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France and the American Civil War

A Diplomatic History

By Stève Sainlaude

Translated by Jessica Edwards. Foreword by Don H. Doyle.

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 halftones, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4994-8
    Published: March 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4995-5
    Published: February 2019

Civil War America

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France's involvement in the American Civil War was critical to its unfolding, but the details of the European power's role remain little understood. Here, Stève Sainlaude offers the first comprehensive history of French diplomatic engagement with the Union and the Confederate States of America during the conflict. Drawing on archival sources that have been neglected by scholars up to this point, Sainlaude overturns many commonly held assumptions about French relations with the Union and the Confederacy. As Sainlaude demonstrates, no major European power had a deeper stake in the outcome of the conflict than France.

Reaching beyond the standard narratives of this history, Sainlaude delves deeply into questions of geopolitical strategy and diplomacy during this critical period in world affairs. The resulting study will help shift the way Americans look at the Civil War and extend their understanding of the conflict in global context.

About the Authors

Steve Sainlaude is associate professor of history at the University of Paris IV Sorbonne.
For more information about Stève Sainlaude, visit the Author Page.

Jessica Edwards is an independent translator.
For more information about Jessica Edwards, visit the Author Page.

Don H. Doyle is McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.
For more information about Don H. Doyle, visit the Author Page.


"Most studies of Civil War diplomacy focus on British relations with the Union and Confederacy, but Sainlaude makes a strong case that French policy deserves more attention than it has received, especially given the consequences of France's intervention in the simultaneous civil war in Mexico. And the insights derived from wartime reports by French consuls in both Northern and Southern cities give this book a fresh perspective on the American war."--James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

"A masterful analysis, well-written and thoroughly researched in the rich and unused French Consular Reports and other collections, this impressive work by Sainlaude shows why France did not recognize the Confederacy during the American Civil War and eventually retreated from Napoleon III's 'grand design' to restructure Mexico and the Americas as the first step in his global plan."--Howard Jones, author of Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations

"Through assiduous work in French archival sources, Sainlaude upends our understanding of France's relationship to the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War.  By reversing the gaze and seeing the Civil War westward from Europe, rather than seeing Europe eastward from the Civil War, Sainlaude rethinks the timing, nature, and potential outcomes of the French response to the Civil War. An important and welcome contribution to the diplomatic history of the Civil War era and of U.S.-French relations more broadly."--Gregory P. Downs, author of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War