Exhaustive record of Britain’s growing alarm at the escalating American Civil War and outright sympathy and shelter for the Confederacy.
The Civil War exacerbated old grievances still rankling between the United States and England, which held the moral high ground on slavery and disdained American “exceptionalism.” Whitbread Prize–winning historian Foreman (Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, 1999) embraces a vast enterprise, from the buildup to war to the aftermath, and does not fail to amplify in a leisurely narrative fashion all facets of the complicated British and American relationship, including diplomatic, political and military. The author also features accounts by countless other observers, pro-Confederate and pro-Union. English textile mills relied on Southern cotton, while the South leaned on British finance to manage its debt crisis; with the Union blockade of Confederate ports from April 1860 onward, the U.S. and England approached war with each other. Public opinion ran hot or cold, depending on dispatches by journalists such as William Howard Russell for The Times and artistic renderings by Frank Vizetelly (he was present during Jefferson Davis’ last days as a fugitive). After President Lincoln’s assassination, the British press underwent a thorough self-castigation for its pro-Southern coverage. With General Lee’s victory at Bull Run, and subsequent march north, the Confederacy anticipated the British gesture of Southern Recognition. Despite avowed British neutrality, the North widely believed that Britain was supporting the Confederacy’s blockade-running efforts. Yet the Southern defeat at Antietam began to reveal great holes in Lee’s army, and the British could never entirely shake their abhorrence to slavery—leaving the South to its “utter isolation.” Foreman’s dense narrative ably—but lengthily—reveals the passions that this war aroused overseas.
A staggering work of research, occasionally toilsome to read.