Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Involved in Civil Wars – An Alternative History of America

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s reputation in Europe was failing. Much of the Europe saw him as a tyrant who ignored the rule of law, imprisoned political enemies, and turned a blind eye toward war crimes by his generals against the Southern rebels. That’s not saying that they supported the Confederacy. They were viewed as backwards, fighting to preserve antiquated slavery. The American Civil War was seen as an internal issue, of little concern for Europeans, and the North was winning. Everyone expected the United States to survive as a Republic, albeit with some changes. But then General Sherman started marching south. News of pillaging and burning of civilian homes, as well as rumors of executions and rape made it back to Europe. General Sherman gained a reputation similar to Attila the Hun or Genghis Kahn. The Confederate separatists were viewed as freedom fighters, not unlike the Colonials that won independence from England. All but the most adamant slavery opponents were won over to at least vocal support of the Confederate cause. Both the French and the English saw opportunity in this, and began to get involved. By supporting the Southern rebellion, they could weaken their new imperial rival with the support of many of their citizens.

England and France joined forces to attack United States cities from the sea.
They blockaded Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, and shelled them from the sea. They provided munitions support to the Confederate cause, and even sieged New Orleans and allowed the Confederacy to retake it. Although poorly enforced, a trade embargo was placed on the United States, and it did weaken the North. This really bolstered the Southern rebellion, which was before thought to be in its last throes. The rebel forces were able to push the Northern armies out of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and much of Virginia. They held the war at a stalemate from 1865 through 1868. The war dragged on and on. Civilian Casualties in the Border States and the Northern coastal cities bombarded by European powers grew into the millions. The Confederate government in Richmond failed and was reorganized in Atlanta. Texas began talking secession, encouraged by the promise of a cease-fire with the United States. The Radical Republicans took over Congress in 1866 and emancipated the slaves in Northern slave states, although enforcement in Kentucky and Missouri was weak. Although many of his opponents expected Lincoln to use his war powers to cancel the 1868 elections, he didn’t, and chose to step down, endorsing his Vice President Andrew Johnson for the Presidency. Radical Republican Charles Sumner trounced Johnson for the Presidency, winning all but Maryland, who went for Johnson, and Missouri and Kentucky, who supported Democrat Joseph Holt.

Sumner promised to do whatever it took to win back the South, as colonies instead of states, and free the slaves. And he did. He significantly expanded the draft, ended exemptions for the well-to-do, and even sent troops to Canada to retrieve draft dodgers (and probably a few Canadians that he thought were American draft dodgers). Most importantly though, Sumner started a slave revolt in Virginia that spread through the formerly rich Southern states. He enlisted the help of the recently-freed slaves from Maryland and West Virginia, trained them as spies, and had some of them sold to large plantations in Virginia. Others set up a secret supply-chain to get weapons to them. The slaves were promised 40 acres if they joined the slave revolt, up to 160 acres if they could get enough other slaves to join them, and freedom for everyone. In Virginia, slaves on eighty of the largest 100 plantations rebelled against their owners, and were successful in fifty-six cases. Slaves took over plantations in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana. The Confederacy was forced to take over half of its troops from the front lines to quell the rebellion. This distraction offered the chance that the United States army needed, and it moved in, marched through most of the South, annihilating the weakened Confederate forces, burning Richmond, Charleston, Atlanta, Birmingham, Mobile, and New Orleans, before finally forcing an unconditional surrender at Shreveport in October 1869, after 6 million total Americans had lost their lives, almost 10 times the number before England and France got involved.

Colonial governments were established in the former Southern states, dividing the land up between those who had remained loyal to the Union, Northerners who worked in the colonial government, and freed slaves. For the first time, a two-tiered system was set up in the United States, where Northern States and Western States ruled and exploited Southern territories, which had limited political freedom. Many of the former Confederates escaped to the West and made up new identities for themselves, but the majority remained, most working as tenant farmers for the carpetbagger landowners who charged exorbitant rents.
Of course, if you read this far, you know that none of this ever happened. Europe’s involvement was minimal; Sherman’s march to the sea was the death knell to the Confederacy; Lee surrendered at Appomattox in 1865; and the Liberal and Moderate Republicans were able to temper the Radical Republicans anger toward Confederates, and they were allowed back as full states, with a path to full political rights. At least, it never happened in the United States. Foreign involvement in the civil war in the Congo has extended that war for decades. If they left it alone, the strongest tribe would have won years ago, and the Congo would be stable. Foreign involvement in the Balkans allowed a defeated Muslim minority to set up a theocracy (though a liberal and relatively tolerant one) in Kosovo. The minority would be ruled by the majority, but there would be a form of peace. And the same thing may be happening now in Libya. Obviously the Libyan civil war and the American Civil War aren’t the same. Lincoln wasn’t a bad guy for his time, Sherman wasn’t nearly as bad as was rumored, and Qaddafi really is a bad guy. But just as the South wasn’t filled with just good guys fighting for their freedom, neither are the Libyan rebels. The reasons for the rebellion vary, but a significant number are fighting to strengthen the Sharia law in Libya, further oppressing women and religious minorities. The simple truth is that civil wars are often messy, and foreign involvement rarely helps.

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