How Russia Saved The United States

Who was our friend when the world was our foe.” –
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1871

In a time when tensions are high politically we can always turn to history, not only to avoid repeating past mistakes, but to remember who our friends are. Unfortunately, this part seems fuzzy in the history books you read in high school. You are taught that the Civil War was fought between The Union (North) and the Confederacy (South). This war in particular is the bloodiest the United State of America has ever seen. You may think I’m crazy saying this, but facts are facts. A staggering 2.1 Million soldiers fought for The Union, and another 1 million fought for the Confederacy.


However, the number of casualties during the Civil War reached an unprecedented 620,000. We lost more American lives in one war than we did in World War I and World War II combined. In fact, you would have to combine the Revolutionary War, Korean War, Vietnam War, World War I, and World War II to surpass the amount of casualties suffered.

I’m sure you heard that in school, but did you know Russia actually sided with The Union during the Civil War? It’s arguable that the American Civil War was on the brink of being World War I. The prospect that a world war could have been fought on American soil is unsettling considering what the war was about. Secession of the southern states was directly related to the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

While it’s debated about the direct cause of the Civil War, it’s widely attributed to the freeing of African American slaves as well as the differences in direction for the government. The southern states widely believed in states rights, and that the federal government should be a limited power. To read more into the events that triggered the Civil War, click here.

“The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.” -James McPherson

The United States has come a long way from the Civil War, but as a whole we seem to not understand who sided with The Union. The war had a direct impact on the United States relation with European powers, being France and Great Britain. Both countries were a monarchy, and as big of a surprise it may be, a monarchy does not ordinarily like to see a rebellion succeed in any country. This was not the case here. Great Britain and Europe’s aristocracies were not pleased with the success of the “Yankee Democracy”having won independence from a powerful Britain . These monarchies now saw a chance to show that democracy does not work, and in turn boost the confidence of their citizens.

The war up until the fall of 1862, from the north’s perspective, was simply to preserve the Union. As far as Europe was concerned, no moral issue was involved; the game of power politics could be played with a clear conscience and with such these two powers were siding with the Confederacy. Following this, Jefferson Davis (president of the Confederacy) appointed James M. Mason and John Slidell as commissioners to represent Confederate interests abroad, Mason in England and Slidell in France.

Captain Wilkes of the U.S.S San Jacinto heard about Mason and Slidell. He stated that A nation at war had a right to stop and search a neutral merchant ship if it suspected that ship of carrying the enemy’s dispatches. Mason and Slidell, Wilkes reasoned, were in effect Confederate dispatches, and he had a right to remove them. So on November 8, 1861, he steamed out into the Bahama Channel, fired twice across Trent’s bows, sent a boat’s crew aboard, collared the Confederate commissioners, and bore them off in triumph to the United States, where they were lodged in Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. Wilkes was hailed as a national hero. Congress voted him its thanks, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, ordinarily a most cautious mortal, warmly commended him.

However,  in England there was an uproar which almost brought on a war with the Union. The mere notion that Americans could halt a British ship on the high seas and remove lawful passengers was intolerable. Eleven thousand regular troops were sent to Canada, the British fleet was put on a war footing, and a sharp note was dispatched to the United States, demanding surrender of the prisoners and a prompt apology.

This is when Russia comes into play via a secret alliance between the U.S and Tsarist Russia. Russia sent their naval fleet which arrived in force in New York and San Francisco. This was a crucial time in 1863, with British troops in Canada simply waiting for the command, the world was on the verge of World War I a mere 50 years before the the first world war as we know it today.

The heart of the British strategy in case of war was “overwhelming naval strength based on a few select fortresses”. British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston dispatched a powerful squadron of eight ships of the line and thirteen frigates and corvettes under Admiral Milne to the western Atlantic, and wanted to use the Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world, as a troop transport. London even considered ways to foment secession in Maine. Bombarding and burning both Boston and New York was actively considered as a contingency.

We will wrap the whole world in flames! No power is so remote that she will not feel the fire of our battle and not be burned by our conflagration!” -Secretary of State William Seward

“God bless the Russians!” exulted Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. After the war, Oliver Wendell Holmes hailed Alexander “who was our friend when the world was our foe.” The Russians showed themselves willing to fight for the US. When the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah prepared to attack San Francisco, the Russian admiral gave orders to defend the city in the absence of Union warships.

Through the actions of the Russian Navy and the victories for the Union in 1863 Britain and France determined the cost of military intervention would be too high a risk. Had the British attacked, it’s possible that the United States and Russian alliance could have included Prussia (what was at disagreements with France) and Italy while Britain would have likely been supported by Spain and France.


“U.S. Civil War: The US-Russian Alliance that Saved the Union,” by Webster G. Tarpley

“The Bilateral Effect of the Visit of the Russian Fleet in 1863,” by Tom Delahaye

“The US/Russian Alliance during the Civil War,” by Craig L. Barry

The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War, by Thomas R. Flagel

Europe and the American Civil War

Wrapped in Flames: The Great American War and Beyond

Image Credit



Frozen but Alert in North Dakota

Out of sight, out of mind. Unless, the ground starts to rumble that is. The cattle won’t know what is happening, and frankly, a portion of the local community may not either. Hidden away, buried sixty feet underground are two blast hardened complex’s. The elevator ride down into the bunker was a transition from the world we know to life as it was in 1991. Not a single chair was out of place, verything is as it was in 1991. The difference is this time there is no need for a nuclear launch procedure.

DSC_0336.pngIf you spent too much time down there your way of life would be changed, if you welcome that change I may begin to question your sanity. Down here, there is no sun, sky, rain, thunder, or even a mooing cow in the field. Confined spaces, sedentary readiness, and the same walls day in and day out. This was life for many members of the military who became Missileers inside a Launch Control Center. Missileers worked twenty-four hour shifts, called “alerts” every three days, averaging eight alerts per month.  The two-member crews monitored the missiles and awaited orders twenty-four hours a day. Their primary duty? Await the order from the President of the United States to initiate the launch of a Nuclear Missile. How would you put that on a resume?


The front gate of the Oscar Zero Launch Control Center as stands in August 2016.

This site was decommissioned in 1991, it’s name is Oscar Zero. Located just 4 miles north of Cooperstown North Dakota, it seemed out of place. Constructed as part of the Grand Forks Air Force Base’s 321 Missile Wing, the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility (MAF) and the November-33 Launch Facility (LF) were completed in 1965. The Oscar-Zero MAF consists of an above-ground Launch Control Support Building  that housed an eight-person security and maintenance team and provided access to the underground Launch Control Center. One way down, one viable way up.

For nearly thirty years these two missile facilities were on continuous alert.  While the Cold War did not escalate into a full-scale shooting war, the U.S. continued to develop and stockpile increasingly sophisticated weapons. The single-warhead Minuteman II missile at November-33 LF and those controlled by Oscar-Zero MAF were replaced in the early 1970s by the new Minuteman III, which had greater range and could deliver three warheads to widely scattered targets.

The first Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) approved for use by the United States Air Force was aptly named ‘Thor’. The United States produced these from 1959 to 1960 and roughly 225 finished production. According to studies done by Commander Robert Truax of the United States Navy, the range of this missile was approximately 1,750 miles, or 2,820 kilometeres with a maximum speed during reentry of 10,000 mph or 4.5km/s.

The first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) produced by the United States was named Atlas. Atlas was one of the Titans in Greek Mythology who fought against Zeus. After losing the battle, Zeus condemned Atlas to eternally stand on the western side of Gaea (the earth), holding Uranus (the sky) on his shoulders. Being this missile could go farther than ever before, the name was fitting. Being able to launch a missile 6,300 miles from the target was great achievement. The Atlas missile’s warhead was over 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Nagasaki in 1945, and an estimated 350 completed production.


Titan-II ICBM silo test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base

There was a brief run with the Titan I missile but after longer than expected launch times, it was redesigned into the Titan II. Until Titan, missiles were launched above ground, which reduced the military’s element of surprise. This is when the Launch Facilities (LF) mentioned earlier come into play. The LF housed a Titan II rocket which used hydrazine-based hypergolic propellant which was storable and reliably ignited. This reduced time to launch and permitted it to be launched from its underground silo. Titan II also carried the largest single warhead of any American ICBM. The Titan II was produced from 1963 to 1987, and it is estimated nearly 131 were produced.

The last missiles developed during the Cold War was the Minuteman-III missile. Can you guess why it was named that? It was designed for the sole purpose of being launched at a moment’s notice. This missile has multiple stages, but could land multiple warheads using these separate stages.


1. The missile launches out of its silo by firing its 1st-stage boost motor (A).
2. About 60 seconds after launch, the 1st stage drops off and the 2nd-stage motor (B) ignites. The missile shroud (E) is ejected.
3. About 120 seconds after launch, the 3rd-stage motor (C) ignites and separates from the 2nd stage.
4. About 180 seconds after launch, 3rd-stage thrust terminates and the Post-Boost Vehicle (D) separates from the rocket.
5. The Post-Boost Vehicle maneuvers itself and prepares for re-entry vehicle (RV) deployment.
6. The RVs, as well as decoys and chaff, are deployed during backaway.
7. The RVs and chaff re-enter the atmosphere at high speeds and are armed in flight.
8. The nuclear warheads initiate, either as air bursts or ground bursts.

The range of the Minuteman-III missile was approximately 8,100 (13,000km) and has an accuracy of 200 meters. This rocket could be launched from a facility such as November-33, and land in Russia within 30 minutes while reaching a peak speed of approximately 17,507 mph, Mach 23 for those interested.

Take all of this in, and realize all of these were being stored near communities. November-33 was a mere 3.1 miles from the Cooperstown County Library. Enjoying a book and a nice cup of a coffee, but what is that rumbling in the earth? Earthquakes are not common in North Dakota or most parts of the upper midwest where most of these missiles were housed. According to, at the peak of the Cold War, more than 300 ICBM’s and 30 anti-ballistics missiles were hidden away underground in North Dakota alone.

The missiles in the Grand Forks and Minot missile fields were not dangerous to the people who lived nearby. They could not detonate in the silos. The missiles were only dangerous if the Soviet Union attacked the missiles. Many people thought the Safeguard Complex at Nekoma was more dangerous than the ICBMs in their silos. The missiles at Nekoma were designed to explode as enemy missiles approached the Grand Forks missile field. The ICBMs would be protected, but the fallout from a defensive nuclear explosion would poison people and destroy farmland. Hundreds of people, including scientists and politicians criticized the Safeguard Complex. They called the consequences unacceptable.

While Nuclear deterrence prevailed in the end, I could not imagine living within 5 miles of a nuclear missile. How close the United States and the Soviet Union were to war, and somehow these missiles, thankfully, were never used. The United States claims these missiles would never be launched first, that they would be used for retaliatory attacks in the event the Soviety Union launched the first missile. Let’s just be happy they never did, as we would live in a much different world.