The Russian Intervention in the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

by Alex Krainer, Russia Insider:

Basically, the Russian intervention saved the North from losing the war.

"The arrival of the Russian fleet to New York and San Francisco “unleashed an immense wave of euphoria in the North.” "The Russian visit … ended the last chance of European intervention."

The U.S. Civil War has become a popular topic of late, but as it turns out, what nearly everyone thinks they know about that event is wrong, in part – and this part is very significant.

My high school and university history classes left me with the impression that the war was fought over the issue of slavery: the “North” (good guys) was against slavery and wanted it abolished; the “South” (bad guys) wanted to keep the slaves, so they all went to war. Good guys won, bad guys lost, slaves got their freedom, and the world was made a better place.

That, in a nutshell, is what I thought I knew about the Civil War. I’m not sure why I had that idea so, to make sure I wasn’t mistaken I conducted an informal survey among my American friends and acquaintances, all university educated people, some of them with advanced degrees. I asked about a dozen of them what they thought U.S. Civil War was about.

To a person, all of them unhesitatingly answered that it was about the abolition of slavery. Furthermore, none of them were aware that Russia played any role at all in the Civil War.

It struck me that maybe my friends and I all had the same basic idea about that event because we were meant to have that idea, which is now pretty much part of the popular culture. However, the popular interpretation omits some critical aspects of history.

While slavery was one of Civil War’s pivotal issues, the notion that the war was fought over slavery alone is simply wrong. The main issue on the opposing sides’ agendas was the secession of the southern Confederation vs. the preservation of the Union.

The issue of slavery was a distant second on President Lincoln’s agenda and he showed no intention to force the southern states to free their slaves.

In his inaugural address he said:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it now exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Lincoln did not change his position even well into the war. In his August 22, 1862 letter to Horace Greely, he wrote,

My paramount objective is to save the union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” [2]

Far from being a domestic affair about the human rights of the slaves, Civil War was a momentous geopolitical event with massive international implications. In his 1960 book “War for the Union,” historian Allan Nevins wrote that,

It is hardly too much to say that the future of the world as we know it was at stake. … Anglo-French intervention in the American conflict would probably have confirmed the splitting and consequent weakening of the United States; might have given French power in Mexico a long lease, with the ruin of the Monroe Doctrine; and would perhaps have led to the Northern conquest of Canada. … The popular conception of this contest is at some points erroneous, and at a few grossly fallacious…” [3]

Behind the veil of overt neutrality, British and French governments both worked to bring about the breakup of the Union, covertly siding with the Confederation. A powerful faction in the British cabinet, which included the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, and Foreign Minister Lord John Russell, strongly advocated British intervention on the side of the Confederation. However, for a variety of reasons, Britain had to be extremely cautious about taking any strong actions.

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