It was 150 years ago on 12 April 1861, that the guns opened fire at Fort Sumter, marking the start of America’s bloodiest war.
We have asked several notable writers to give their viewpoints on the American Civil War, starting with Peter Tsouras and his belief that it was British arms that sustained the Confederacy during the American Civil War:
‘When the South seceded in early 1861, it possessed at most 10% of the industrial base of the former Union. The young Confederacy would go on to make heroic efforts to create an industrial base, but even at its best could produce only a small fraction of the needs of a nation at war.
‘How, then, did the Confederacy fight on so long and bitterly? The output of British factories, mills, shipyards, and arsenals flooded through the Union blockade of Southern ports to provide the bulk of Confederate needs. Without that massive support, the Confederacy would surely have collapsed within 12 to 18 months. Given that the bloodiest years of the war were 1863-1865, it was British material support that allowed the vast majority of the blood-letting to occur.
‘A few cases in point illustrate the level of this support. British-built Confederate commerce-raiders unleashed ruin upon the American merchant marine. Almost 700 ships were destroyed or put under bond, and thousands more sold to foreign shippers (mostly British) or reflagged (mostly to Britain). The fear of even greater depredations by new commerce-raiders building at Birkenhead caused Lincoln to threaten war in September 1863.
‘At Vicksburg, Grant found that the 30,000 surrendered Confederates had been armed with new, excellent British Enfield Rifles. His own men were armed with European cast-offs or refashioned old US models, both far inferior to the British weapon. Grant had his regiments trade in their old weapons for the Enfields. At the Siege of Petersburg, Grant forwarded to Secretary of War Stanton a captured artillery ammunition box stamped “Royal Arsenal Woolwich”.
‘In the last year of the war, Lee’s army was surviving on British bacon shipped in through Wilmington.
‘British material support for the Confederacy was not lost on the Union,and engendered deep animosity which lasted for much of the rest of the century. Fortunately, farsighted men such as Theodore Roosevelt and the Prince of Wales sparked the great partnership that would be the bulwark of freedom in the 20th century. They made a reality of Bismarck’s observation that the greatest strategic fact of that century would be that the Americans spoke English.’
Peter Tsouras, author of Gettysburg: an alternative history