Book Review of Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations

Howard Jones. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. The Littlefield History of the Civil War Era series. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8078-3349-0. Illustrations. Notes. Historiographical Note. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 416. $32.00.

Originally posted in International History (22 August 2012)

Most studies of the American Civil War (1861-1865) focus on political and military leaders, military campaigns, and battles. Dr Howard Jones, University Research Professor at the University of Alabama, provides a diplomatic history of the American conflict that considers the foreign relations of the United States and Confederacy with the European Powers. Previous works by Jones include To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843 (1977), Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War (1992), Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War (1999), and Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations to 1913 (2002).

In this study, Jones recounts the diplomatic events of the Civil War focusing on the issue of foreign intervention. He first looks at foreign relations from the outbreak of the war in April 1861 through the autumn of 1862. This was a period when the Palmerston Cabinet in London took the lead in declaring neutrality and recognizing the belligerent status of the South, and then considered mediation and possible diplomatic recognition of the Confederate States. He clearly shows the danger of British intervention in the Trent Affair (1861) and the Intervention Debates of 1862. Throughout this time the United States, using the threat of war, pursued its main goal of deterring Britain from diplomatically recognizing the South. The author shows that, despite pressure from certain circles, especially over the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Britain opted to avoid a war against the United States in support of the Confederacy. London had to consider the Union threat to Canada and British commerce. By the end of 1862 the Confederacy was losing hope of British diplomatic recognition of the South, as well as hope for an alliance with Britain against the North.

Confederate diplomacy slowly began to focus on Napoleon III and France. Napoleon sympathized with the Southern cause. He entertained the ideas of diplomatic recognition and an armistice. The Emperor was open to Confederate proposals for an alliance, so long as it benefited French involvement in Mexican affairs and the pursuit of his dream to reestablish a French Empire in the New World. “Napoleon,” writes Jones, “considered Confederate independence crucial to the military and commercial bastion he envisioned in the Western Hemisphere” (p.310). The Lincoln administration was strongly against French interference in Mexican affairs. Jones shows that French support for the Confederacy became shaky after the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863. Napoleon quickly abandoned the South after the United States threatened a war in Mexico in March 1864.

Blue and Gray Diplomacy is an outstanding study covering foreign relations between the Union, Confederacy, Britain, and France. It replaces David P. Crook’s The North, the South, and the Powers, 1861-1865 (1974) as the best study of foreign relations regarding the Civil War. Even so, the study can be supplemented by the recent publication of Wayne H. Bowen’s Spain and the American Civil War (2011). This reviewer highly recommends Blue and Gray Diplomacy to students and scholars of the Civil War to gain an understanding of the diplomatic events that touched the course and outcome of the conflict, especially the fact that Britain and France highly considered intervention in favor of the South, and in the end, backed away from such action.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota