By Meilan Solly/Smithsonianmag.com

In the winter of 1862, Union troops occupied Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy.

Two ironside battleships, the Monitor and the Merrimack fought to a stalemate off Hampton Roads, Virginia. And on the coast of North Africa, 40 U.S. Marines landed in Tangier, Morocco, to help quell a riot and take possession of two Confederates who had been arrested by the U.S. Consul.

This bizarre Civil War episode came about mainly because of the infamous exploits of the C.S.S. Sumter, a Confederate blockade runner commanded by Raphael Semmes that had been terrorizing the U.S. Navy and Northern merchants throughout the Atlantic.

On January 18, 1862, the Sumter docked in Gibraltar in need of fuel and repairs. Through clever persistence, the U.S. consul in Gibraltar, Horatio Sprague, had successfully kept the Sumter thereby pressuring the town’s merchants to refuse the Confederates all necessary supplies. Without coal, they were stuck.

Mar 8-9, 1862: The Battle of Hampton Roads, also referred to as the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack or the Battle of Ironclads, was a famous and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War at Sewell’s Point, Norfolk, Virginia

Across the Strait of Gibraltar in Tangier resided the U.S. consul to Morocco, James DeLong, himself a former judge from Ohio and abolitionist who freed two slaves traveling through his jurisdiction in 1854…

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2 COMMENTS

  1. As Americans we tend to view our history in a vacuum, but the Civil War was closely observed all over the world. In 1861, the European powers greeted the failure of their hated adversary, “the Great Republic,’ with undisguised glee. Though nominally sympathetic to the insurgency, they immediately began scheming to recolonize the western hemisphere. With the Pope’s blessing, France’s self-styled “emperor” Napoleon III developed an elaborate plan with Spain and Britain to set up an Imperial regime that would eventually expand to include all of Central and South America. The scheme hinged on Mexico’s occupation by French forces, stationed there to checkmate southward expansion ambitions of the Confederacy. But in Mexico a ragtag peasant army inflicted a severe defeat on crack French Zouaves on Cinco de Mayo, 1862. Although Mexico’s valiant defenders would later be overwhelmed, this startling reversal caused British leaders to reconsider and pull out of the alliance. Later that year a diplomatic crisis, triggered by Garibaldi’s march on Rome, forced the resignation of the aggressive French Minister of War, and la reconquesta was abandoned.

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