A Decade of Turbulence
The Trent Affair
Caption: The Royal Mail Steamship Trent (left) stopped on the high seas by the American warship USS San Jacinto (right) on 8 November 1861
Great Britain and Canada both wanted to stay out of the American Civil War. But on November 8, 1861, an incident led people to expect the worst: seamen on the American warship USS San Jacinto intercepted at sea and boarded the British ship Trent and forcibly took two Confederate commissioners who were travelling on that vessel. The freedom of the seas and maritime neutrality were called into question, and England was indignant. As soon as the news reached Quebec, Governor General Charles Stanley Monck ordered that the troops in garrison in the Province of Canada be placed on alert. Great Britain sent reinforcements, and in 1862 the garrison was increased from 5,500 officers and soldiers to more than 18,000, a number not seen since the 1812 attempted invasion.
The prospect of a war with the United States was extremely worrisome to the Canadian public; the number of volunteers jumped to more than 13,000 in May 1862 and to some 25,000 by the end of the year. This amounted to one man for every 100 inhabitants of all ages and both sexes, with three times as many volunteers coming from the cities as from the countryside. In addition to the many rifle, cavalry and artillery companies, there were now the engineers and the sailors, the latter supplying the crews for small gunboats - which were often no more than armed yachts - assigned to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
In the end, there was a diplomatic solution to the Trent affair, because the United States could not afford to fight on two fronts, especially given that it was already at the mercy of the Royal Navy. In Halifax, Admiral Alexander Milne planned to break the blockade of the southern states by the North, to introduce his own blockade of the northern states and to help the Confederate army in Virginia. And his squadron was powerful enough to rout the American navy.
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