The Trent affair was the first major crisis with foreign powers during the Civil War.
American diplomatic relations with European powers, specifically Britain, during the Civil War were shaky at best. Britain had developed a dependency on the South’s cotton supply as a result of its booming textile industry. The South hoped that, in the event of civil war, Britain would intervene to ensure a continuing supply of cotton to their textile industry.
Meanwhile European rulers schemed to take advantage of any signs of weakness in the West. America could become a world power in the future, which could threaten the independence of colonies in both Central and South America.
The first major crisis with Britain concerned the Trent Affair of 1861. A Union battleship, while sailing just north of Cuba, stopped a small British mail steamer named the Trent. Two Confederate diplomats were discovered onboard the Trent. Both diplomats were forcibly removed from the steamer, who were headed towards Europe. The Union suspected the diplomats were headed to Britain to discuss foreign intervention in the Civil War.
The British were outraged and took major offense to the bold move by the Yankees. Britain made war preparations and placed combat-ready troops on the border of Canada. The London Foreign Office issued an ultimatum demanding surrender of the prisoners and an apology. Lincoln released the two men, supposedly saying “one war at a time.”