Trent Affair

“This changed suddenly in November 1861 when an incident at sea brought the United States and Britain to the verge of war.  The Trent affair was the handiwork of the brilliant and eccentric Capt. Charles Wilkes.  An accomplished scientist as well as naval officer, Wilkes headed the Great United States Exploring Expedition on its worldwide journey in the 1840s.  Arrogant, overbearing, as paranoid as the legendary Capt. William Bligh, he was also impulsive and ambitious –once he promoted himself to captain while at sea and ostentatiously donned the uniform he had packed away for the occasion.  His actions in 1861 made clear the way an impetuous individual could provoke a major crisis.” –Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 232

Discussion Questions

  • How exactly did this “impetuous and ambitious” individual (Charles Wilkes) provoke “a major crisis”?
  • Which individuals deserve most credit for deescalating this crisis between the US and Great Britain?

Student-created map by Emilia McManus (Fall 2014)

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