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The American Civil War through British Eyes Volume 1

Dispatches from British Diplomats, Volume 1 November 1860–April 1862

Civil War Era, Diplomatic Studies, Military History

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DescriptionFrom November 1860 to April 1862 there was only one British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington, D.C.—Richard Bickerton Pemell Lyons, Second Baron. Lord Lyons was the highest-ranked British diplomat in Washington, appointed to this post in December 1858 and serving until February 1865.

The dispatches included in Volume 1 of The American Civil War through British Eyes offer insight into contemporary Anglo-American relations. This period witnessed the election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession crisis, the formation of the Confederacy, and the first military confrontations of the war. It also raised a host of problems for Great Britain’s relationships with both the Union and the Confederacy, such as how the war would affect British nationals residing in the United States, what course official British policy should take regarding diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy, and the effect that the likely interruption of exports might have on British manufacturing.

One of Lord Lyon’s tasks was to keep London informed of the shifting mood in America. He reported on the country’s morale and relayed his impressions of the way in which the press and the politicians influenced public opinion and inflamed patriotic fervor. Lyons was especially struck by how slowly each side geared up for combat. His dispatches show the defensive Southern strategy and explains why the North felt it must take the struggle across Confederate lines. He also related how successful the North was in raising funds, speculated about the role slaves would play, and recognized that a major disruption of Southern life might provoke a slave uprising.

The issues raised by these dispatches are crucial ones for the study of the Civil War, and this volume, the first of a three-volume collection, fills an important void for students and scholars of the war. Lyons’s dispatches offer a perspective on America during its first test of national unity. Through them the Civil War unfolds not in retrospect but through the eyes of a contemporary observer.

AuthorsJames J. Barnes is professor of history at Wabash College in Indiana. He was a Rhodes and Fulbright Scholar and received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.

Patience P. Barnes is a research associate at Wabash College and a freelance writer and editor.

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