(Surprise! Two blog posts today…)
23 July. 1863.
I positively tremble to think of receiving any more news from America since the batch that we received last Sunday. Why can’t we sink the steamers till some more good news comes? It is like an easterly storm after a glorious June day, this returning to the gloomy chronicle of varying successes and disasters, after exulting in the grand excitement of such triumphs as you sent us on the 4th. For once, there was no drawback, unless I except anxiety about you. I wanted to hug the army of the Potomac. I wanted to get the whole of the army of Vicksburg drunk at my own expense. I wanted to fight some small man and lick him. Had I a single friend in London capable of rising to the dignity of the occasion, I don’t know what mightn’t have happened. But mediocrity prevailed and I passed the day in base repose.
It was on Sunday morning as I came down to breakfast that I saw a telegram from the Department announcing the fall of Vicksburg. Now, to appreciate the value of this, you must know that the one thing upon which the London press and the English people have been so positive as not to tolerate contradiction, was the impossibility of capturing Vicksburg. Nothing could induce them to believe that Grant’s army was not in extreme danger of having itself to capitulate. The Times of Saturday, down to the last moment, declared that the siege of Vicksburg grew more and more hopeless every day. Even now, it refuses, after receiving all the details to admit the fact, and only says that Northern advices report it, but it is not yet confirmed. Nothing could exceed the energy with which everybody in England has reprobated the wicked waste of life that must be caused by the siege of this place during the sickly season, and ridiculed the idea of its capture. And now, the announcement was just as though a bucket of iced-water were thrown in their faces. They couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it. All their settled opinions were overthrown, and they were left dangling in the air. You never heard such a cackling as was kept up here on Sunday and Monday, and you can’t imagine how spiteful and vicious they all were…
It is now conceded at once that all idea of intervention is at an end. The war is to continue indefinitely, so far as Europe is concerned, and the only remaining chance collision is in the case of the iron-clads. We are looking after the after them with considerable energy, and I think we shall settle them…
I am sorry to say however that all this is not likely to make our position here any pleasanter socially. All our experience has shown that as our success was great, so rose equally the spirit of hatred on this side. Never before since the Trent affair has it shown itself so universal and spiteful as now. I am myself more surprised at it than I have a right to be, and philosopher though I aspire to be, I do feel strongly impressed with a desire to see the time come when our success will compel silence and our prosperity will complete the revolution. As for war, it would be folly in us to go to war with this country. We have the means of destroying her without hurting ourselves…
Henry Adams to his brother Charles F. Adams Jr., July 23, 1863.
News From Home
1863 wasn’t the age of instant communication. It took time for the news of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg to reach the United States ambassador in London. To be precise, the news arrived on July 19th, much to the delight of the ambassador’s young son, Henry.
Remember Charles F. Adams, Jr.? Henry Adams was his brother and spent much of the war in England, assisting their father with diplomatic duties, enduring the chilly reception from the British, and poking fun at foreign attitudes and customs. Having weathered the storms of diplomatic controversy during the Trent Affair, Butler issue, and the continually problem of blockade runners while listening to strings of Confederate victories, decisive pro-Union news was more than welcome for a variety of reasons.
Sentiment In England
Henry Adams gives us a glimpse into the sentiments expressed by the British citizens he interacted with. Up to that time in 1863, they were decidedly pro-Confederate. Some of that stemmed from the previous interactions or diplomacy blunders (see links above), a feeling of closeness to the Southerners through aristocratic or family ties, and an ideal that somehow the Confederacy was fighting a more noble war…even though Britain (as a whole) didn’t like slavery.
Ultimately, England and its empire would “officially” stay out of the war, but privately they sent quite an amount of supplies to the Confederacy while praising the Emancipation Proclamation which was a deciding factor to keep the British out of the war…officially.
Reading Henry Adams letters, the loneliness stands out to me. Far from America and far from the blood n’ guts battlefields, Henry found himself on a different type of conflict field, helping his father with diplomatic work and enduring the criticism, opinions and snubs of a foreign society.
Like other young men his age who sat in lonely camps, waiting for good news from home, Henry Adams fought a more private war for his country, keeping foreign powers out of the conflict…while desperately waiting for those triumphant messages from distant shores.