Could have France broken the Union blockade?

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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Location
los angeles ca
Coastal monitors take ages to build. The first Monitor was the quickest; all the others took months longer than planned; it's eventually going to help, but that help is going to take at least six months to arrive. Even once done, the help is going to prevent attacks on US harbours, but a monitor is not a suitable instrument for breaking blockade.

As for grain imports, out of interest, are you picturing the US:
The

- passing an act to embargo grain exports to France.
- passing an act to embargo all grain exports.
- not passing a legal act.
If France goes to war against the US then yes grain gets embargoed. In the long term the US could build a lot of modern warships not just monitors. It would not behove France to engage in an unwinnable war.
Leftyhunter
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
If France goes to war against the US then yes grain gets embargoed. In the long term the US could build a lot of modern warships not just monitors. It would not behove France to engage in an unwinnable war.
That was a list of three options, not two. Does the US embargo grain exports to France or to everyone?


As for building a lot of modern ships, are you sure? It's not really a capability they demonstrated much of for the next decade.
It seems a bit odd for you to characterize France engaging in an "unwinnable" war when only a few posts ago you were saying that
War as noted don't necessarily follow a pre determined script. Lots of things can go wrong.
But to outline the French path to victory here, it would be:

Step one - break the blockade and impose one on the United States.
Step two - mount attacks on the fortifications of certain US ports, probably including their main shipbuilding capabilities in Philadelphia and New York (as you can't build a ship in a building slip that's under the guns of French corvettes and ironclads every few months).
Step three - land a corps or so of well drilled regular troops somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, and go for an important US city.

The goal here is to cause sufficient economic disruption to the US, combined with a military threat to the US capital, as to compel the US to give what the French originally wanted (such as, say, Confederate independence).
 

DanSBHawk

Sergeant Major
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Wisconsin
I'll leave the what-ifs for those that enjoy concocting them.

There's no doubt the British were scared of what privateers could do to their merchant shipping. That's why they wanted the US to sign the 1856 treaty. The US did not sign it, and kept privateers as an option.
 
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Saphroneth

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There's no doubt the British were scared of what privateers could do to their merchant shipping. That's why they wanted the US to sign the 1856 treaty. The US did not sign it, and kept privateers as an option.
I'm not sure that naturally follows, because it's just as easy to interpret the treaty as an attempt to extend international law in general to cover potential abuses. It's sort of like the treaty banning cluster bombs, which was put in place because cluster bombs often had deleterious effects on civilians rather than because any given signatory feared facing cluster bombs.

Incidentally, is it the position you're holding that a power which is not a signatory to Paris 1856 retains the right to commission privateers?
If so, would you be so kind as to explain why the US declared it would acede to Paris for the duration of the Civil War?
 

DanSBHawk

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I'm not sure that naturally follows, because it's just as easy to interpret the treaty as an attempt to extend international law in general to cover potential abuses. It's sort of like the treaty banning cluster bombs, which was put in place because cluster bombs often had deleterious effects on civilians rather than because any given signatory feared facing cluster bombs.

Incidentally, is it the position you're holding that a power which is not a signatory to Paris 1856 retains the right to commission privateers?
If so, would you be so kind as to explain why the US declared it would acede to Paris for the duration of the Civil War?
I'll let you argue the particulars with someone more interested and knowledgeable in the British/American relationship during the Civil War.

But privateers are not cluster bombs. The USA for much of its early years did not believe in maintaining a huge army or navy. Privateers were a way of conducting economic warfare against countries with huge navies.

Considering that the British were still divvying up prizes on their Navy ships well into the 20th century, I don't they can protest too much about privateers.
 

Saphroneth

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But privateers are not cluster bombs. The USA for much of its early years did not believe in maintaining a huge army or navy. Privateers were a way of conducting economic warfare against countries with huge navies.
Which makes it a bit odd that 55 nations signed it, including many with navies far smaller than the American one. My point in bringing up cluster bombs is that they're a way of fighting war which was considered to have too much chance for unnecessary harm to neutral parties; the same can be said of land mines, and indeed things like biological and chemical weapons.

Considering that the British were still divvying up prizes on their Navy ships well into the 20th century, I don't they can protest too much about privateers.
The overall conclusion of much of Europe at the time was that privateers could not be kept under proper control; the agreement grew out of one between Britain and France (allies in the Crimean War) not to issue letters of marque during that war. For controllability there is a great difference between an official commissioned Navy ship under an officer and subject to discipline, and a privately owned ship operating without any formal control structures.




For a reasonable proof that the attitude of the British Government was significantly influenced by the US asking about outfitting privateers (which, I'll remind you, was your claim), we would need to have some binary examples. Specifically we would need an example or examples of where evidence was brought in a case before this US initiative where the evidence did not lead to action being taken (or orders for same).

In the case of the Alabama specifically, for example, we have:

The customs commissioners (who inspected Hull 290 a week after Adam's initial request) did not find something that could be described as "warlike stores".
The Queen's Advocate, Sir John Dorney Harding, suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to reply directly to Adams' second, more conclusive letter. The Advocate General only sees it on the evening of the 28th July, and orders are promptly issued for the ship to be seized.
Bulloch's spy network, however, informed him on the 26th July that the ship was about to be seized. He was thus able to sail on the 29th, and barely evaded seizure.

None of this looks like the British being reluctant to act, and therefore we cannot use their acting after the privateer saber-rattling to prove that the privateer saber-rattling was necessary.


Of course, it's certainly possible that Seward thought it was necessary; he seems to have been at best quite ill informed on international law. For example in 1861 he argued that Britain should officially declare that belligerents not be allowed to linger for more than a few days in ports, on the grounds that otherwise Britain would be the only exception to such a rule in Europe; as it happens, the French rules were far more lax and the Alabama was allowed to linger in a French port for months on end.
 
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Saphroneth

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As for the US position on the declaration of Paris, it is hard to impossible to call it anything other than fundamentally inconsistent. The US is at once arguing that someone who has not signed Paris is free to use privateers against other Paris signatories, that by declaring their temporary assent to Paris they are immune from privateers, and that while still aceding to Paris as part of the Civil War they are allowed to prepare privateers for use against a genuine Paris signatory.

This is almost the complete opposite of how a treaty limiting available weapons is meant to work. The idea is supposed to be that there is an incentive (none of the other signatories to the treaty will use privateers on you) and a cost (you may not use privateers on other signatories). The US attempted to gain more than the benefit (i.e. claiming immunity from privateers even from someone who has not signed) and for less than the cost (i.e. being still able to use privateers on someone who has signed); it's a somewhat breathtaking disregard for international law.
 

DanSBHawk

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Which makes it a bit odd that 55 nations signed it, including many with navies far smaller than the American one. My point in bringing up cluster bombs is that they're a way of fighting war which was considered to have too much chance for unnecessary harm to neutral parties; the same can be said of land mines, and indeed things like biological and chemical weapons.

The overall conclusion of much of Europe at the time was that privateers could not be kept under proper control; the agreement grew out of one between Britain and France (allies in the Crimean War) not to issue letters of marque during that war. For controllability there is a great difference between an official commissioned Navy ship under an officer and subject to discipline, and a privately owned ship operating without any formal control structures.
Other nations refused to sign as well, such as Central and South American countries. It wasn't just the US.

"The overall conclusion of much of Europe"... that may be true, but the rest of the world may have had good reasons not to trust the Europeans, and preferred to maintain their own options for national security.
 

DanSBHawk

Sergeant Major
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As for the US position on the declaration of Paris, it is hard to impossible to call it anything other than fundamentally inconsistent. The US is at once arguing that someone who has not signed Paris is free to use privateers against other Paris signatories, that by declaring their temporary assent to Paris they are immune from privateers, and that while still aceding to Paris as part of the Civil War they are allowed to prepare privateers for use against a genuine Paris signatory.

This is almost the complete opposite of how a treaty limiting available weapons is meant to work. The idea is supposed to be that there is an incentive (none of the other signatories to the treaty will use privateers on you) and a cost (you may not use privateers on other signatories). The US attempted to gain more than the benefit (i.e. claiming immunity from privateers even from someone who has not signed) and for less than the cost (i.e. being still able to use privateers on someone who has signed); it's a somewhat breathtaking disregard for international law.
Some might suspect that the British obsession with eliminating privateers had more to do with increasing their own naval superiority, rather than some concern about banning inhumane weapons.
 
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Saphroneth

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Some might suspect that the British obsession with eliminating privateers had more to do with increasing their own naval superiority, rather than some concern about banning inhumane weapons.
Perhaps they might; that doesn't make the suspicion true (or false). Would raise the question of why the 54 signatories who weren't Britain signed on, if it was apparently all about improving British naval superiority.

"The overall conclusion of much of Europe"... that may be true, but the rest of the world may have had good reasons not to trust the Europeans, and preferred to maintain their own options for national security.
Which is of course their prerogative, but the point is rather that the treaty has a benefit and a cost to it. If you don't feel the benefit is worth the cost, you don't sign - then you don't pay the cost, and you don't gain the benefit.

The US deciding not to sign Paris is fine. What's not fine is then trying to get the benefit without paying the cost; trying to retain the right to use privateers while being immunized from privateers oneself. It's this incoherent position on international law which is the problem, not simply declining to sign Paris.
 

DanSBHawk

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Perhaps they might; that doesn't make the suspicion true (or false). Would raise the question of why the 54 signatories who weren't Britain signed on, if it was apparently all about improving British naval superiority.

Which is of course their prerogative, but the point is rather that the treaty has a benefit and a cost to it. If you don't feel the benefit is worth the cost, you don't sign - then you don't pay the cost, and you don't gain the benefit.

The US deciding not to sign Paris is fine. What's not fine is then trying to get the benefit without paying the cost; trying to retain the right to use privateers while being immunized from privateers oneself. It's this incoherent position on international law which is the problem, not simply declining to sign Paris.
If I had read all the back and forth between the US and Britain concerning this issue, I would comment. As stated earlier, it's not something I have much interest or knowledge. My impression is that Britain was not much of a friend during this period, and not someone to be trusted.
 

leftyhunter

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Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
That was a list of three options, not two. Does the US embargo grain exports to France or to everyone?


As for building a lot of modern ships, are you sure? It's not really a capability they demonstrated much of for the next decade.
It seems a bit odd for you to characterize France engaging in an "unwinnable" war when only a few posts ago you were saying that


But to outline the French path to victory here, it would be:

Step one - break the blockade and impose one on the United States.
Step two - mount attacks on the fortifications of certain US ports, probably including their main shipbuilding capabilities in Philadelphia and New York (as you can't build a ship in a building slip that's under the guns of French corvettes and ironclads every few months).
Step three - land a corps or so of well drilled regular troops somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, and go for an important US city.

The goal here is to cause sufficient economic disruption to the US, combined with a military threat to the US capital, as to compel the US to give what the French originally wanted (such as, say, Confederate independence).
Obviously grain can't be exported to any one if the ports are blockaded especially to France.
The French Army couldn't even handle the Juristas in Mexico so not sure about handling Union regulars.
No France can not win a war against the US since they can't seize and hold Mexico let alone a more populous and armed US.
The US did export the Galena to Italy during the ACW.
Men who didn't want to be drafted into the infantry might very well voluntarily enlist in the USN to fight a foreign nation that attack's their country.
War ships could be built in St. Louis and sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The US has a USN Port's in Florida and North Carolina.
The US can produce powerful long range artillery to keep French warships from getting within firing range of it's ports.
Leftyhunter
 
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wausaubob

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The French could have broken the blockade, at least at a few ports, but that would not have ended the war. The US would have mobilized more naval vessels to re-establish the blockade. The British, on the other hand, had enough economic power, that they could have persuaded the US to agree to an armistice, without breaking the blockade, but just threatening to do so.
The British argument would have been along the lines, the US was unnecessarily weakening itself, in order to conquer an economy that had very poor long term prospects.
The French could have interfered with the blockade, but they could not have seriously dislodged the US economy.
 

major bill

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The French military did not exist in a vacuum. The French fleet did have other commitments to include Mexico and and Asia. Did France have the ships and ports needed to end the Union blockade while still supporting other missions? I really do not know.
 

leftyhunter

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Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
The French could have broken the blockade, at least at a few ports, but that would not have ended the war. The US would have mobilized more naval vessels to re-establish the blockade. The British, on the other hand, had enough economic power, that they could have persuaded the US to agree to an armistice, without breaking the blockade, but just threatening to do so.
The British argument would have been along the lines, the US was unnecessarily weakening itself, in order to conquer an economy that had very poor long term prospects.
The French could have interfered with the blockade, but they could not have seriously dislodged the US economy.
We really can't know a hypothetical situation. The UK per the cited JSTOR article on the Lanchishire Cotton Famine wasn't that short of cotton. We do know the UK in common with France imported a lot of US grain. We also know France and the UK just ended a war against Russia do the public was clamoring for a war.
More men may of joined the US military to fight a foreign nation threatening vs domestic Rebels.
Leftyhunter
 
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Saphroneth

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Obviously grain can't be exported to any one if the ports are blockaded especially to France.
Actually, it can be exported - it's not automatically contraband, and if the French publish a list of contraband which does not include grain (likely if they'd suffer from not having it) and the US does not embargo grain then a Danish ship could sail into New York, load up with grain, say it's for Hamburg, sail it to Hamburg and sell it on the open market; another ship, this one British, ships the grain to France.

If the US does embargo grain, and assuming no mass smuggling through Canada, the result would be that the US government would have just annoyed pretty much every one of its citizens who happens to own a grain producing farm - their prices would plummet due to oversupply.


War ships could be built in St. Louis and sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The US has a USN Port's in Florida and North Carolina.
The US can produce powerful long range artillery to keep French warships from getting within firing range of it's ports.
As for building ships in St. Louis, of course this is possible, but once they reach the mouth of the Mississippi they're sort of vulnerable on the long voyage around to reach the Union's east coast. It's not like those ports in Florida and NC are going to last very long when supply ships are blocked by the French navy.
As for producing powerful long range artillery, they can certainly do that - very slowly. US production of large rifles was very slow indeed, and you need quite a lot per port, so it's not a solution that can be put into place in less than several months. You also have the problem that if the French are diligent they'd notice these new forts being built and would be able to bombard the construction site!

We really can't know a hypothetical situation. The UK per the cited JSTOR article on the Lanchishire Cotton Famine wasn't that short of cotton. We do know the UK in common with France imported a lot of US grain. We also know France and the UK just ended a war against Russia do the public was clamoring for a war.
You seem very willing to use the "it's a hypothetical situation" card and yet bring up plenty of examples of how you think you'd actually know what would happen.

I'd also point out that "just ended a war against Russia" is over five years ago, and the kind of war we're talking about here (a fundamentally naval war with the assistance of a corps or so of the regular army) is the kind of war that can be sustained quite long term with fairly minimal public relations impact. For the French all the disruption and so on is largely taking place thousands of miles away; if there's any anger it goes to the Americans for putting an embargo on food.

I also think you're underestimating the extent to which the cotton famine actually affected the mentalities of people in Britain at least. Mary Ellison showed back in 1972 that there was a lot of Confederate support in the north of England, almost fifty years ago...
 

Saphroneth

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The US would have mobilized more naval vessels to re-establish the blockade.
I wanted to highlight this because I think it speaks to a certain misunderstanding about the nature of the US Navy in the Civil War.

Put simply, the oceangoing US Navy was pretty much entirely committed to the blockade. They deployed just about all their pre-existing ships that could make it, either as blockading vessels or as store ships to support it, and then purchased lots more of the available shipping that was suitable to be converted to gunboats. They were buying up sailing ships as well as steamers, engaging in a crash building program to get as many hulls on the blockade as possible, and of course their existing navy-trained crew was spread very thin helping to get the influx to at least some kind of military standard at things like gunnery. This is why the Union navy in the Civil War includes ships like USS James L Davis, USS James S Chambers, USS A. Houghton, USS George W. Rodgers (sailing ships with no more than four guns) as well as the USS Violet (steamer, 2 12 pounder field guns).

What you need to ask yourself is whether the US would have been deploying these ships if it had better options for what to do with the men and guns, or these guns if it had better options for what to do with the ships and men. This means that the picture of the USN that is created is one where the USN has already tapped most if not all of the resources that it could otherwise use to quickly mobilize more naval vessels; supporting this is the way that the US's coast defences were extremely poor in this period and the main problem was the want of guns. If there are so few spare cannon in the United States in early 1862 that Boston's harbour defences contain no guns considered safe to fire, then they aren't going to have enough to put on new gunboats to challenge three 80-to-110 gun battleships without several months of production.
 

wausaubob

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There were enough business linkages between Britain and the US, and a large number of British citizens that had relatives in the US, and of course the long shared border between British North America and the US, that had a unified opinion formed in Britain that the US effort was futile, and they would have try another method, the British could have ended the war. The French did not have that degree of influence. The German states and Prussia were not unified at that point, but they also had significant population links to the US. However there were few Germans or Prussians who favored the Confederacy.
 
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wausaubob

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I wanted to highlight this because I think it speaks to a certain misunderstanding about the nature of the US Navy in the Civil War.

Put simply, the oceangoing US Navy was pretty much entirely committed to the blockade. They deployed just about all their pre-existing ships that could make it, either as blockading vessels or as store ships to support it, and then purchased lots more of the available shipping that was suitable to be converted to gunboats. They were buying up sailing ships as well as steamers, engaging in a crash building program to get as many hulls on the blockade as possible, and of course their existing navy-trained crew was spread very thin helping to get the influx to at least some kind of military standard at things like gunnery. This is why the Union navy in the Civil War includes ships like USS James L Davis, USS James S Chambers, USS A. Houghton, USS George W. Rodgers (sailing ships with no more than four guns) as well as the USS Violet (steamer, 2 12 pounder field guns).

What you need to ask yourself is whether the US would have been deploying these ships if it had better options for what to do with the men and guns, or these guns if it had better options for what to do with the ships and men. This means that the picture of the USN that is created is one where the USN has already tapped most if not all of the resources that it could otherwise use to quickly mobilize more naval vessels; supporting this is the way that the US's coast defences were extremely poor in this period and the main problem was the want of guns. If there are so few spare cannon in the United States in early 1862 that Boston's harbour defences contain no guns considered safe to fire, then they aren't going to have enough to put on new gunboats to challenge three 80-to-110 gun battleships without several months of production.
They responded to the need to establish the blockade, and they would have responded to the need to re-establish the blockade. It would have been costly, but the major ship building yards were capable of building a better navy. I don't the French would have dared to attack Portsmouth, ME, Boston, Brooklyn or Philadelphia. And the internal blockade in Kentucky and Tennessee would have continued.
The French were not going to be able to force an armistice without British co-operation. Whether foreign interference by the French would have helped the Confederacy, or simply made the US effort more unified and savage, is unknowable.
The US simply have built more gunboats on the internal rivers and forced the French to try and fight there.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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los angeles ca
Actually, it can be exported - it's not automatically contraband, and if the French publish a list of contraband which does not include grain (likely if they'd suffer from not having it) and the US does not embargo grain then a Danish ship could sail into New York, load up with grain, say it's for Hamburg, sail it to Hamburg and sell it on the open market; another ship, this one British, ships the grain to France.

If the US does embargo grain, and assuming no mass smuggling through Canada, the result would be that the US government would have just annoyed pretty much every one of its citizens who happens to own a grain producing farm - their prices would plummet due to oversupply.




As for building ships in St. Louis, of course this is possible, but once they reach the mouth of the Mississippi they're sort of vulnerable on the long voyage around to reach the Union's east coast. It's not like those ports in Florida and NC are going to last very long when supply ships are blocked by the French navy.
As for producing powerful long range artillery, they can certainly do that - very slowly. US production of large rifles was very slow indeed, and you need quite a lot per port, so it's not a solution that can be put into place in less than several months. You also have the problem that if the French are diligent they'd notice these new forts being built and would be able to bombard the construction site!


You seem very willing to use the "it's a hypothetical situation" card and yet bring up plenty of examples of how you think you'd actually know what would happen.

I'd also point out that "just ended a war against Russia" is over five years ago, and the kind of war we're talking about here (a fundamentally naval war with the assistance of a corps or so of the regular army) is the kind of war that can be sustained quite long term with fairly minimal public relations impact. For the French all the disruption and so on is largely taking place thousands of miles away; if there's any anger it goes to the Americans for putting an embargo on food.

I also think you're underestimating the extent to which the cotton famine actually affected the mentalities of people in Britain at least. Mary Ellison showed back in 1972 that there was a lot of Confederate support in the north of England, almost fifty years ago...
Some valid points on the other hand if France is truly desperate for cotton they could grow it in French West Africa far cheaper then having a war. There was French interest during the ACW of growing cotton in West Africa but not much came of still it would be far less expensive then having a war.
If France blockades all the US Ports then by definition no one gets cotton.
If France has to buy sanctioned goods the general rule of thumb from one nation recently sanctioned is there is a twenty percent mark up fee to circumvent sanctions.
France didn't do all that well against Mexico don't see why the US any easier a nation to go to East with.
Leftyhunter
 
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