The Russia-American Special Relationship that Saved the Union


thoughts of an expatThis is a part of American history that I wasn’t aware of, it made me wonder how many others don’t know as well. It seems that when America was in it’s deepest turmoil unlikely as it seems Russia sent warships to protect the ports not only on the east coast but west coast as well. In Great Britain the powers of the time considered both America and Russia the oppressors. Times have changed but people and governments haven’t, even the locations look similar. Today in the eyes of some all they done is changed hats.  Isn’t it the fear-mongers who create these situations. True cooperation doesn’t come from fear, but should come from mutual respect for one another. Governments come and go and the people endure, it will be the truth that sets people free. During the Civil War in America, Russia helped it remain free.

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At the point of maximum war danger between Great Britain and the United States, the London satirical publication Punch published a vicious caricature of US President Abraham Lincoln and Russian Tsar Alexander II, demonizing the two friends as bloody oppressors.

The Russo-American Connection (1861-1870)

During the first years of the American Civil War, France and England rather openly sided with the Southern secessionists. The Union had only one loyal ally in Europe: the Tsarist Russian state. Although we today think only of the repressive and autocratic side of the Romanov dynasty, Russia did indeed have periods of enlightened reform when nobles and patriotic bureaucrats attempted to make a modern, liberal state of their sprawling and unruly empire. The 1860s was one such time. Perhaps not coincidentally, Russia’s forward-looking Tsar Alexander II had just emancipated the serfs in 1860 — a few years before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, liberating the slaves in the midst of the bloodiest war in American history. Supporting Lincoln and the integrity of the U.S. republic, Russia sent a number of large steam frigates to U.S ports east and west. In some cases the U.S. even provided the ships: the 50-gun frigate Alexander Nyevsky was entirely armed with American-made smoothbore cannon, cast in Pittsburgh. During this time of strife,

ru_bronenosets_186550-gun frigate Alexander Nyevsky

Russian friendship for the Union was most welcome, but there was an element of mutual advantage at work. In the aftermath of the Crimean War, Russia felt thretened by Britain and convinced that the British had backed a revolt in Russian-occupied Poland. The Tsar’s ministers feared a replay of 1856 and — in a perfect example of generals fighting the last war — determined to beef up their Baltic defenses. The Nyevsky was but the flagship of an impressive squadron commanded by R. Adm. Stepan S. Lessovsky, in America to acquire advanced naval artillery and technology. This naval mission included Nikolai Artseulov, a shipbuilding expert, and F.N. Pestich, a naval gun expert, both hungry for techniques and military aid.

To find out more about this see here and here.

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9 thoughts on “The Russia-American Special Relationship that Saved the Union

  1. This story is really unheard of.. and how many people can imagine that it could ever happened in history?

    It’s always great to see your posts, some thing new and something interesting always waiting…

    I missed quite a lot in between and a lot of work to be done in catching up 🙂

    1. Did you know that Gandhi had a high appreciation for Tolstoy? It’s part of the reason he chose a non-violent approach to expelling the British? Remember we talked about doing another collaboration? This just might be a beginning point. Did you also know that earliest form of Indian writing has interesting relationship to the table of elements? Check it out. All food for thought.

  2. Very interesting as always. I had heard of this vaguely, as I have read a lot about the US Civil War over the years. There was indeed talk of the UK coming in on the side of the Confederacy, and the Russians would have been worried about this, given the very recent events of the Crimean War.
    (I think the ship in the photo is an American Monitor gunboat though, at least the shallow-hulled craft in the centre is.)
    An enjoyable read.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Very interesting. It would seem that the support extended by Russia – and welcomed by the Union – was as much on the basis of mutually shared principles (emancipation and equality) as for forming a strategic alliance against the UK and France. The Punch caricature is telling! I suppose many events get lost between the pages of history books because there’s no current agenda driving it out into the public consciousness.

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