Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How A Russian Czar Saved America

That's right America, if it wasn't for Russia we might not be a county today. Ok, so that statement isn't entirely true, but Russia played a key role in American sovereignty during the bloodiest time in American History. When the Civil War is discussed, as it will be as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, little is discussed about the global impact the American Civil War had. That said, the world had a lot to gain form a divided America and some nations wished to exploit that, I am looking at you England and France. But one man in a far away land, who was very much like President Lincoln, came to America's protection. Today we as Americans, some of us were brought up to fear this nation and others now see this nation as a threat on the horizon, but back in 1863, Russia came as a guardian angel of sorts to American shores.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

This imperial dressed fellow is Alexander II of Russia, better known as the Czar Alexander ruled over Russia from 1855 until 1881 and during that time he was quite the liberator, so much so he was dubbed Alexander the Liberator. Alexander took power in 1855, after his father Nicholas I, who died of pneumonia during the Crimean War. The Crimean War fits into why Alexander wanted to help out America, as the war was fought between Russia and an alliance of England, France and Turkey. Russia had lost the war and the country was on the verge of crumbling under the rule of Alexander. So he grab the reigns of the country and straightened them out how only a Russia Czar could, radical social reforms and a rebuilding the nation from within and being pretty much an awesome dude. During this time Alexander passed the Крестьянская реформа 1861 года, or for my none Russian readers, The Peasant Reform of 1861. In short he eliminated serfdom, or a version of Russian slavery, in which people were sold with the land and forced to work it by new owners for the bare minimum to survive.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

So we can see the Czar was a pretty stand up guy, he was no Stalin and he always had a pretty bad ass handle bar mustache side burn combo going on. But how does Czar Alexander, who was practically on the other side of the world, fit into the American Civil War? It is very rarely talked about but the American Civil War was somewhat of a global event. How is it a global event? Well, European governments and industries were very invested in the United States. Some saw the Civil War as a gateway to immense gains, both economically and politically. For instance, the French and English governments were officially neutral during the war. However, member's of those governments favored the Confederacy. Along with the government official's personal views, the social elites and business tycoons of the day also favored the Confederacy. The Confederates knew they had support from the two nations and actually was hoping for them to intervene in the war in their favor. But why? Well, cheap goods and a starving population that's why. The southern states supplied everything a growing French/English boy needed. And with the war raging production slowed and costs doubled. Not to mention, the southern ports were so heavily blockaded trans Atlantic shipping from the states was near impossible. So we can see it was simple economics that made these two nations favor the south and hope for a southern victory.


Enter the Russians. Fearing that their fellow European neighbors would stick their noses into the American Civil War, Czar Alexander sent both the Russian Atlantic and Pacific Fleets to winter in Union ports in 1863. Now this happened for two reason. First, the Czar dug Abe Lincoln's style. Remember Alexander was had freed the serfs and he saw Lincoln in the same light he held himself. Second, Alexander was gearing up for a possible war with France and England. The war brewing in Europe would have been set off had France or England intervened in the Civil War. With the Russian Fleet station off the shores of the United States, in New York and San Francisco, it offered a distraction from the war for some Americans, but mainly served as a warning to the world. At the same time it gave the Russians an advantage to attack both British and French ships on the Atlantic and not leaving them trapped in the Baltic Sea. So as we know from history, France and England never entered the war. France and English companies did support the Confederates very nominally, the north won and the Union was preserved. But do we owe a debt of gratitude to the Russians and Czar Alexander?


Did the Russians really save America? I think they did. Remember in 1861, the Trent Affair almost brought England into the war. The English sent diplomats to the south to establish ties. And it should be no surprise, that the English did have an attack and invasion plan if they ever decided to enter the war. As for the French, the blockades severely hurt their major industries. A French military force landed in Mexico in 1861, as a "peace keeping" force. And like the British, France also hosted Confederate diplomats and sent their own to the Confederacy. So even though the Russian Fleet was sent on its own agenda, it could have been the deterrent that France and England needed to stay out of the war. So a nod should be given to Czar Alexander for making a tactical move which may have ultimately stopped the first world war. I mean the Russian sailors on those ships sure must have enjoyed wintering in the states instead of some God forsaken, frozen, snow cover port in Russia. But whether we wish to give him credit or not Czar Alexander did send his fleets here to the United States, and they may have been the reason, or at least part of it, the British and French never entered the American Civil War.

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