By Andy Mateja

While the Federal government was engaged in a bloody civil war to reunite the nation, the northernmost states had to also maintain a wary eye on their neighbor nation to the north…..Canada
Canada, like England was sympathetic to the Confederate cause. They did what they could to aid the Southerners, short of open conflict with the North. But that came close to happening on several occasions
Tension had been high between the U.S. and Canada for most of the war. The Canadians for the most part were members of the British Empire and still bitter about the “American colonies” breaking away and forming their own independent nation during the Revolutionary War. They viewed the United States as an economic rival. It bothered some of them that escaped slaves sought refuse in Canada where 18,000 former slaves resided at the beginning of the Civil War. However there was a growing trend amongst the average workers in Canada toward Abolitionism. These Canadians strongly supported Lincoln’s efforts toward emancipation while those that supported the South believed the Lincoln Administration was seeking an excuse to annex Canada.
While trying to remain “neutral” during the conflict, England decided to assist Canada by sending 2100 troops ostensibly to guard their border against potential U.S. incursions. All that this accomplished was to fan the flame of mistrust amongst the Northern states who believed England was actually sending troops to aid the Confederacy by invading the North.
Some Canadians were wary as well as they viewed the increase in consular agents being imbedded by the Lincoln Administration in numerous cities across their country as nothing more than a spy network to keep an eye on Confederate agents already residing there.
The “Trent Affair” in November 1861 further inflamed the situation and escalated tensions to a much greater degree. This issue involved the seizing of Confederate emissaries from British vessels by U.S. naval forces. England was preparing for war over what they believed was and “unwarranted act” and further convinced Canadians that U.S. annexation efforts were imminent
Reacting swiftly, Canadian militia began drilling and preparing for war while England sent another 14,000 troops to bolster support.
Northern state militias also began preparing for war and headed to each of their states’ effective border with Canada. Fortunately Abraham Lincoln himself interceded just in time to avert a potential disaster for his fledgling administration. He promised Canadian volunteers serving in the Union army that he would absolutely not declare war on Great Britain.
While tensions eased a bit along the border, ship building and Confederate presence increased in Canada, particularly in the Eastern provinces. Many Southerners crossed the borders in both directions, unimpeded via unguarded country roads trails through the Northern states. As many as 15,000 Southerners now resided in Canada and no longer feared revealing their presence to U.S. agents.
Next came a plan to engineer a mass Confederate Prisoner of War escape from the Federal prison on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky Ohio.
Confederate agents residing across the lake in Windsor Canada planned to seize a U.S. warship and force the prison to release the prisoners so they could escape to Canada. A series of inept errors occurred which prevented the plot to come to fruition. Tensions once again increased between the Federal government and Canada over this incident and its blatant support of Southern interests.
There was no question that the Confederacy was now becoming desperate. Just weeks before the 1864 U.S. presidential election that would decide if Abraham Lincoln and his policies to end the war would persevere, a raid was initiated on Oct 19th from Canada into St. Albans VT. The Confederate raiders stole $200,000 from the local banks and, during their escape back into Canada, inadvertently set some of the town buildings on fire with the new incendiary liquids they were carrying.
While the issue was condemned by both U.S. and Canadian officials, it was effectively defused by Secretary of State William H. Seward. However, Canadians finally had enough of the Confederacy and believed they were losing the war and victory was now hopeless. Their support slowly ebbed away and the Confederacy’s last best hope of favorable foreign intervention disappeared once and for all ……..

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