Could have France broken the Union blockade?

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Location
los angeles ca
They didn't have anyone willing to pick it?
No there were plenty of people to pick cotton but they need to be properly paid.
During the ACW plenty of Europeans immigrated to Algeria and became naturalized French citizens. No doubt they would pick cotton as well as Africans but they need to be properly paid.
Leftyhunter
 

Greywolf

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 17, 2017
Are there any naval experts here that can compare the US Navy and French Navy in the 1860 to 1862 range? Not a naval guy, but at 1st glance it would seem hard for the US Navy to match the French in a straight up fight
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
The French have a distance to get to US ports. However, the US Navy is dispersed and if the US concentrate then to counter the French Navy it would make it much more difficult to blockage Southern ports.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Location
los angeles ca
Are there any naval experts here that can compare the US Navy and French Navy in the 1860 to 1862 range? Not a naval guy, but at 1st glance it would seem hard for the US Navy to match the French in a straight up fight
I am not a naval expert but obviously French ships are further from their Caribbean bases then the USN is from their bases including Southern bases.
More importantly what does France gain from a war with the US. Yes cheap cotton is all well and good but France needs grain as well only the US has it in the early 1860s.
Leftyhunter
 

BuckeyeWarrior

Sergeant
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Location
Ohio
The French were waiting to see what the British would do.Could the French risk a war with the British if the British were to side with the Union esp, since the British had emancipated its slaves in all of its colonies.The English were also wise because if they were to enter a war with any European country ,they would rely on the US to remember that they had remained neutral and had not attempted to break the embargo with the Confederacy or to go to war against the US with the Confederacy.The French had other more important local issues and would not have challenged England.The wisest thing that both could hope for is at the end they would .as Bismack latter would do ,is to be in a position on a international bases and to take advantage of this.Both seemed to be placing their stakes on the Union victory and even if the Confederacy were to win they would still need the markets of both of these countries to sell their cotton. They would suffer till the end of the war but by doing this they would win either way/
Your absolutely right, the French weren't going to do anything until England did. Even though there was some support for the rebels in the upper classes the middle and lower classes were firmly in support of America because of the rebels stance on slavery. In fact Manchester textile workers, who were laid off because of the American blockade of the rebels, passed a motion in support of Lincoln and America in which they urged Lincoln to prosecute the war, abolish slavery, and supporting the blockade - despite the fact that it was by now causing them to starve.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
Your absolutely right, the French weren't going to do anything until England did. Even though there was some support for the rebels in the upper classes the middle and lower classes were firmly in support of America because of the rebels stance on slavery. In fact Manchester textile workers, who were laid off because of the American blockade of the rebels, passed a motion in support of Lincoln and America in which they urged Lincoln to prosecute the war, abolish slavery, and supporting the blockade - despite the fact that it was by now causing them to starve.
True but the British government did give food aid the the laid off textile workers plus there was food aid from the US. We have some older threads on the Lankashire cotton famine.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
Your absolutely right, the French weren't going to do anything until England did. Even though there was some support for the rebels in the upper classes the middle and lower classes were firmly in support of America because of the rebels stance on slavery. In fact Manchester textile workers, who were laid off because of the American blockade of the rebels, passed a motion in support of Lincoln and America in which they urged Lincoln to prosecute the war, abolish slavery, and supporting the blockade - despite the fact that it was by now causing them to starve.
Definitely check out the free online JSTOR article
Reconsideration of Lanchishire Cotton Famine" Eugene Brady 1963.
You can get a free online account with JSTOR.
Brady argues there was no cotton famine in Western Europe but rather a glut of cotton plus imports from Egypt and British India.
Not that 500k bales of cotton were smugled out of the Confederacy with the approximately 50k USN confiscated bales sold by the Prize Courts.
Leftyhunter
 

Greywolf

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 17, 2017
I am not a naval expert but obviously French ships are further from their Caribbean bases then the USN is from their bases including Southern bases.
More importantly what does France gain from a war with the US. Yes cheap cotton is all well and good but France needs grain as well only the US has it in the early 1860s.
Leftyhunter
Understand all that, I get it. Just curious of the power difference between the two. Fleet against fleet, what the matchup looks like
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Understand all that, I get it. Just curious of the power difference between the two. Fleet against fleet, what the matchup looks like
France wins.


The French navy was not as powerful as the Royal Navy, by a fairly long way, but it was still immensely powerful in the 1860s. Is there a specific period you're thinking of so I can go into details?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
So for now I'll assume the French make the worst-case intervention to break the Union blockade and smash the USN, which is turning up around 24-25 April 1862 in force.

Example French wooden steam line of battle:

Bretagne (130)
Arcole (90)
Redoutable (90)
Ville de Nantes (90)
Napoleon (90)
Fontenoy (90)
Tilsitt (90)
Charlemagne (80)


Plus ironclad frigate Gloire
And ironclad batteries
Congreve
Devastation
Foudroyante
Lave
Tonnante

And half a dozen or so screw frigates, plus smaller vessels (corvettes) in proportion.


The USN has nothing that can fight this fleet.
 

Poorville

Corporal
Joined
Jun 21, 2019
I believe you have put your finger on why the British military declared military intervention in the U.S. Civil War a non-starter. In their analysis, the British islands would have been lost almost immediately. All you have to do is measure the distance from the U.K. to the Bahamas & compare it with the distance from the U.S. to understand why they reached that conclusion. As their experience with the Boar War exemplified, projecting power over oceanic distances isn't the same as maintaining a naval presence for a colonial empire.
Without doubt it was a pragmatic decision by the British. If they ever had any intention of supporting the Confederacy then they would have reinforced their military on those islands and their naval presence in the south Atlantic well in advance and they would have upped their strength in the north Atlantic out of Canada. I feel sure that they could have done all that before the Union could grow its fleet. With the Atlantic controlled the Gulf would have posed few problems. However, such action would have been seen as provocative by the Union.

Britain was also well advanced and in a strong position to build iron ships.

Re your final point on the difficulty of “projecting power over oceanic distances”, the Brits rose to the challenge of the Falkland Islands in 1982 albeit at the cost of over 900 British and Argentinian lives.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I believe you have put your finger on why the British military declared military intervention in the U.S. Civil War a non-starter. In their analysis, the British islands would have been lost almost immediately. All you have to do is measure the distance from the U.K. to the Bahamas & compare it with the distance from the U.S. to understand why they reached that conclusion. As their experience with the Boar War exemplified, projecting power over oceanic distances isn't the same as maintaining a naval presence for a colonial empire.
Firstly, it's the Boer war, not the Boar War.

Secondly, the Boer War involved the British Empire deploying nearly six hundred thousand troops of various types to South Africa, an army comparable in size to the Union army at its Civil War peak. This is hardly a demonstration that projecting power over oceanic distances is difficult.*

Thirdly, the fact that the Bahamas are closer to one continent than the other means nothing if the US cannot itself project power to capture the Bahamas. In fact the Royal Navy was so overwhelmingly powerful compared to the US Navy that any attempted invasion of the Bahamas would - if it reached them - have been cut off from resupply and compelled to surrender. The British actually worried more for Canada (which was directly connected to the Union) than for their island possessions, because there are large chunks of Canada that can be captured by marching instead of by going over water.



The reason why the British did not intervene in the Civil War is simple: they did not see a sufficient reason to do so. When they felt they did have a sufficient reason to get involved as a result of Trent, they certainly made provisions for the safety of the Bahamas; those provisions consisted of overwhelming force concentrated against the main Union blockading stations.





*In fact, projecting power over oceanic distances is non-trivial but also not impossible. If the power doing so has control of the sealanes and sufficient transport capacity it's quite smooth; indeed at the Crimea the greater problem was not getting supplies the ~4,000 miles from Portsmouth to Balaclava but the few miles from Balaclava to the siege lines.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
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Location
Kent ,England.
So for now I'll assume the French make the worst-case intervention to break the Union blockade and smash the USN, which is turning up around 24-25 April 1862 in force.

Example French wooden steam line of battle:

Bretagne (130)
Arcole (90)
Redoutable (90)
Ville de Nantes (90)
Napoleon (90)
Fontenoy (90)
Tilsitt (90)
Charlemagne (80)


Plus ironclad frigate Gloire
And ironclad batteries
Congreve
Devastation
Foudroyante
Lave
Tonnante

And half a dozen or so screw frigates, plus smaller vessels (corvettes) in proportion.


The USN has nothing that can fight this fleet.
Not Gloire, but La Couronne was already on station in Mexican waters.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Not Gloire, but La Couronne was already on station in Mexican waters.
That's actually very convenient, it means a squadron built around La Couronne could move in from Mexico against the Gulf Blockading Squadron at the same time as a squadron built around Gloire moved from the east against the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Without doubt it was a pragmatic decision by the British. If they ever had any intention of supporting the Confederacy then they would have reinforced their military on those islands and their naval presence in the south Atlantic well in advance and they would have upped their strength in the north Atlantic out of Canada. I feel sure that they could have done all that before the Union could grow its fleet. With the Atlantic controlled the Gulf would have posed few problems. However, such action would have been seen as provocative by the Union.

Britain was also well advanced and in a strong position to build iron ships.

Re your final point on the difficulty of “projecting power over oceanic distances”, the Brits rose to the challenge of the Falkland Islands in 1982 albeit at the cost of over 900 British and Argentinian lives.
The Boar War, not 1982 is the apt simile in this case. I would suggest the account in Dreadnaught because the book covers the state of the Royal Navy in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The British military knew that they couldn't supply a squadron of warships or the land forces necessary to hold the islands. During hurricane season the British squadron would have to withdraw leaving Bermuda a day sail away from the American coast. It was an untenable position.

They concluded that it would be impossible to hold Halifax. Without that port there was no way a squadron could maintain itself in North American waters. That isn't my opinion, it is the conclusion of the British command. That port was the only one they had where they could refit.

South of the Chesapeake, there are only a very few deep water ports. Because of that, a British squadron would find itself with wooden ships going toe to toe with ironclads & monitors designed for the coastal waters. That was not a fight they could win.

All of these are, of course, excellent military reasons for not going to war with the United States. In the view of the British high command, it was a secondary issue. Day one of a war with the U.S. would be like whacking a hornet's nest. Hundreds of privateers would swarm out of every inlet along thousands of miles of coastline. British merchantmen would be snapped up in wholesale lots. The blow to British commerce would be enormous.

There was nothing that allying itself with slave-holders could provide that they couldn't loose a thousand times over. That is, once again, not my opinion, it is the conclusion that the British commanders came to.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The Boar War, not 1982 is the apt simile in this case. I would suggest the account in Dreadnaught because the book covers the state of the Royal Navy in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The British military knew that they couldn't supply a squadron of warships or the land forces necessary to hold the islands. During hurricane season the British squadron would have to withdraw leaving Bermuda a day sail away from the American coast. It was an untenable position.

The book Dreadnaught/Dreadnought covering "the last quarter of the 19th century" would be ten to fifteen years off from the Civil War, so it's not appropriate as a source. As for hurricane season, the British used Bermuda as their winter base and Halifax as their summer one; of course, it's not like the Union could exactly hope to capture Bermuda in the middle of a hurricane!

In an actual war there'd be a close blockade of the US coast.


They concluded that it would be impossible to hold Halifax. Without that port there was no way a squadron could maintain itself in North American waters. That isn't my opinion, it is the conclusion of the British command. That port was the only one they had where they could refit.
Citation.
The British absolutely thought they could hold Halifax; the place was both well fortified and well defended.

South of the Chesapeake, there are only a very few deep water ports. Because of that, a British squadron would find itself with wooden ships going toe to toe with ironclads & monitors designed for the coastal waters. That was not a fight they could win.
Really? Name the ironclads and monitors.
For the record, I can name several British ironclads built for coastal waters. The British could also base their heaviest ships out of Bermuda and Halifax, or just coal their vessels on the blockade station.


All of these are, of course, excellent military reasons for not going to war with the United States. In the view of the British high command, it was a secondary issue. Day one of a war with the U.S. would be like whacking a hornet's nest. Hundreds of privateers would swarm out of every inlet along thousands of miles of coastline. British merchantmen would be snapped up in wholesale lots. The blow to British commerce would be enormous.
This is frankly extremely false and betrays a lack of understanding of the true situation.

Firstly, privateering was illegal. The US had agreed to abide by the Treaty of Paris for the duration of the Civil War, and that rendered privateering tantamount to piracy.
Secondly, there were almost no ships suitable for conversion to privateers and almost no guns to fit them, because the existing US war effort had already snapped up all of both. They were even historically taking up sail ships and fitting them with one or two cannon, and had none to spare; an effective privateer this is not, not when so much of the British merchant fleet is steam.
Thirdly, the British had successfully protected their commerce in 1812 with the use of convoy; there is no reason the same would not happen here.

And fourthly... name the ports. The British planned for blockades on the mouth of the Chesapeake, at the mouth of the Delaware, in New York Bay, covering Long Island Sound, at Boston, at Portsmouth and at Portland; out of where are the privateers going to "swarm" where they won't promptly run into a blockading force?

(For context Boston had exactly one coast defence gun; if you divert guns to fix that you're not fitting out privateers!)
 

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