We know how one action can lead to another; the next thing we know, a war would break out. The Confederate army’s decision to open fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay triggered the American Civil War. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife sparked World War I. Hitler’s invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the Second World War. There were also those wars that nearly happened, but because of a single small action, they never happened, and thankfully so. Here are some of them:

The Trent Affair

The incident of the Trent Affair during the American Civil war almost caused a war between Great Britain and the United States.

On Nov. 8, 1861, during the opening months of the American Civil War, the Union frigate San Jacinto led by Captain Charles Wilkes, approached and boarded the neutral British ship, Trent. Onboard were two Confederate diplomats, James Murray Mason and John Slidell, who were on their way to convincing England and France to assist and support the cause of the Confederacy.

Lt. Charles Wilkes, ca. 1860. (the University of Washington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Initially, the Northern populace and Congress rejoiced upon the ship’s seizure, but when they found out this aroused a storm of indignant protest and demand for war back in England, they realized they shouldn’t.

The British government sent a request and demanded that the US apologize and release Slidell and Mason. The last thing that President Abraham Lincoln wanted at that time was another enemy, so he eventually ordered the release of the two diplomats.

“Is War In Sight?”

After France’s embarrassing defeat against Prussia at the start of the 1870s, France wanted to do significant rearmament to ensure that such loss would never happen again. This, of course, alarmed some of France’s neighboring nations.

The chancellor of Germany at that time, Otto von Bismarck, wanted to gain the nation’s favor through a propaganda strike against France, as he wanted them to abandon their rearmament program. To do this, he began this “War-in-sight” crisis. The export of horses to France, usually a sign of war preparation, was forbidden.

Otto von Bismarck, Vanity Fair, 1870. (James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After that, an article was published in the influential Berliner Post titled “Is the war in sight?” that was more likely influenced by Bismarck. The report succeeded in convincing the public but failed in diplomatic affairs as Russia decided to back a British protest to Berlin, bringing the dangers of a two-front war to Germany.

This war was prevented, but it prompted Germany to formulate a battle plan to fight on two fronts that they would later utilize during WWI.

Napoleon III Was Bombed

On Jan. 14, 1858, French emperor Napoleon III was traveling in his carriage in the crowded street of Paris when an Italian nationalist named Felice Orsini threw three bombs at the emperor’s carriage. Fortunately, the explosions did not kill nor harm Napoleon III, although eight people in the busy crowds were killed while 140 more were injured.

Orsini’s attack [on Napoleon III] in front of the Opera on Jan. 14 1858,
by H. Vittori © Musée Carnavalet Histoire de Paris via napoleon.org
After investigating Orsini, they discovered he had recently visited England, where he obtained the explosives. The French people concluded that Britain was involved in the plot to kill their emperor, so they were furious. On the other hand, the completely clueless British were just as appalled by how the situation unfolded. Britain, at that time, was in no state for war, and they would be smashed in case France declared war on them. Fortunately for the British, the attention of France was diverted to fighting Austria instead.

Meanwhile, Orsini was executed.