Peace after the Civil War brought with it rapid military demobilization and a lengthy involvement in southern Reconstruction. The ranks of the Union Army, which numbered over a million men in May 1865, diminished drastically once the guns had been silenced. By November 1866, only 11,043 volunteers remained in uniform. And within five years, the U.S. Navy was left with only 52 ships; a dramatic loss considering that at the peak of the war there were 700 vessels of all sizes. 1 During this period, the nation focused on the monumental task of rebuilding the physical damage wrought by the war and reforming its basic social institutions. The partisan bitterness over southern Reconstruction unleashed within the halls of government eventually consumed the administration of Andrew Johnson. 2
Because of the cutbacks in the armed services and the reconstruction going on in the south, America's forays into foreign affairs during the decade after the Civil War were limited. Postwar U.S. diplomacy reflected a loose, reactive style, lacking an overall centralized direction or strategy. Individual representatives stationed abroad—a group that included officially recognized diplomats as well as merchants, missionaries, and entrepreneurs—were granted considerable leeway in the way they conducted American affairs. 3
Despite these handicaps, the United States was able to register some early successes. In 1867, Alaska became an American territory. Although derided by many contemporaries as an expensive ($7.2 million) boondoggle, Secretary of State William H. Seward believed that possession of the Alaska territory could serve as a means to expedite American occupation of Canada. 4 Over the longer term, American ownership of Alaska halted Russian efforts to extend its domain across the Bering Strait; and the territory proved to be a veritable treasure trove of natural resources. During the same year, the United States also occupied Midway Island, considerably extending the range of American naval power into the Pacific.