The Confederate States of America and the British Empire: Neutral Territory and Civil Wars

Beau Cleland

Abstract


The United States is locked in a war with insurgents, and struggles to stamp them out. The insurgents sustain their effort in no small part because they receive arms and supplies from supposedly neutral powers abroad, and can seek shelter in - and attack from - neutral territory. The United States threatens action against the neutral power, or against the insurgents on their territory, if the situation is not redressed, risking the escalation of the war. This scenario, in modified form, could be applied to any of half a dozen American wars, from Iraq or Afghanistan, to Vietnam or the Seminole wars. My own anecdotal experience in Iraq and Afghanistan was deeply shaped by the availability, to our opponents, of adjacent, theoretically neutral territory in which to shelter or receive support. Rather than rehashing the seemingly endless literature on the conduct of counterinsurgency warfare, which has exploded in volume in the past decade, I will look to another example, the American Civil War, as a case study of how a supposedly "domestic insurrection," as Union diplomats often referred to the Confederate States used adjacent neutral territory, and how international forces shaped that conflict. In the interest of focus, I will limit the analysis to British neutral territory, although I think there is merit in further study to include Mexico, Cuba, and the contested regions of the American West. By broadening our scope of examination to include neutral territory it becomes clear that the Confederacy (or "the rebellion") was more than just the Confederate States of America: it was a transnational rebellion against the United States, fueled by arms from abroad, that exploited British neutrality out of military weakness and opportunism in the interest of its war effort.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

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