The Eagle and the Lion
There are many timelines which take as their premise British intervention in the ACW. These usually go along the lines of: Britain intervenes, supports the Confederacy, and as a result, either the Confederacy gets independence, or the Union beats both Britain and the CSA. However, Britain didn't rise to own a rather large Empire by forgetting to ask the question "What's in it for us?"
This is an ATL in which the British do get involved, but which tries to look at what both parties want, and tries to plot a development from there. From here, we will see one way in which the world might have developed.
The PoD I am using is the Trent affair. In OTL, this was patched over despite strong feelings on both sides. I am assuming that the exchange of letters becomes more, rather than less, inflammatory.
The Trent Affair
End of the phony war
Meanwhile, back at the other war
Meanwhile, back in Canada again
The French Connection
The Franco-Prussian war . . . and Alaska
The Trent Affair
US Naval vessel takes two Confederate passengers from the British merchant vessel Trent. There is a scuffle while this happens, and a British seaman is knocked overboard in a brief struggle to prevent the 'pirates' from making off with the passengers. The seaman drowns.
Britain complains to the USA about the outrage, and receives a letter which, when shorn of diplomatic and formal phrases, summarises as: "Tough". British public opinion is inflammed, and Palmerston is irritated at having such a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, he doesn't want to get involved in a shooting war with the USA. On the other hand, British interests can't allow the Trent incident to pass in this manner.
Palmerston, being an accomplished politician, makes sure that he is seen to be taking stern action to protect British interests while at the same time making sure that the threat to Canada isn't exacerbated. Pam is particularly careful to tread slowly with regard to upsetting the Union too badly. The intention is to make it clear to the Union that Britain will protect British interests, without provoking an all-out war. Any all-out war is going to involve Britain having to defend Canada. As one wag puts it: "Why go to war when it will cost a huge sum, will get us bogged down in a major commitment, and in which the best we can do is not lose. If they attack, fine. But why provoke an attack?"
The first stage is to prepare a medium sized army to go out to Canada. The first troops, mainly engineers, are sent out quickly and told to prepare defensive positions. With the experience of the Crimea, and with the experience of building the forts protecting Portsmouth, these defensive positions are expected to be effective. The initial work is rather swift and hurried, more of a temporary nature pending later construction (which, in all probability, never takes place).
In answering questions in the House, Pam points out that it is currently winter, and offensive operations in the snows of Canada are really not an option. The rest of the troops have been sent out and are "protecting British soil". Colin Campbell has been placed in command, and this dour, competent commander is accepted as a good defensive general. Pam goes on. "We have no claim on US soil. We will defend the soil of British Canada, and any incursion will be thrown back with blood. But I repeat, we do not make any claim on US soil. Our dispute with the USA is over trade and on the high seas."
Meanwhile, the RN gathers its strength, and tells the US government that it is suspending its agreement not to stop and search US vessels suspected of transporting slaves illegally from Africa. The RN starts stopping and searching US merchant shipping on the High Seas, and causing a little inconvenience. US complaints are met with the precedent of the Trent.
The RN captures a US slaver working out of Brazil, and escorts it to Boston for trial. All terribly formal and proper; Britain and the US aren't actually at war yet, although there are notable tensions. The Naval ship (HMS Amazon) is not well received, but the slaver does cause a bit of an internal stir between the Abolitionists and the Moderates in the USA. The Abolitionists are able to make a lot of political capital about the RN fighting against slavery, while the Union is seemingly trying to avoid the slavery issue.
The RN, however, is discovering the serious problem involved in searching a whole bloody ocean. The RN nuisance value against US shipping is simply that; partly because Pam doesn't want to push the USA into a position where it feels it has to fight, and partly because of the technical difficulties faced by the RN in searching an ocean.
This period is also marked by both sides avoiding the main strength of the other. The British don't go near American forts; the USN is already stretched (indeed, overstretched) trying to impose a blockade on the CSA. Troops in and around Canada remain, with British Engineer Troops making like moles and digging deep. Britain threatens to suspends sales of saltpetre to the USA, and the USA threatens to suspend sales of grain to Britain.
End of the phony war
Eventually the issue comes to a head. The Union moves an army up to the Canadian border under the command of the one Union general with proven experience of combined arms operations and succeeding dramatically in difficult terrain, namely Ambrose Burnside. A series of mistakes to and fro; a British reconnaissance blunders over the border, and there is minor skirmishing. A Union raid is conducted in return. British troops conduct a retaliatory raid and, by accident or design, a farm is burnt. The Union sends a strong reconnaissance in force over to test out the defences, and Burnside discovers the hard way the lessons which are later written in blood at places such as Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg, Malvern Hill, Spotsylvania, Kenesaw Mountain, and altogether too many others, namely that defensive positions are tough. It isn't helped by the traditional Union tactic of feeding in troops as they arrive. Union troops pull back after taking losses.
In the negotiations which take place (and which were already underway even before Burnside began his ill-fated so-called 'Snow march'), Britain and the USA come to a form of words by which Britain gets an apology for the Trent affair without the USA having to apologise for it. British troops remain in Canada, but the RN stops its actions against US merchant shipping.
Both Union and Britain have had a shock, and both can claim a victory ('We drove the British out of the war, and kept them back in Canada'; 'We whipped their army, protected Canada, and restored the Freedom of the High Seas').
Meanwhile, back at the other war
The war between the Confederacy and the Union proceeds. The Confederacy has taken advantage of the Union distraction to launch an attack in the west. Union forces under Grant hold on, proving the effectiveness of a stubborn defence, and Grant is praised for his handling of the crisis. Grant also gets to learn rather more quickly than OTL of the benefits granted by strong defensive positions, and works out how to take advantage of this in an offensive manner (march to take a spot they have to have, forcing them to attack you).
Meanwhile, back in Canada again
Britain Army Engineers start to survey an east-west rail line. It's an obvious strategic benefit. However, the Engineers, after a 2+ year survey, produce their report which makes unhappy reading. The report points out the major technical difficulties (for example, crossing the Rockies, and the problems imposed by the severe winters); the current shortfall (for example, the east doesn't have full links yet, and wouldn't it be sensible if this took place first?), the cost (it isn't going to be cheap to build this line. Who's paying? Britain? Not standard policy. Canada? Can't afford it); the length of time it would take to do; and the minor problem that, even if it were built, as a strategic link goes, in any future war with the USA, it would be a trivial matter for the Union Army to sweep across the border anywhere along its length, and cut the line. Or, to summarise, the report said: 'It can't be done; even if it could be done, we couldn't afford it; even if we could afford it, it would be obsolete before we built it; and even if it wasn't, it would be useless anyway.'
This upsets Columbia, the British outpost on the western coast of northern north America, which has wanted this Canadian link, but it is an obvious non-runner. In Britain, the scheme is filed for future reference, along with other crackpot schemes. Columbia still works on the idea, but is also looking to develop its port. It has a good port, it has coal, and it has the RN needing a decent port on the western coast of the Americas. Columbia starts to look westwards across the Pacific.
The USA has mixed feelings over British involvement; some feel aggrieved that they fought Britain and didn't gain a decisive victory, while others are glad that things didn't get out of control and that Britain backed out as soon as it could. It is one (among several) issue which dominates American politics for a couple of decades - friendship or enmity with the British lion.
France is irritated with Britain, feeling Britain could and should have done more over Mexico. France's attitude seems to be "You got involved over Canada, why not Mexico? We had an agreement!" and Britain's attitude is "What was in it for us? Nothing. That's what we did. Nothing."
The USA looks to the growing trading ties growing between California and Columbia, and the relatively weak communication links of California to the Union (it has strong emotional ties, but weaker trading ties). A direct rail link to California is undertaken.
The French Connection
While the ACW was raging, France was supporting the Emperor Maximillion in Mexico. The USA didn't really approve, but rather had its hands full, what with the CSA problem and the crisis with Britain. The UK didn't approve of France getting involved in Mexico, but it also did not disapprove.
From the UK's point of view, it did not want to push the USA too far, because it was trying to defuse, not exacerbate, the Trent crisis. On the other hand, it didn't want to upset France, with which it was trying to develop a rapprochement. The solution was to see nothing.
The French involvement was militarily effective, but politically troubled. The problem came down to the factor that the Mexicans didn't want Maximillion, and every time the French (and some other associated nationalities - Belgian and Spanish troops, for example, were involved) weren't around, anti-Maximillion revolts developed.
The resolution of the Trent crisis ended Britain's uncertainty over Canada. Napoleon III confidentally expected that, with the threat to Canada removed, Britain would be happy to twist the Eagle's tail, and assist in Mexico. Britain didn't see it that way, and stayed out the whole situation. This annoyed the French, who saw it as British cowardice and started to believe that the British lion had lost its teeth.
Meanwhile, the increasingly beleagured Confederacy has had its high hopes of early 1862 dashed. At one stage, it looked like Britain would be going to war with the USA; the Confederate advance in the west was going well; the movement into Kentucky had started; the Army of the Potomac was shown to be a lumbering, cavalry-useless thing. All these hopes were dashed, one after another. By late 1862, the CSA was casting around for another boost.
France seemed to be its last hope of outside intervention. France had been unwilling to become involved without Britain also being involved, but France now believed it didn't need to worry too much about upsetting Britain. The CSA didn't actually have anything to offer France, but did want French help.
For some time, lasting most of the 1862 campaigning season, the CSA and France dithered and dickered about whether or not to come to an agreement, and what help, if any, to give the other. Finally, the CSA agreed it would have no objections to Maximillion, if in return France provided active support to the Confederacy. France agreed to supply equipment and allow volunteers go to the Confederacy, and it just so happened that several units of the Foreign Legion in Mexico had so volunteered. France accepted that dealing with Mexico would take longer, but that the tacit support of an independent Confederacy would be worth it.
Units of the Foreign Legion moved from Mexico into Texas, and then into the Trans-Mississippi. Consequently, the opponents of Maximillion started to make more gains in Mexico.
The RN was already active in the Gulf of Mexico, searching for slavers and generally being a constant, minor nuisance. France started shipping larger quantities of war materials to Mexico/Texas, and the RN started intercepting some of these. This led to another stop-and-search Trent style dispute, this time between Britain and France. Britain flatly claimed the right to oppose the illegal slave trade, while France believed Britain would back down eventually. The situation became very tense when a French naval ship was sailing with a French merchant ship, which was intercepted by a RN ship. Shots were fired, and the French captain, seeing that the RN ship was much bigger and tougher than his own, backed down. Feelings in France were more than a little irritated with Britain, and there was the start of greater interest in building up a French Navy that could challenge the RN. This, however, was disrupted by the Franco-Prussian war.
However, back to land. The Foreign Legion was active in the
Trans-Mississippi. The CSA theory for using the Foreign Legion here was:
Things got complicated. The end result was that Maximillion quickly fell; the Foreign Legion caused the Union some problems in the Trans-Mississippi, but the Legion managed to get itself distracted into fighting Indians, terrorising settlers, and generally upsetting everyone out West. Britain continued to interfere with shipping, blandly maintaining the fiction that it was searching for slavers. Strangely, British merchantmen found it very much easier than anyone else to slip through the RN's net, but that was probably due to the superior seamanship of British merchant captains. The CSA fought on, eventually caving in to irresistable Union pressure. The Trans-Mississippi had been thoroughly burnt in places, and there were a lot of Indians with grudges.
It was a time of significant changes in naval technology. Sail was giving way to steam, and there were numerous technical disputes about the best way forward.
Among the debates were:
Steam; versus steam + sail; versus sail
Long-range guns or short-range guns. This was not so easy a choice as it looked; the evidence of the Monitor/Merrimac was that long-range was futile. On the other hand, long-range artillery was becoming increasingly powerful
Wood; versus ironclad; versus iron ship
The main players in the naval race were Britain, USA, France, Japan, Russia and the Netherlands. Britain was, in many respects, rather hacked off that its massive lead in naval power had been rendered obsolete. France was an energetic participant in the early days, but was distracted from following the Franco-Prussian war, and started looking to its army rather than its navy.
Japan worked closely with Britain, provoking many cartoons depicting a tiny Japanese sailor and a giant British sailor walking together with the caption: "Partners". The USA had mixed feelings about the race. On the one hand, it seemed like a giant waste of money. On the other hand, if Britain was playing this game, then it might be worth at least buying cards to sit at the table. It resulted in an internal argument (not for the first nor the last time) between the Internationalists and the Isolationists in the USA. Russia had four separate fleets (Baltic, Northern, Black Sea and Pacific), and no convenient way of switching between each. Holland was focused on its East Indies connections.
US doctrine settled on building large ships that were to operate mainly in American waters. As a result, they tended to be powerful, with good artillery, but with short legs.
France went for the doctrine of the general-purpose ship.
Dutch ships tended to have long endurance, and were primarily aimed at combating pirates; as a result, the tended to be comparatively small, manouevrable, with a emphasis on machine guns and rapid fire artillery.
Russian naval doctrine went for the Massive Ship theory, with each fleet consisting of a very large vessel screened by small ships. Each fleet was supposed to have the biggest possible warship as the centrepiece. Construction of said ships was a slow process. The Northern fleet never did get its centrepiece.
Japan and Britain ended up with the doctrine of ships with high endurance capable of 'sanitising' large areas of sea. Britain also developed heavily armed small ships, like the Dutch, for colonial deployment and protection of shipping in backwards areas.
In terms of secret developments, well, this wasn't a time of keeping secrets easily, and the British and Japanese work on aerial reconnaissance was much laughed at. Britain tended to work on balloons (with debate over hydrogen or hot air), while the Japanese preferred to work with kites (based on the Chinese development, but assumed by most to be a Japanese invention). The advantage of the kite was greater mobility, and the disadvantage was the high casualty rate among flyers. Balloons were stable, but lacked mobility.
The Franco-Prussian war . . . and Alaska
The tensions that led in OTL to the Franco-Prussian war still exist, and there is no reason to suppose that this wouldn't take place more or less on schedule (the outcome may be different).
However, in this ATL, France has greater concerns over Britain. It is well aware that in any upcoming war with Germany, it will be without British assistance, and the best it can hope for is British neutrality. France can't match Germany's lead in staff work or quality of artillery. It will still base its military options on French elan and efficient, intelligent infantry with good equipment.
The moves to war progress in a similar manner to OTL. However, the need for France to maximise its infantry makes it select differently with regard to the operational use of its new weapon, the militrause (a form of machine gun). OTL, it was used as an adjunct to artillery. In this ATL, it is used as close support for infantry, as "A boost for the elan of the French soldier in the attack".
The result is that French counter-attacks are often surprisingly effective. Formal French attacks on defended German positions suffer as one would expect, but when the Germans had just taken a position (usually with much expenditure of blood), and before they have had chance to settle or move, a French counterattack often swept them aside with little loss.
Nonetheless, the fewness of the militrause, and more especially, the difference in staff efficiency, resulted in a major French defeat. Those with eyes to see (which quite honestly, isn't that many - the military mind can be amazingly obtuse at times, and exceptionally inventive at explaining why it is right to do things the way they are being done) noted the usefulness of the militrause.
Meanwhile, Alaska becomes something of an issue for Russia. It is an expensive waste of money as far as Russia is concerned, and it is interested in selling it to the USA. Britain is also keen in the purchase, because it was concerned about the USA getting a north and south border with Columbia. The addition of Alaska to Columbia would give a bit more bulk to the British west.
Japan, recently opened up to the West, is on good terms with both Britain and the USA. Britain is currently training the Japanese navy, although Japan is looking for experts to train its army (the Franco-Prussian war convinces it that neither France nor Germany are the greatest tutors). The sale of Alaska is a long(ish) affair. Japan is a third party interested in entering the territory acquisition race, but can't afford it. Britain can afford it. The USA wants it and can afford it, but Britain doesn't want that solution. Russia is keen to flog it off, quickly.
Eventually, Russia decides to take the money and run, and sells Alaska at a bargain price to the Northern Territorial Company, in which Britain, USA and Japan all have a stake. A joint survey team from Britain, USA and Japan is sent to explore and clarify the Alaska/Columbia border. This actually proves to be something of a tension easer, as the joint team is effective and works well together. The fact that it is examining terrain that no-one cares one mile or another about helps.
Japan is allowed to become another of the Treaty Powers involved in the opened Chinese ports. France, the fourth Treaty Power, is rather losing interest in China, having rather more pressing problems at home. Although France still has a technical interest in the Treaty Ports, the effective powers there are Japan, Britain and the USA. Relations between these three powers improve.
To be continued... (but it never was)