Thursday, September 24, 2015

19th Century What Ifs: US vs. France and Mexico 1866

19th Century What if :The Franco-American War 1866-1868
Aka “The Second Mexican War”, “La Guerre per la Follie Napoleon”
by Konstantinos Travlos
Up in TMP a lively conversation has erupted over the possibilities of a war between Napoleon III and the United States of America around the time of the US Civil War. Various alternative scenarios have been offered , some more or less plausible in my view. All are legitimate, but here I would like to present my own scenario and defend its plausibility.

First a couple of things about how wars come about. Wars rarely erupt outside a context of repeated crises and military disputes (political scientists like William Thompson or Paul Diehl term this “rivalry”). Furthermore wars are more likely to erupt in conditions where rivalry is combined with alliance networks, and conflict over territorial issues. Policy and Regime issues are less likely to lead to war (See Senese and Vasquez “Steps to War” or Paul Huth’s “Standing your Ground”. So for an Franco-American war to be plausible we need to bring this conditions in.  

To intensify a US-French rivalry we need that French to take actions that are deemed to endanger the territorial integrity of the US. The basic ways to do this is through the CSA and through Mexico. Combine the two and you create a massive threat for the US. So how do we do that?

A direct intervention of France in the US civil war is the lazy way. It also does not make much sense for Napoleon. An independent CSA is as much a threat to his Central American plans as the USA is. However the longer the US Civil War lasts, the more able is he to mobilize resources to build a strong position in Mexico and the Caribbean, one that might deter a US attempt to dislodge him.  The easiest way for him to do this is through a Mexican proxy regime, that recognizes the Confederacy and is used as a transit for French material to the Confederacy. This will also give us a good excuse for ramping up US-French militarized disputes.

So let us start with the first point of departure from reality: The French win the first Battle of Puebla in May 1862, This is a key because the original Mexican victory cost the French almost a year of campaigning and gave time for the Republicans to get organized. Instead in our story the French win a decisive victory and march on to take Mexico City in 1863. By late 1863 they have captured most of central mexico.

Second point of departure: No Maximilian! I know Maximilian is the romantic figure at the center of the historical drama, but I really cannot see him being Napoleon IIIs stooge to the level that would be required to make Mexico a known enemy of the US. So he turns down the Miramon delegation (maybe he becomes King of Greece? 1864 saw a regime change in Greece from Otto of Bavaria to George of Danemark. Why not Maximilianos Ampsbourgos). So what do we get instead? A conservative transitional junta under Miramon, with the unstated goal of bringing in a Bonaparte for the future Mexican Throne. As for Juarez, we can have Juarez die in an internal coup in the Republican camp (as almost happen) or leave for the US. What we need is to assume that whatever happens the Republican cause is mortally wounded.

So now Napoleon has a good foothold on Mexico by late 1863, instead of 1864 as was the history. What does he do? He gets the Mexican Junta to recognize the CSA in 1864, in return for permission for Franco-Mexican troops to pursue Republican guerillas into Texas. Would the CSA accept such terms? Maybe, maybe not, but let us assume it would (the thinking being that they can always deal with Mexico once they have gotten their independence. We can postulate that this alliance creates political problems in the CSA).  Mexico thus becomes a major transit point between France and the CSA. I assume the material arriving permits the Confederacy to hold out until late 1866, especially in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Why does he do it? He needs time to pacify Mexico and built major military bases in the Gulf Region, time he can buy with French bullets entering American bodies. He finally signs an alliance between France and Mexico, which leases a naval base in Vera Cruz for 99 years. When asked why he does not just intervene in the ACW, he is reported to had answered “I will not give up a an actual crown for a phantom one”

How does Napoleon buy at the very least the tolerance of the French people for this? A) Money, the Mexican conduit for about a year permits France to trade with the CSA increasing profits B) He pulls out of Rome telling the Pope that he must step up with the times (This is Napoleon III, he is shameless) C) He enters a grand agreement with opportunistic Republicans and Constitutionalists. If they permit him to attach Mexico to the Bonaparte Dyansty, he will work with them to turn France into a Constitutional Monarchy. Let us assume they take the deal.

In the 1864-1865 period, Franco-Mexican troops pacify the rest of the country. Clashes with US or US affiliated troops erupt when Franco-Mexican flying columns peruse Republican guerrillas into Texas and Southern California.  He also begins transporting more troops into Mexico, with the goal of having 40000 French Troops and 15000 Mexican Troops in the region. Vera Cruz is fortified, as are the French holdings in the Gulf region, and the naval presence is increased.  A major Franco-US incident happens after the Alabama-Kearsarge battle. The French forced the Kearsarge to enter the port of Cherbourg and illegally held the crew for tend days, until British pressure led them to let them go.

In 1865 the US government no longer willing to tolerate the passage of French material through Mexico to the CSA, declares a blockade of Mexico, with the agreement of the Republican Government of Exile. This leads to a series of naval encounters between the French and US navies (essentially something like the quasi war) in the period 1865-1866. These encounters inflame the public opinion of both countries against each other.

By 1866 the Confederacy is at its ropes. Lee and Johnson E. Johnston are bottled up in Charleston S.C with 50000 men facing the combined might of the armies under Grant, Sherman and Sheridan (130000). Most of the Confederacy east of the Mississippi has fallen. Jefferson Davis tried to escape to Mexico through a French commercial ship, but he was captured by a US navy ship, which led to a further incident between France and the USA. In the Trans-Mississippi region Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and Lt. General Richard Taylor had at their disposal about 20000 men, 15000 bottled up in Mobile Alabama, buy the Army of the Gulf (30000 men), and another 5000 close to the Mexican Border. A new Union corps sized formation “The Army of Texas” (7000 men) were engaged in containing that force and Franco-Mexican flying columns.

Between 1865 and 1866 Napoleon III and General Miramon had entered secret negotiations with Texas and Louisianan secessionists. The idea was for Texas and Louisiana to secede from the CSA, be recognized as independent states by Mexico, sign alliances with it, and request French mediation with the USA.  Everybody understood that this would likely lead to a war, but Napoleon III expected that to happen anyway. In return Texas would agree to Mexican territorial gains in California and Arizona. For compensation it would be give n Oklahoma and New Mexico. Louisiana was just promised preferential treatment in commerce. On the slavery issue Napoleon offered to accept slavery in the two states for a 50 year period, during which gradual emancipation would be compensated by French capital. The Confederates were divided. The official governments and Kirby and Taylor rebuffed French efforts. But hard liners like Louis Wigfall took them in chance. 

On May 15th Kirby and Taylor surrendered their forces in Mobile, barring a force of 1500 harheads that broke through Union lines towards Texas. On May 20th, a Texan congress was called in El Paso by Luis Wigfall and other fire-eaters who declared the independence of the Republic of Texas. On the same day a Treaty of Alliance and Amity was signed between the Republics of Mexico and Texas, and the “Government” of the Republic of Texas requested French mediation in its dispute with the USA.  Many Confederates unwilling to accept the end of the war fled to Texas.

The USA government reacted immediately with a demand from Mexico to cease interfering in US events, and a refusal to accept French mediation.  On June 5th 1866 a French steamer was stopped by the US naval ships searching for Confederate officials. A French naval ship then appeared and demanded the US ship to leave. The two ships then engaged in a furious battle. On June 12th a Mexican force of 6000 men marched into Texas to combine with the 5000 men of the newly created Army of Texas. The US declared war on Mexico on June 15th. Napoleon feeling ready for the war and relying on inflamed popular opinion due to the June of 5th event, declared war on the US on June 18th presenting himself as a defender of small states against Yankee imperialism.

Opposing forces at the start of the war
The Theater of the war is probably going to be the Gulf region and California. 

At the start of the war the US probably has at its disposal the following forces
Army of the Gulf (30000-40000 men, XIX, XIII,XVI Corps)
Military Division of the Pacific (4000-5000 men)
Immediate Reinforcements: Sheridan’s Force (20000-40000 men ,XXV Corps, IV Corps, Custer’s Cavalry Division, Meritts Cavalry Division)
Total: 64000-85000 men?

The French would have had the following forces at their disposal
Army of the Republic of Texas (4000-5000 men)
Army of the Republic of Mexico (15000-20000 men)

French Army of Mexico
I Expeditionary Corps
Voltiguer Division of the Imperial Guard (2 Regiments of 2 battalions each, 1 Chasseur Battalion):5 battalions
1ST Division (1st Battalion/ Guard Zouave Regiment, 3 Battalions/ 2nd Zouave Regiment, 3 Battalions/ 1st Regiment Turcos ):7 Battalions
2nd Division (French Foreign Legion (4 Battalions) , 51st Regiment of the Line (3 Battalions), 4th Chasseurs Battalion): 8 Battalions
Cavalry Division: 2 Regiments of Chaussers De Afrique, 2 Regiments of Sipahis
10 Batteries of Artillery ( 2 Voltiguer 4-pdrs batteries/ 2 Guard Horse Artillery Batteries/6 Horse Artillery Batteries)

II Expeditionary Corps
Marine Division (4 Regiments each of three Battalions): 12 Battalions
3rd Division: 3 Line Regiments each of 2 Battalions, 1 Chausser Battalion :7 Battalions
4th Division: 2 Line Regiments each of 3 Battaltions, 2 Chausser Battalions: 8 Battalions
Cavalry Division: 1 Regiment Lancers of the Line, 2 Regiments of Hussars, 1 Regiment of Chasseurs
8 Batteries of Artillery (2nd Field Artillery Regiment)

Reserve Corps
5th Infantry Division: 3 Line Regiments each of 3 Battalions, 1 Chausser Battalion: 10 Battalions
Reserve Cavalry Division: 1 Cuirassier Regiment, 2 Dragoon Regiments, 2 Chasseurs Regiment
Reserve Artillery: 16 Batteries ( 4th and 12th Field Artillery Regiment)

French Gulf of Mexico Garrisons
5-10000 men?
Total: 49000-70000 men?

After that it is anyone’s guess depending on the willingness of the US to continue full mobilization after the surrender of the Confederacy, and the ability of Napoleon III to wrangle more troops from metropolitan France.

Political Goals: What would they be fighting for?
Maximalist: Expulsion of French from Mexico, Establishment of Republican Government in Mexico. Minimalist: Secure of territorial integrity of the USA
Maximalist: Incorporation of Southern California and Arizona in Mexico, Texan independence.
Minimalist: Recognition of Pro-French Regime in Mexico by US


Steve J. said...

I always love these 'what if?' type of scenarios/campaigns. I think you've made a well argued case upon which to play some games.

Chris said...

I can't resist imagining the battle at the end of Major Dundee (relocated perhaps) as one of the opening shots of the conflict....

Best regars,

Chris Johnson