Bowen, Wayne H. Spain and the American Civil War

By Rakestraw, Donald | International Social Science Review, Fall-Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Bowen, Wayne H. Spain and the American Civil War


Rakestraw, Donald, International Social Science Review


Bowen, Wayne H. Spain and the American Civil War. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2011. xii + 188 pages. Cloth, $40.00.

Historian Wayne H. Bowen's Spain and the American Civil War promises to "address a major deficiency in the historical literature of the American Civil War" by establishing the potential for Spanish support for the Confederate States of America that could have altered the outcome of the conflict (p. 7). In describing a reviving mid-nineteenth century Spain as an "ideological soul-mate" to the American South, Bowen strives to show a linkage that makes Spain a much more compatible candidate for an alliance with the Confederacy than either Britain or France (p. 95). Acknowledging that much ink has been spent deservedly on British and French influence on the Civil War, Bowen wishes to elevate a neglected Spanish component to a more prominent position. He does appreciate, however, that Spain remained at the time of the American conflict a weak third to the powerful British Empire and the France of Napoleon III and hence deferred every major decision concerning the war to one or both of those governments. Bowen's discussion thus follows a pattern of Spain intimating intervention then subsequently yielding to either an overt or tacit veto by London or Paris.

Bowen devotes the first third of his book to the struggles of Spain in the decades preceding the American Civil War. He does this in part to revisit the context of controversy that existed between Washington and Madrid in the first half of the nineteenth century and in part to establish Madrid's dream of reasserting itself as a major power--an effort that climaxed during the Civil War years. After sketching U.S.-Spanish diplomatic wrangles associated with Florida, the Mexican War, and Cuba, Bowen develops the conditions and leadership under which Spain moved to reawaken its long-dormant influence in the Atlantic world. Highlighting the role of Prime Minister Leopoldo O'Donnell, Bowen describes a "brief economic and imperial renaissance" based to some extent on the effective war waged against Morocco, expansion into Africa, and investment in a Spanish naval buildup (p. 44). The 1860s are introduced with a brief discussion of the tripartite intervention in Mexico, which illustrated Madrid's subservience to London and Paris. Despite efforts to restore the glory of Spain, the kingdom remained "a very short man proclaiming himself tall" (p. 37).

The concession that Madrid only claimed to be "tall" during the critical period of potential intervention in the American Civil War is at odds with Bowen's assertion that Spain could have changed the course of the conflict. By the time Spain joined Britain in abandoning the French in the Mexican adventure in the first year of the American war, any substantive impact it might have had on the Confederate cause was all but moot. …

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