On September 11, the Russian frigate Osliaba entered New York Harbor flying the ensign of Czar Alexander II’s Imperial Russian Navy. Over the next few weeks, several other warships arrived at both New York and San Francisco. This visit was not expected by U.S. officials, but since Russia was largely seen as a friendly nation, northerners hurried to stage a massive welcome for the Russian visitors.
U.S. officials hoped that the Russians would use their pro-U.S. stance to block any efforts by Great Britain or France to recognize Confederate independence. However, it was revealed 50 years later that the true purpose of the Russians’ visit was to get their naval fleet out of the Baltic Sea to prevent retaliation against it by Britain or France for the Russians’ brutal suppression of a revolt in Poland.
Nevertheless, the Russians were cheered by thousands as they rode a carriage down Broadway. They were entertained at many social affairs during their seven-month visit, and their exploits were extensively reported by the press. The Russians later visited Washington, where they were greeted at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Some of the more skeptical pundits questioned why so much money was being spent entertaining foreign visitors while soldiers were suffering in army and prison camps.
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary on September 25, “The Russian fleet has come out of the Baltic and are now in New York, or a large number of the vessels have arrived. They are not to be confined in the Baltic by a northern winter. In sending them to this country at this time there is something significant. What will be its effect on France and the French policy we shall learn in due time. It may moderate; it may exasperate. God bless the Russians.”
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- Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- Welles, Gideon, Diary of Gideon Welles Volumes I & II. Kindle Edition. Abridged, Annotated.