Consulate of The United States, Liverpool - History - American Civil War

American Civil War

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During the American Civil War (1861–65), consul Thomas Haines Dudley made strenuous efforts to prevent ships from Liverpool from breaking the United States Navy blockade of Confederate ports. Great Britain remained officially neutral throughout the war but there were many Confederate sympathisers in Liverpool. The commerce raider CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead in Merseyside in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company. She was eventually sunk by the USS Kearsarge in 1864.

In 1865, following the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, vice consul Wilding notified his masters in Washington that John Surratt, one of Booth's conspirators, had taken refuge in Liverpool. Surratt had fled to Europe with the help of Confederate agents, booking passage under an alias and landing at Liverpool in September 1865, where he went into hiding in the oratory of the Church of the Holy Cross. Curiously, the United States Government chose not to pursue Surratt any further, despite having offered a $25,000 for information leading to his arrest, and no request was ever made to the British authorities to detain him. In any event Surratt did not stay long in Liverpool, but went on to serve for a brief time in the Ninth Company of the Pontifical Zouaves in the Vatican City under the name John Watson.

Consul Dudley wished to retire after the war and return to his law practice in New Jersey, but such was his knowledge of Confederate assets in Liverpool that he stayed on as consul, seizing Confederate ships and returning the proceeds of sale to the victorious United States Government. Relations between Britain and the United States were tense after the war, in part because of the role of Liverpool blockade runners and the widespread perception in America that Britain had been sympathetic to the defeated Confederacy. The claims arising out of these disputes, especially the Alabama Claims, would not be settled until the 1871 Treaty of Washington.

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