November 8, 1861. The US Civil War is in its first year. The blockade imposed on the South has been effective in cutting off exports of cotton. This is causing mills in England to close down. European countries are concerned and seriously thinking of recognizing the Confederate government. At this time a US ship the San Jacinto stops and boards a British mail ship the Trent. On it they find two Confederate envoys to the British and French governments. The stopping and boarding of a British ship at sea causes a diplomatic firestorm. Britain threatens war and moves troops to Canada. Thankfully the intervention of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband averts the crisis. His rewrite of the harshly worded ultimatum gives Lincoln a face saving way out. The envoys are returned and Britain finds alternate ways to grow its own cotton in Egypt and India. Eventually the South’s practice of slavery makes it politically unpopular to recognize the South.
Now this is how the events happened in history. This story alters the fateful moment that Albert became ill and died. Without him the harsh ultimatum is delivered and rejected. The British launch a full scale invasion of the North. It’s southern invasion makes a fatal error. It gets lost and instead of attacking the Union blockading base they instead attack and massacre the Confederate garrison at Biloxi. Then the soldiers get drunk and go on a rampage of raping and pillaging of the city. Now the North and South unite to defeat a common enemy. Using advanced Spencer repeating rifles and new iron clad gunboats they defeat the British and drive them out of Canada and the Caribbean.
This was a fascinating book. The author really did a lot of research to get the people, arms, tactics and politics of the time. While the Trent affair is a historically plausible point for a British intervention the mistaken attack on the South makes it highly improbable. Harrison is an Irishman, he lives in Ireland according to the biography and like any Irishman has a bias towards the British. I don’t think that all the British were so arrogant and incompetent as portrayed in the book. Yes Queen Victoria was probably somewhat of a fruit loop, she always refers to herself in the plural. And it also seems to rely real heavily on John Stuart Mills ability to convince the South to do away with slavery. I don’t think that was a very realistic scenario.
Still the whole story was a fun idea. Having all the greats from the Civil War united against a common enemy. Its not very difficult to envision that such a united force at the time could easily defeat the British and drive them out of Canada. And its was nice that the country was able to solve the issue of slavery so easily. So in story was not a very probable alternate history outcome but it was a fun and enjoyable read.