Featured What CW myth would you like to correct most?

kepi

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2015
Location
United States of America
In my short time as a member here, I have looked over quite a few past posts and found several conversations and exchanges relating to myths about the Civil War or facts people just have wrong. This got me to thinking about which myth or incorrect bit of information people here may find the most troublesome, so here is my question for the group:

What Civil War myth, legend, or generally incorrect information would you like to dispel most in American popular culture? (YOU MAY ONLY PICK ONE)

Let us PLEASE be nice to each other, as I have seen this topic can get out of hand.
Thank You.
 
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AndyHall

Colonel
Joined
Dec 13, 2011
Would you agree to "informed error"?
No. It was an affirmative decision in circumstances where the "law of nations," as it was called then, was poorly defined.

As a matter of established law, Lincoln’s blockade of the South was a dubious prospect. The strict legality of the blockade, as recognized by international custom and treaty at the time, remains a hotly debated topic more than a century and a half later.8 A blockade of an enemy’s ports had long been recognized as a legitimate means of warfare. The United Kingdom, the world’s preeminent maritime power at the time, had used a blockade strategy to great effect against the French during the Napoleonic Wars and against the Americans during the War of 1812. But international convention held blockading to be a technique used between nations, not between different parts of the same nation, in order to be recognized and honored by the international community. This ran counter to the core principle that governed Union strategy throughout the war — that the Confederacy was a not a legitimate government but a “legal fiction,” and that the southern states remained part of the greater United States, but temporarily in a state of rebellion or insurrection. Both Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Senator Charles Sumner advised Lincoln against declaring a blockade, arguing that a blockade was recognized as an act of war between belligerent nations and that establishing one would be granting legitimacy to the Confederacy. Instead, Welles and Sumner urged Lincoln simply to use his authority as president to announce those ports as closed to foreign commerce. Lincoln rejected this approach, believing (as was ultimately proved even under blockade) that foreign shipping would not be deterred by such a policy. Lincoln’s declaration and establishment of a blockade of southern ports, while still refusing to recognize or treat with the Confederate States as a foreign power, was one facet of a legalistic conundrum that the administration would struggle with over the next four years: finding a way to deal with the de facto Confederate government in Richmond and the United States’ diplomatic contacts overseas (particularly the British) on myriad issues without ever formally acknowledging the Confederacy as a legitimate nation.

As the crisis over secession and Fort Sumter grew, Lincoln and his advisors gave a lot of thought to how they would respond if there were to be a military confrontation. Lincoln had no background in international affairs or the so-called law of nations, but he understood the core issues well enough to know that he was out of his depth in trying to make his case for the blockade to Britain and France. This job he relegated to his secretary of state, William Seward, who was given the task of convincing the European powers not to challenge a Union blockade of Confederate ports if secession and the then-simmering dispute over Fort Sumter boiled over into armed conflict.

On March 20, Seward called on Lord Lyons, the British ambassador to the United States, to sound him out on his government’s reaction if the United States took action to “interrupt” foreign commerce with southern ports. Lyons understood this to be coded talk for a blockade and somewhat rashly threatened that, in response, the British government would likely grant diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy, a move that would both acknowledge the Confederate States as a sovereign power and raise the prospect of the Royal Navy’s intervention to keep its trade with the South open. These outcomes were ones that the Lincoln administration needed desperately to avoid, but Seward’s clumsy approach to Lyons had laid them bare on the diplomatic table.

Both men had said too much at their meeting on March 20, but Seward made matters much worse the following evening when he attended a dinner party hosted by Lyons that was also attended by the ministers of the other major European nations. There, Seward floated the idea of stationing U.S. naval vessels off the main southern ports so that they could stop inbound foreign shipping and collect import tariffs at sea before those vessels ever reached the dock. The monies collected in this way would be small, given that even the largest southern ports collected a tiny fraction of the revenues generated by northern ports like New York and Boston. But the practice would be an explicit and unmistakable demonstration of the United States’ continued, unbroken sovereignty over that essential government function. (It was also not a new idea, having been proposed but not acted upon by the Jackson administration during the Nullification Crisis nearly three decades before.) Despite Seward’s repeated assurance that such an arrangement would be something other than a blockade, the other ambassadors saw his position as a distinction without a difference. It also didn’t help that Seward — “lubricated and loquacious” after a fine meal at which the champagne flowed freely — made a spectacle of himself, loudly haranguing the French and Russian ambassadors to share with him copies of instructions their governments had sent their consuls in the southern states. When Lyons stepped into the conversation to try to calm things, Seward angrily made the same demand of him, too. It was an ugly scene, of a sort rarely witnessed at diplomatic dinner parties. Seward’s proposal for tariff collection at sea found no support and, more important, diminished the foreign ambassadors’ view of the competency of the new president and his senior advisors. Seward’s “lubricated” behavior also reinforced the diplomats’ worst stereotypes of Americans as boorish, arrogant neophytes demanding respect and deference from established European powers that they had not earned.

 
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