by Andy Mateja

One of the little known facts of the Civil War……. On September 11th 1863, Russian warships sailed into New York Harbor which at the time was the ONLY major European power who was friendly to the Northern States against the Confederacy. The unexpected arrival of the Russian flotilla seemed to hint that support was forthcoming to President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to defeat the Southern Rebels from Czar Alexander II.

The international tension began in May 1861 when Queen Victoria of England announced publically she would “side” with the newly formed Confederacy. So did France & Spain…….

The Russians wanted to see the newly formed United States succeed and glow in global stature especially after the Czar was defeated by the British & French in the Crimean War a few years earlier.  They felt the United States would balance the European power.

In late 1862 when it looked like the Confederacy was actually winning the war and the cotton crop was becoming scarce in Europe (except from English mills), the Czar began to panic. France’s Napoleon III was also ready to commit his country’s support of the Confederacy and tried to enlist Russia to join them and Britain to “intervene”.  Russia refused and Britain and France were unwilling to submit to a possible war with the Lincoln Administration without Russia’s support. But as fate would have it, war was looming in early 1863 between France, Britain and Russia over Poland with Prussia possibly stepping in to help the Czar.

Russia’s Navy at the time was small so the Czar decided to be ready to attack Franco-British ports around the world in the Spring and Summer of 1863. The Russian Navy needed Atlantic ports so the United States Atlantic Ports became ideal for their strategy. The Czar had already been strengthening his relationship with Lincoln before then and now it was paying off.

New York City had the BEST sea port of all in this area with excellent dry docks for ship repairs and ice free shipping lanes to use. The Russian fleet also expanded their presence in the Pacific Ocean as a counter measure to British and French ships sailing in the Japanese and Chinese waters.  San Francisco became their most likely choice for a U.S. West Coast port of call.

Northern citizens, seeing the Czar’s naval ships on their East and West coasts, felt sure they were going to help the Union cause…..

French authorities were convinced the Czar was intentionally trying to start a war over Poland and England felt further there was a strong possibility of a Russia-American alliance with intentions to possibly attack Britain!!!

While the northern cities of New York City and San Francisco were celebrating the Russian naval visits, Southern politicians were worried that the European nations were no longer paying attention to their plight and were focusing instead to a possible war with the Czar over Poland, Northern politicians perpetuated this false belief partially by hope and, at the very least, to keep the Confederacy “off balance”.

While most they did was to protect San Francisco from Rebel raiders, when the Russian ships left New York City and further moved their flotilla to Washington City in December 1863, they were met by American dignitaries from the Lincoln Administration including Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justices.

The beliefs continued into 1864 when potential war overland Poland fizzled out and it was time for the Russian ships to head back home.  A few months after the Russian ships departed, Gens Robt E.  Lee and Joseph Johnston surrendered their Southern armies and Confederacy was no more…..