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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post British Interest in US Civil War
Created by John Eipper on 02/06/19 3:13 AM

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British Interest in US Civil War (Nigel Jones, UK, 02/06/19 3:13 am)

I thought that US WAISers interested in the American Civil War might like to know that their enthusiasm is shared--if not surpassed--on this side of the pond.

This week I was invited to a local meeting of the American Civil War Round Table, a group with around 132 members who hold regular events on all aspects of the ACW.

Although this meeting was held in the tiny picturesque town of Shaftesbury in SW England, it still attracted a dozen ACW buffs who between them boasted an impressively encyclopaedic knowledge of the conflict.

The three talks presented were on the first Shenandoah campaign around Harper's Ferry preceding the 1st battle of Manassas/Bull Run; a collector of ACW visiting cards pictures; and the correct American pronunciation of such difficult (for Brits) ACW words such as Potomac, Chickamauga, and Vallendigham. Although no expert, I managed to hold my head high among these aficionados by correctly identifying Judge Taney of Dred Scott fame, and Clement Vallendigham, the Copperhead leader.

Admittedly, most participants were former British Army officers, but their knowledge went way beyond purely military matters.

Admittedly too, there was much sympathy for the Lost Cause of the South, less I think for any support of slavery, and more because Brits have traditionally sided with the underdog, and rightly or wrongly I was left in no doubt that Lincoln was acting far beyond his constitutional powers in opposing the southern states' right to secede by attacking with armed force.

I doubt whether there is an equivalent level of interest stateside in the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, even though arguably it had a far greater influence on US history than the outcome of the ACW had on ours.

JE comments:  I trust Nigel Jones won't mind my announcing that he's coming to Adrian College (and WAIS HQ) this April.  We'll have to add the ACW to conversation topics.  Nigel's last point alone is worth an hour.  Suppose the Confederacy had prevailed?  I would argue that the rump United States would never have achieved world hegemony, and Britain--perhaps Germany?--would occupy that position today.  At the very least, the UK would have exercised neo-colonial control over the South for two more generations, which might indeed have brought Britain into conflict with the North.

From one fraternal war to another:  Next, Francisco Javier Rodríguez on the Spanish Civil War.


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  • International Law, Britain, and the US Civil War (Patrick Mears, Germany 02/06/19 2:16 PM)
    I enjoyed very much reading Nigel Jones's post on British interest in the US Civil War (February 6th).

    Like Nigel (and I am sure, like many other WAISers), I have always had a great interest in this conflict, especially as it involved other nations. I suspect that many people, when thinking about the US Civil War and Great Britain's connection to it, think of the "Trent Affair," where a Union frigate captured on the high seas two Confederate diplomats, James M. Mason and John Slidell, who were traveling to England to seek diplomatic recognition by and aid from Britain.


    Since I was a child, I had a great interest in reading about the Confederate sea raiders, especially the C.S.S. Alabama, which was the subject of a famous international arbitration proceeding held in Geneva in 1872. Because this ship had been built in Liverpool and delivered to the Confederate Navy during the conflict, and because another raider, the Florida, was constructed in Liverpool and delivered to the Confederate Navy during the conflict by Britain, the arbitration panel found that Great Britain had violated its obligations as a neutral country, as proclaimed by Queen Victoria in 1861, and consequently awarded $15,500,000 in damages to the United States. The panel also found, as a basis for their award, that another Confederate ship, the C.S.S. Shenandoah, had used the port of Melbourne "especially with the augmentation which the British government itself admits to have been clandestinely effected of her force, by the enlistment of men within that port, that there was negligence on the part of the authorities at that place."


    The key finding of the arbitrators making this award dealt with the actions of the Alabama, which took at least 60 prize ships before she was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge in a dramatic duel on June 19, 1864 near Cherbourg, is as follows:


    "And whereas, with respect to the vessel called the Alabama, it clearly results from all the facts relative to the construction of the ship at first designated by the number '290' in the port of Liverpool, and its equipment and armament in the vicinity of Terceira through the agency of the vessels called the Agrippina and the Bahama, dispatched from Great Britain to that end, that the British government failed to use due diligence in the performance of its neutral obligations; and especially that it omitted, notwithstanding the warnings and official representations made by the diplomatic agents of the United States during the construction of the said (Alabama) to take in due time any effective measures of prevention, and that those orders which it did give at last, for the detention of the vessel, were issued so late that their execution was not practicable;. . ."


    The entire text of the award, in English, can be found at: http://legal.un.org/riaa/cases/vol_XXIX/125-134.pdf



    The arbitrators were (i) Charles Frances Adams of the United States, (ii) Sir Alexander Cockburn of Great Britain, (iii) Frederico Sclopis de Salerno of Italy, (iv) Jakob Stämpfli of Switzerland, and (v) Marcos Antonio de Araújo of Brazil. Also participating for the United States at the tribunal session in Geneva was the well-known litigator, William Maxwell Evarts, who also took part in the impeachment proceedings of US President Andrew Johnson and in the special electoral commission proceedings to resolve the dispute concerning the victor in the 1876 US Presidential election. Evarts also served as the US Attorney General and US Secretary of State during his career. The arbitrators conducted the tribunal session in Geneva's Town Hall, in an area of the building since named "The Alabama Room" (Salle de l'Alabama). This room is now a museum dedicated to these proceedings that is well worth visiting when in Geneva. Finally, it should be noted that the "Alabama Claims" arbitration proceeding is often mentioned as one of the first "modern" international arbitration proceedings.


    JE comments:  Few people can make the history of law as clear (and entertaining!) as Pat Mears, who wears both the lawyer's and the historian's hats.  I've read several books on the Alabama's exploits.  Its (OK, "her") Captain, Raphael Semmes of Maryland, was an accomplished writer who had earlier served on both sea and land in the Mexican War. (Semmes's Service Afloat and Ashore during the Mexican War, 1851, is a captivating and very opinionated history of the Winfield Scott campaign.)


    Did the British ever pay up, Pat?


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    • John Slidell's Mission to Mexico (Patrick Mears, Germany 02/07/19 10:04 AM)
      First, the answer to John E's question about the Alabama Claims is "yes," the British government paid up in 1872.

      John also mentions the Alabama's Captain Raphael Semmes and his service in the Mexican-American War.


      Interestingly, one of the two Confederate ambassadors on the Trent seized by the Union Navy in 1861, John Slidell, also had a connection to the Mexican-American War. Here is a brief description of Slidell's unsuccessful attempt as a representative of the US government during 1845-1846 to move the border between Texas and Mexico south to the Rio Grande and to purchase what is now the states of New Mexico and California:


      "In November, 1845, (Slidell) was sent as minister to Mexico by President Polk, to adjust the difficulty caused by the annexation of Texas to the United States. His instructions to 1) obtain Mexican recognition of the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and the United States; 2) offer American forgiveness of the claims by US citizens against the Mexican government; 3) purchase the New Mexico area for $5 million; and 4) purchase California at any price. The mission failed when the Mexican government refused to accept his credentials. The United States declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and Slidell returned in January 1847 and resigned."


      You can read the rest of Slidell's story, including his efforts to obtain aid from French Emperor Napoleon II for the Confederacy, in this online biographical note: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/chron/civilwarnotes/slidell.html



      JE comments:  I suspected as much, but I just looked it up.  Slidell, Louisiana, on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, was named after the ambassador.  Surprisingly, he was born a Yankee, in New York City, and graduated from Columbia U.

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  • Brits in US Civil War: "Sir" Percy Wyndham (Timothy Ashby, Spain 02/07/19 7:15 AM)
    Thanks to Nigel Jones (February 6th) for his posting about the American Civil War Round Table, which I hope to join.

    One of the US Civil War's most colourful characters was "Sir" Percy Wyndham, an English soldier of fortune. Wyndham's background was murky. He alternately claimed to be the son of an English Lord, a Royal Navy Captain, and a cavalry officer, but was probably the illegitimate offspring of one of the sons of the Earl of Egremont, who were themselves born "on the wrong side of the blanket." Wyndham said that he was born on a ship in the English Channel in 1833 and came to America proclaiming to have been a sailor in the French Navy, a soldier in the British Army, the Austrian Army, and one of Garibaldi's Volunteers. Many--including the "real" Percy S. Wyndham, a soldier and politician--proclaimed that he was a fraud. Very little seems to be certain about the man except for the fact that he arrived in America to fight for the North and was made a colonel of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry Volunteers.


    Wyndham was very tall, given to wearing extravagant uniforms, and a famous for his 10-inch long moustache. He arrived in Virginia bragging that he would "bag" Confederate cavalryman General Turner Ashby. Ashby--who was Wyndham's equal in flamboyance--had received word that Wyndham and a group of Yankee cavalry were out to get him. He told his men that he didn't want Wyndham to gain any reputation at his expense, so they needed to set a trap.


    The two men met on June 6, 1862 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Wyndham rode south in search of Ashby with 400 New Jersey cavalrymen. He soon spotted some of Ashby's troopers. Turner Ashby was fighting a rearguard action for "Stonewall" Jackson with the support of some of Richard Ewell's infantry. Ashby had set up an ambush for any approaching Federals. He placed one of his cavalry regiments in the middle of the road for Wyndham to see while hiding another cavalry regiment and some infantry in nearby woods.


    Wyndham immediately charged right into the ambush. He was quickly surrounded by Confederate infantry and cavalry. Seeing his men fleeing in panic, Wyndham shouted, "I will not command such cowards!" He then was taken prisoner.


    Wyndham was not amused having been captured by the very man he'd bragged about getting himself. Ashby's troopers taunted their prisoner all the way to the rear. Wyndham became irate most upset when many of the Rebel soldier's began calling him a "Yankee Colonel."



    Wyndham replied, "I'm not a Yankee, you damned Rebel fool." This just seemed to make matters worse for him as the Confederate troops roared in laughter at his bad luck and foppish accent. The Confederates jeered that Wyndham was a mercenary, not a soldier of any kind, but the same as a Yankee. This infuriated Wyndham to the point that he asked the soldiers to stand there in the road and fight him with fists.


    Wyndham was a "guest" of General "Stonewall" Jackson when word was received that evening that General Ashby--age 33--had been killed a few hours earlier during a charge against the Union Army's Pennsylvania Bucktails regiment. Jackson said that Turner Ashby was a "friend, one of the noblest men men and soldiers of the Confederate Army."


    Percy Wyndham was released in a prisoner exchange one week later. He later saw action at Thoroughfare Gap and was wounded at Brandy Station.


    Union General Joseph Hooker liked Wyndham and recommended his promotion.  However, he was "relieved from duty for the time being" in November 1863 at the request of Lord Lyons, the British Ambassador to the US, after his genuine namesake Percy S. Wyndham (a Member of Parliament) asserted that the Union officer was an imposter and the British government made a formal diplomatic complaint to the Lincoln Administration. Rumours began circulating that Wyndham was contemplating joining the Confederate Army, which did little to help his reputation, so he left the Union Army and started a distillery business in New York (the distillery burned as a result of suspected insurance fraud).


    Following the war, Wyndham joined the Italian Army and later moved to India. There he was forced to sell all of his military decorations to support himself. He began giving lessons on hot air balloons. On February 3, 1879, the London Times reported: "News of a sad accident comes from Rangoon. Colonel Percy Wyndham, a gentleman well known in Calcutta and Rangoon, announced an ascent in a balloon of his own construction. After attaining a height of about 500 feet the balloon burst, and the unfortunate aeronaut fell into the Royal Lake, whence he was extricated quite dead."


    Wyndham was said to have been the inspiration for George MacDonald Fraser's great fictional character, Sir Harry Flashman, VC.


    JE comments:  "Quite" dead:  brilliant British understatement!  There is a picaresque novel (better yet, film) crying to be made about "Sir" Percy.  If amusement can ever come from war, this story does it.  Splendidly told, Tim!


    Tim introduced us to General Turner Ashby, a brother of his great-grandfather, back in 2010:


    https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=55151&objectTypeId=49401&topicId=44


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