England Frantic with Rage over Trent Affair; Rebels Not Advancing in Missouri

November 29, 1861 (Friday)

“There never was within memory such a burst of feeling as has been created by the news of the boarding of the La Plata [Trent],” wrote Charles MacKay, a Scottish poet living in England. The news that Confederate envoys, James Mason and John Slidell, had been seized from a British vessel hit England two days prior. Since then, according to MacKay in his letter to Secretary of State William Seward, the English were “frantic with rage, and were the country polled I fear that 999 men out of 1,000 would declare for immediate war.”

Prior to the news breaking, English sympathy for the South was there, but “coldly expressed.” Now, said MacKay, “it is warm and universal.” He opined that “Englishmen would rather fight with any power in the world than with America, but I do assure you their blood is up and they mean mischief in this business.”

Charles MacKay rubbed elbows with all “classes of society.” He spoke with a typically peaceful member of Parliament who told him “that if this insult were not atoned for he saw no use for a flag; that he would recommend the British colors to be torn into shreds and sent to Washington for the use of the Presidential water-closets.”1

Another letter, written the same day, by James L. Graham Jr., an American living in Edinburgh, described how the news had “entirely monopolized the public mind.” Graham had never seen so “intense a feeling of indignation exhibited in my life. It pervades all classes and may make itself heard above the wiser theories of the cabinet officers.”2

Also on this date, United States ambassador to England, Charles Francis Adams met with England’s Foreign Secretary John Russell in London. Though not much was said, as Adams knew nothing more of the affair than did Russell, it was the first time US and British officials met since the news broke. More would have to be learned by both sides before more could be accomplished.

Still, Adams saw “little reason to doubt that the same steamer which bears this [letter to Washington] will carry out a demand for an apology and the restoration of the men.”3

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Loring Almost Agrees to Help Jackson

General “Stonewall” Jackson, recently placed in command of Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley, wished for his troops to not remain idle during the winter months. He conceived a plan to move into Western Virginia. For this, he wanted General Loring’s troops, already in that part of the state. Their last major action was in reinforcing General Lee near Gauley Bridge. As of this date, they were faced off against Union troops entrenched on Cheat Mountain. Neither side had plans to attack.

Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin approved Jackson’s plan, but left the final decision of joining Jackson up to Loring. On this date, Loring replied, stating that he and General Lee had discussed such a venture, if only the troops were available. He saw no real reason why it couldn’t be pulled off if the proper transportation was acquired.

That wasn’t to say that it would be easy. In fact, Loring thought that keeping the movement a secret from the enemy would be nearly impossible because “the Union men have numerous relations throughout this region and will, not withstanding the utmost vigilance, obtain information.”

While Loring agreed to help Jackson, he would not move before having the proper transportation, which could take weeks. He would begin by sending his sick and wounded to the rear, but if Jackson wanted a sudden movement (which he did), he would be disappointed.

Secretary Benjamin had left it up to Loring to decide, but, in closing, Loring threw it back to the Secretary: “If, upon consideration of affairs on this line, you should desire the proposed campaign to be prosecuted, be assured that I shall enter into it with a spirit to succeed, and will be seconded by a command as ardent in the cause as any in the country, and who will cheerfully endure all the hardships incident to a winter campaign.”4

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Halleck Informed that Rebels Not Advancing in Missouri

Meanwhile, in Missouri, as General Sherman traveled back to St. Louis, convinced the Rebels were soon to attack near Sedalia, General Halleck pondered the truth. In writing to McClellan in Washington and then to General Hunter in Kansas, Halleck expressed concern that the Rebels were in much greater number than he first imagined and currently moving north, like Sherman said. Not only that, but there were apparently many Rebels gathering to the east and west of Sedalia.

The reports from three division commanders near Sedalia, however, told a much different tale. From the Prussian-born General Peter Joseph Osterhaus, he learned that General Price’s Rebel force, though 14,000 strong, was scattered and “poorly clad and very short in food and forage.” Like Halleck, he suspected that their target was Kansas.

General John Pope, senior commander near Sedalia, agreed with Osterhaus that Price was “scattered all over the country for a hundred miles in every direction in squads more or less large.” He thought it doubtful that they would reunite before Spring.

Pope was also aware of a very important fact. The terms of enlistment for many of the men under Price were due to expire. Though many might wish to reenlist, many might also wish to return home, thus dwindling their numbers. “Pursuit will only scatter them more,” reasoned Pope, “without other result than breaking down our own troops,” that were already “suffering much for want of shelter, which can not be found in this section.”

Lastly, from General Frederick Steele, Halleck learned that the figure of 14,000 given for the strength of Price’s force might be outdated. It could be as many as 5,000 less. This was due to desertions, said Steele (though it’s more likely that it was due to furloughs and the expiration of the terms of enlistment). Price, reported Steele, was still south of the Osage River and seemed very likely to remain there.5

With the absence of Sherman, General Halleck’s three division commanders near Sedalia reported that General Price had no plans to attack. It seemed that the Rebel force was scattered and dwindling in number. According to Halleck’s Generals, Price was neither moving north nor did he have a large force.



  1. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1106-1108. []
  2. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1131. []
  3. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1104-1106. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p983-984. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p392-394. []
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England Frantic with Rage over Trent Affair; Rebels Not Advancing in Missouri by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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2 thoughts on “England Frantic with Rage over Trent Affair; Rebels Not Advancing in Missouri

  1. Just a quick note . . . . . but, are you certain you have all your facts correct? The vessel you identify as the “La Plata” was the ship that transported Mason & Slidell from their prison-cells at Fort Monroe onward to the UK, AFTER their being imprisoned in the Federal Clink – following their abduction off of the HMS Trent, right? Cpt Chas Wilkes was the commander of the USS Jacinto – that conducted the illegal boarding. Right?

    Just checking . . . . .

    DS.

    1. Hi there,

      Yep, my facts are correct. The Trent was mistakenly referred to as the La Plata by Charles MacKay, a Scottish poet living in England. I was quoting what he had to say about it. More than likely, the news reaching him in England had a few of the names wrong. I put the “Trent” in brackets to denote his mistake.

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