The Civil War Years: Canada and the United States. 4th ed.


430 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1820-7
DDC 971.04




Reviewed by Luke Lawson

Luke Lawson is a teacher and administrator in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


The U.S. Civil War is often examined solely as an American conflict,
with little reference to international players. Winks’s classic
analysis, now in its fourth edition, remains the definitive study of the
role Canada played during this bloody conflict—and, more specifically,
of the war’s impact on British North America. The book centres on
three main arguments: first, that concern over developments in the war
helped to shape Britain’s policy on Confederation; second, that a
“war in anticipation” deeply influenced the way in which British
North Americans viewed their identities; and third, that a war between
Britain and the United States, with Canada as a battleground, was
anticipated by many on both sides of the border.

Winks presents these arguments in a narrative form that follows a more
or less strict chronological order (1861–65). The narrative
encompasses four main geopolitical areas: British North America, Great
Britain, the Federal North, and the Confederate South. What brings this
narrative to life is the constant communication (through dispatches and
letters) among the leading characters—including Lord Monck, Governor
of Canada; William Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln; and Lord
Lyons, British minister to Washington—as they try to work their way
through the conflict’s various accusations, tribulations, and
frustrations. Of particular interest is the author’s careful
examination of Seward, whose military stance evolved from hawkish to

The Civil War Years is thoroughly researched, and Winks makes extensive
use of newspapers from both sides of the border. The book assumes on the
part of readers a decent knowledge of early–19th-century North
America. One drawback is the absence of maps and of a list of
“characters.” The other, admitted by Winks, is the absence of
particular voices, notably those of African-Americans and women. That
said, Winks’s book is an essential addition to any historian’s


Winks, Robin W., “The Civil War Years: Canada and the United States. 4th ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,