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BRITISH CONNECTIONS

Some time ago, there was a request for members to try and discover local British connections to the American Civil War. I have been digging around, and came up with some links with the Northamptonshire boot and shoe industry. It was, in fact, the Civil War, and later the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, that helped the industry to move to a mass-production factory system, from the former home-based out-working system.

In 1862, the Northampton Mercury noted that the town was supplying boots to both sides in the conflict. A gap in the market had been created by the virtual collapse of the US shoe industry in the North, due to labour shortages, and the loss of the Southern market.

The town of Northampton was the principal foreign producer of footwear for the Confederate Army, which imported three quarters of a million pairs of boots and shoes in the course of the War. The leading agent for this trade was the London firm of army contractors, Isaac, Campbell and Co. Until 1858 they had been contractors for the British Army, but were dismissed following misappropriations at the military depot at Weedon. They then established shoe making premises in Northampton. In the first 18 months of the War, Confederate purchases from the Company totaled over $1 million. A Confederate military clerk is recorded as having praised the quality of British footwear, and its relative cheapness in wartime.

The Isaac, Campbell operation was organised for blockade running. They had their own agent in Nassau in the Bahamas, and owned ships to run the blockade. In 1863 their ship Springbok was seized by the US Navy. However, in June 1863 the Confederate Secretary of War ordered an investigation into the Company accounts, as it was felt that their prices were unusually high. This revealed both overcharging, and the keeping of a double set of account books, ostensibly as a means of "insurance" against loss to the US Navy.

In December 1862, Samuel Isaac announced that he was to become Radical-Liberal candidate as MP for Northampton. He was criticised in the local press for his association with "a hateful slave power", which also claimed that his election agents were bragging around the town that his campaign would be funded from the profits of blockade running. Isaac soon withdrew from the election.

References:

  • David Waller, Northampton and the American Civil War Northamptonshire Past and Present, Vol 8, No 2 1990/91.
  • J B Jones, A Rebel War Clerks Diary. Ed Howard Swiggert, NY 1958.

Roger Fowkes, Washington Artillery


The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, February 2002