The American Civil War touched many corners of the world, but perhaps none more so than Merseyside.

The Civil War was fought between 1861-65 when political and economic tensions between the North and South of the country surrounding the issue of slavery finally erupted.

The Confederate or "rebel" South wanted to break away from the fledgling United States and go it alone, something which the Northern "Yankees", spearheaded by the charismatic President Abraham Lincoln, were determined to stop happening.

The American Civil War still looms large in the history of that nation - not least because it resulted in the abolition of slavery in the United States.

While Britain was officially neutral throughout the conflict, the importance of cotton and exports from the South led shipping companies in Britain to collaborate with the Confederacy.

In particular, Liverpool-based merchants, who had strong links to the Confederacy because of the cotton trade, supplied it with arms and shipping to help it break through Union blockades on the other side of the Atlantic.

And it was Liverpool which the rebel Confederates chose as the place to set up an unofficial embassy during the war.

Many Britons volunteered to fight in the faraway conflict because they wanted to end slavery. Others were motivated by a spirit of adventure or were already living in the US.

The bulk of those who fought were on the side of the Union. But in the case of the Confederate navy the sailors were mostly British because the ships came from Liverpool.

In fact the links are so close that Merseyside has been named an American Civil War Heritage Site - only the second place outside the US to achieve this - and sees a regular trickle of heritage tourists who travel from America to explore this often overlooked aspect of the war.

Number 12 Rumford Place in Liverpool city centre now sports a plaque as a reminder that it was the offices of James Dunwoody Bulloch, banker for the southern states who purchased many locally built ships.

American Civil War plaque at Rumford Place, Liverpool. Photo by Colin Lane
American Civil War plaque at Rumford Place, Liverpool. Photo by Colin Lane

Over in Wirral, the Confederate warship CSS Alabama was built in number four dry dock at Cammell Lairds, Birkenhead, and was bought by Bulloch as purchasing agent for the Confederate Navy department from John Laird.

The last formal surrender of the American Civil War, meanwhile, took place aboard the CSS Shenandoah off the coast of Tranmere - more than six months after the war had officially ended.

The Confederate ship Shenendoah had arrived in the Mersey on November 5 1865, having been pursued 9,000 miles across the Atlantic.

Although the civil war ended in April 1865 - with the surrender by General Robert E Lee, commander of the Confederate army - the Shenandoah was still waging war on the seas, and didn't hear the news until bumping into a British navy ship in August of the same year.

Having heard the news they left the west coast of Mexico and sailed around Cape Horn headed for Liverpool, pursued by Union vessels, in a voyage which last three months.

When they arrived on the Mersey Captain James Waddell surrendered to the British Naval ship HMS Donegal and the second National Flag of the Confederacy was lowered for the last time - signalling the final surrender in the bitter conflict.

CSS Shenandoah in dry dock in Williamstown, Victoria, Australia, 1865
CSS Shenandoah in dry dock in Williamstown, Victoria, Australia, 1865

The captain and crew were paroled by the British Government as they all claimed to be American, although 70% of the crew were British, including several from Liverpool.

At the end of the war, because the UK was supposed to be neutral but in fact supplied many ships of war and armaments built on Merseyside, the US government took the British Government to the first international tribunal.

The tribunal awarded America $15,000,000 for all the merchant shipping they had lost.

The Confederate battle flag has remained controversial since the American Civil War and following racial unrest in US in recent years has once again become a topic of debate.

The plaque in honour of James Dunwoody Bulloch, the Confederate States’ Navy secret purchasing agent during the 1861-65 war, was unveiled in 2010 - one of two in Rumford Place, the other being to mark CSS Shenandoah.

The plaque in honour of CSS Shenandoah at Rumford Place, Liverpool. Photo by Colin Lane
American Civil War plaque at Rumford Place, Liverpool. Photo by Colin Lane

Bulloch was born in Georgia, but spent most of his life working in Rumford Court offices, in Liverpool and living in Waterloo.

He came to the city to arrange smuggling cotton through the Union’s naval blockade and chose Waterloo to live because the area was then an isolated hamlet, surrounded by fields.

Bulloch gained notoriety for commissioning the CSS Alabama to be built in Birkenhead and the commerce raider wreaked havoc on Unionist ships on the open seas.

When war ended with victory for the unionists, Bulloch was exiled in Liverpool and is buried in Toxteth.

The Liver Inn on South Road which was for many years a meeting place for Confederate re-enactors who used to meet here annually before visiting Bulloch's grave.

Another link is the wreck of a steamship which sank while running guns and supplies during the American Civil War and in 2019 was given protected status.

The Lelia was a purpose-built warship secretly ordered and built in Liverpool for the Confederate Government of the Southern states of the US.

The steel steamship sank in a storm on January 14 1865 while on its maiden voyage to Bermuda, killing 47 people.

A further seven people died when the Liverpool No 1 lifeboat sank trying to pick up survivors.

The Liverpool lifeboat attempting to rescue the crew of the Leila
The Liverpool lifeboat attempting to rescue the crew of the Leila

The shipwreck off the Merseyside coastline is described as one of the "most historically significant wrecks in the North West" by Historic England.

It is the first shipwreck in the Liverpool bay area to be granted protected status.

The remains of the ship were discovered in the Liverpool bay area in the 1990s when a bell marked "Lelia 1864" was found by a local diver.

The paddle steamer was built in Millers shipyard Toxteth in the 1860s.

It was secretly ordered by the Confederate Government to run supplies through the naval blockade imposed on the South of the country during the war.

Numerous Liverpool ship builders experimented to make light and fast ships designed to smuggle weapons and other war supplies into the South.

In 1997 the first diving inspection of the wreck was carried out by the Archaeological Diving Unit.

The Lelia was one of a small group of British ships involved in British complicity in running guns and munitions to the Confederates, in return for cotton and tobacco.