Meet the guy who convinced Russia to side with the North during the Civil War

It’s hard to determine which is more surprising: the British aching to send troops and materiel to aid the Confederacy during the Civil War or that the first “Special Relationship” was between the U.S. and Russia against the British. Both of these facts are true and for the latter negating the former, we can thank one Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Clay was more than just a namesake for the greatest boxer of all time. He was also a politician, representative, officer in the Mexican War and Civil War, abolitionist, and ambassador with a pedigree in badassery. This man once frightened an opponent so much that the man killed himself the night before they were supposed to duel, which is probably the only duel story to top Andrew Jackson’s.

3360f6f04059f33c09201c770be03cc1b622daa84d424e377009f9da73ad55b8

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he tapped Clay to be his ambassador to the Imperial Russian Court in St. Petersburg. Since the Civil War broke out before Clay left for Russia in 1861 and there were no Federal troops in Washington at the time, Clay raised an Army of 300 volunteers to maintain an active defense of the capital until troops arrived.

The Kentucky politician started his life born to a family of planters (who fought in both the Revolution and the War of 1812) and became one himself before his foray into politics. Despite being a wealthy planter from Kentucky, the Yale-educated Clay became a staunch Abolitionist, opposed to slavery in any form, which would eventually cost him his seat in the legislature. He started an anti-slavery newspaper called True American which immediately earned him death threats. He was threatened so often and he was so steadfast in his beliefs, he had to seal himself and his press in his office in Lexington, defending the building with two four-pounder cannons.

While giving a speech promoting the abolition of slavery, he was attacked by six brothers for expressing these views. They beat him, stabbed him, and tried to shoot him, but Clay fought off all six with his Bowie knife, killing one of them in the process.

Minus the gunshot wound, this is the only way my brain will process that scene.

Minus the gunshot wound, this is the only way my brain will process the way that scene started.

Clay was so infuriating to his pro-slavery opponents, they hired a political gun to assassinate him. The would-be assassin shot Clay in the chest, but the bullet didn’t kill him. Despite being restrained by the assassin’s friends, Clay drew his Bowie knife and cut off the man’s nose and left ear, then gouged out his eye before throwing him over a wall and into a nearby river.

The Russian-British rivalry raged during the American Civil War. British politicians openly advocated intervention in the war and even had a secret plan to burn Boston and New York in sneak attacks from Canada. E. D. Adams’ Great Britain and the American Civil War notes the U.S. considered Russia a “true friend” and was suspicious of British neutrality while Secretary of State William Seward actively advocated war with France.

While in St. Petersburg, Clay won the support of Russia for the Union cause and convinced Tsar Alexander II to threaten worldwide war with England and France to keep them from intervening on the side of the Confederacy, with whom they both sympathized. The Russian Baltic Fleet arrived in New York harbor in in September 1863 and the Russian Far East Fleet arrived in San Francisco that October. The Tsar ordered his Navy to be under Lincoln’s command if war broke out.

Clay was recalled by Lincoln in 1862 and commissioned a Major General in the Union Army. He refused to accept the commission unless Lincoln freed slaves under Confederate control. The President ordered him to Kentucky to assess the effect of Emancipation on the population there, as Kentucky was seen as a vital border state. When Clay returned, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He left for Russia again the next year and served there until 1869, where he helped secure the Purchase of Alaska, presumably because the Tsar was afraid of him.

Tsar Alexander II

“He just kept barking at me.”

In his later years, Clay had so many enemies, he kept cannons to defend his home and office. His daughters became staunch Women’s Rights advocates.

 

NOW: 7 times the U.S. almost stumbled into war with Russia >

OR: How a modern battalion of Army Rangers would fare in the Civil War >

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...