Britain, the Blue, and the Gray


The American Civil War is traditionally seen as a conflict between ‘the Blue and the Gray’, but both sides courted Britain. In May 1861, with the war barely a month old, Britain declared its neutrality. But this stance did little to inhibit British involvement in the struggle. Here are some Britain’s forgotten contributions

50,000 volunteers

Half of the Union Army was born overseas or had a parent born abroad, compared to just 5% of the Confederate Army. Of those, some 50,000 Britons and 170,000 Irish sailed to volunteer, mostly for the Union, and the 3,000,000 émigré British or Irish already in country became a fertile recruiting ground.

There were ‘British’ regiments – the 79th New York Highlanders was initially formed wholly by Scots, while the New York British Volunteers mustered several hundred before amalgamation. Many volunteer Britons

had military experience, with some joining for ideological reasons, others for a wage. English-born Philip Baybutt would earn the Medal of Honour, while Sir John de Courcy rose to colonel of a regiment. The most famous British Confederate was likely Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh-born explorer who later searched for Dr Livingstone.

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