among the Powers. England rejoices over what is happening to you; she longs and prays for your overthrow. France is less actively hostile; her interests would be less affected by the result; but she is not unwilling to see it. She is not your friend. Your situation is getting worse and worse. The chances of preserving the Union are growing more desperate. Can nothing be done to stop this dreadful war? The hope of reunion is growing less and less, and I wish to impress upon your government that the separation, which I fear must come, will be considered by Russia as one of the greatest misfortunes. Russia alone, has stood by you from the first, and will continue to stand by you. We are very, very anxious that some means should be adopted–that any course should be pursued–which will prevent the division which now seems inevitable. One separation will be followed by another; you will break into fragments (emphasis in original).”

All in all, I'm getting quite the education on a subject of which I knew nothing going in.


John Kettler


Edited by John Kettler
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Found this wonderful monograph on those Russian fleets, as the Czar himself termed them. In it you will find a wealth of information, including period illustrations going into the full particulars of this extraordinary Russian naval move, including ship names, fleet missions and operating instructions. It's called THE RUSSIAN NAVY VISITS THE UNITED STATES and was published by the Naval Historical Foundation in 1969.  lcweb2.loc.gov/service/gdc    /scd0001/2012/20120418001ru/20120418001ru.pdf. Broke the link because otherwise you'd see only the cover, which isn't hyperlinked.



John Kettler


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