Liverpool and the American Civil War

the Confederates in Liverpool Civil War Ships in Liverpool the USA in Liverpool

Liverpool in the mid19th Century

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Liverpool is on the north west coast of England. Liverpool is in the county of Lancashire and on the northern bank of the River Mersey. Lancashire in the 19th century had cotton weaving as one of its main industries. The "dark satanic mills" employed thousands of men women and children across Lancashire. Liverpool was an ideal port for westward trade with the Americas. Before its banning in 1807 the trans-Atlantic slave trade had made Liverpool's merchants, ship owners and builders, insurers and outfitters rich. Liverpool's dock system was ground breaking, a series of interconnected docks linked to the river by locks allowed ships and goods to be moved even at low tide. The docks spread 5 miles along the banks of the Mersey. This area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the best known complex being the Albert Dock buildings built in 1846/7 by Jesse Hartley. Millions of tons of goods were moved through these docks, the Albert Dock warehouses had a capacity of 250,000 tons. Liverpool was a cosmopolitan city, sailors and merchants from the world over came to live in Liverpool. Liverpool has one of the oldest Chinese and black communities in the United Kingdom. 

Liverpool's Canada Dock
by Robert Dudley

Showing the docks in the 1870s.
It was amongst this mass of ships Bulloch hoped to hide his secret navy.
Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool

The American Civil War 1861 - 1865

The American Civil War

In February 1861 the Confederate States of America was created  with Jefferson Davis as its president. At 4:30 AM April 12th Confederates under General Pierre Beauregard open fire with 50 cannons upon the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War begins. Britain officially neutral but gave belligerent status to the South. One of the war aims of the South is to gain recognition from Britain, and hopefully for her to side with the South against the North. 

The American Civil War and Great Britain

Trade Blockade

President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Blockade against Southern ports in April. At that time 60% of the cotton produced by the Southern States came through Liverpool's docks on its way to the Lancashire cotton mills. Liverpool's cotton merchants were very pro-Confederate, the British elite supported the South for reasons of race, economics and society. Southerners and sympathisers in Liverpool worked to help the Confederacy maintain its links to Liverpool. Liverpool's traders made fortunes running ships through the blockade; taking weapons and materials to the South and bringing cotton back to Lancashire. 



the Trent Affair

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Model of the Great Eastern
Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool

On November 8, 1861 Captain Charles Wilkes, commander of the San Jacinto, fired a shot across the bow of the British mail steamer Trent as it crossed through the Bahama Channel. Onboard the Trent were two high-level Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell. Lt. Fairfax and 20 armed men boarded the Trent in order to seize the ships passenger list, the ships papers, and the two diplomats and their secretaries. After a scuffle and protests the two diplomats were removed from the ship. The British commander of the Trent loudly threatened that the Royal navy would retaliate and destroy the Northern blockade. Two weeks later the San Jacinto anchored at Boston Harbor where Slidell and Mason were imprisoned at Fort Warren. Captain Wilkes became a national hero. What became known as the Trent Affair increased hostility to the United States and sympathy for the South in Britain. Reports of the forcible boarding of the British ship reached London on the 27th and a cabinet meeting was called on the 29th of November.  Britain demanded an apology for this breach of law and the return of the two passengers, with the threat of breaking diplomatic relations with the United States. The USA was given 7 days to respond, meanwhile Britain prepared for war with the United States. Reinforcements were sent to the North Atlantic squadron, 15 more ships were readied for commission. On December 3rd it was agreed that 10,500 extra troops would be sent to Canada and the Canadians immediately called up their reserves and started preparing for war. The Great Eastern left Liverpool for Quebec with 2000 soldiers and their families. When news of the "piracy" reached France there was outrage there too. British newspapers called for revenge for the insult to the British flag. 

Lincoln's cabinet wished to avoid war with Britain and Mason and Slidell were put on a British warship in January.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert also played their part in avoiding war. Prince Albert re-wrote a dispatch from Lord Russel to the United States toning down its content. The re-worded dispatch was sent and the war that many British people expect was avoided. 

The American Civil War in Liverpool

The Confederate Bazaar 

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Held at St George's Hall to raise money for the Southern prisoners relief fund. 

There was a pub in Toxteth named after the Alabama

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Part of 'The Charge of the Texas Dragoons at Bandaleer Crossing', by the artist Peter Mackarell
(1933-1988) in the Harold Cohen Library, University of Liverpool


Main Index 

Timeline of the American Civil War

NB The houses shown are those numbered by today's system, in the 1860s the system may have been different.

© redstarline 2005