Civil War Diplomacy

Civil War Diplomacy

Essential Question: How important was Civil War diplomacy to why the Union won?

Common Core Standards: WHST9, RH6


The best online introduction to the recent historiography of Civil War diplomacy and an outline of the major issues is the H-Diplo roundtable on Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Relations, by Howard Jones. Short of reading the book, this roundtable will give teachers essential background information needed for the lesson.


After an investigation of a series of primary sources on Civil War diplomacy, students will determine how important it was on the outcome of the war by completing a writing assignment.


Ask students to write for two minutes on one of the following topics:

Two of your friends are arguing. What would make you decide to join in the discussion? Why? What would you say?

Pick your favorite sport. Imagine your favorite team is playing its rival, but the rival gets to add players to its side during the game. How would that hurt your team?

Learning Activities:

This lesson can be done as either a jigsaw or gallery walk. The lesson is ideally located near the end of a Civil War unit, or at least after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Distribute this Civil War Diplomacy graphic organizer.

Model the historical thinking skills in the lesson by completing Source #1 and leading the class through the process.

Source #1: A popular image of a slave on Confederate money. (This one is from a bank note from Georgia in 1861.)

Source Question: Why would the South put pictures of “happy” slaves on its money?


Source #2:  The preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, September 1862:

". . . on the first day of January . . . all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

Source Question: How did this mean that the Union would now also be fighting for the end of slavery, when that was not the main reason to fight the war earlier?


Source #3: The U.S. Minister to Austria wrote this to the U.S. Secretary of State after President Lincoln issued the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862:


Some teachers may need to modify the text to reduce its complexity.

Source Question: What connection does the Minister make between the Emancipation Proclamation and the prospect of England aiding the Confederacy?


Source #4:  London Times editorial, 13 January 1863:

“We have not scrupled to express our sympathy with the South in their gallant struggle for national independence, and so strong has been that sympathy that it has overpowered the repulsion inspired by the institution of slavery. But the South should remember that they were the first to draw the sword in this quarrel, that they rose against an established Government in the exercise of its legal functions, . . . and that Union which they seek to dissolve is, as events have proved, the dearest with of every American heart.”

Source Question: Given that many in England disliked slavery, why would the Emancipation Proclamation make it more unlikely that England would help the South in the war?

Writing assignment:

Using at least one piece of evidence from what your teacher gave you, and at least one thing from each of the primary sources, write a memo to President Lincoln as one of his advisers.

Tell him what the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation has been on the prospect of England helping the Confederacy. Explain to him why this will help the Union win the war.


“Before you leave, write two sentences on which source will be most helpful when you write the assignment.”

Further Reading:

Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations, by Howard Jones
Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom, by Howard Jones