The American Civil War: A Global Conflict

June 19, 2014 to April 5, 2015

"Those in Richmond are raving Madmen, like our cousin M.F. —" 

Excerpt from letter, Rutson Maury, New York, to Ann Maury, 31 July 1863


The American Civil War was not fought just within the borders of the United States. There were global machinations as well as naval conflicts on the high seas. Diplomacy and self-interest kept other nations from becoming directly involved but the South was ever hopeful Great Britain would enter the war on its side.
According to Emory Thomas in The Confederate Nation, the “Confederate hopes for recognition and intervention from Europe rested on simple faith in the righteousness of the cause and in the commercial prerogatives of King Cotton.”
Frank L. Owsley in King Cotton Diplomacy stated that if Europe intervened, world power would be re-distributed. This meant that France, under Napoleon III, decided to act in concert with Great Britain on the matter.
Mitigating factors against intervention by France and Great Britain were anti-slavery movements in both countries and the fact that both nations had stockpiles of cotton and could also rely on imports from India, Egypt and Brazil. Furthermore, Great Britain brought grain from the North.
Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams, was the US ambassador to Great Britain and he was instrumental in keeping the English out of the war. After the battle of Antietam and the subsequent Emancipation Proclamation, Great Britain and France wanted to back a winner and saw the tide turning in favor of the Union.
Recognition and help from Mexico was not forthcoming either. While there was some sympathy in northern Mexico for the Southern view, many inhabitants remembered the Mexican-American War in which the leading generals had been Southerners. Besides, the country had its own war to deal with. In 1861, France invaded Mexico and Napoleon III schemed to trade Mexico to Austria to be ruled by Maximilian.

The Indian Territory, which should later become part of Oklahoma, was another stage for the war outside the official United States boundaries.


Images of the exhibit are available from Swem Library on Flickr.

Curator: Susan Riggs, Manuscripts and Rare Books Librarian; Exhibit Design: Jennie Davy, Burger Archives Specialist, with assistance from Andrew Cavell, SCRC Graphics Assistant, and Kelly Manno, Undergraduate Student Assistant.