Union blockade
Overview
 
The Union Blockade, or the Blockade of the South, took place between 1861 and 1865, during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, when the Union Navy
Union Navy
The Union Navy is the label applied to the United States Navy during the American Civil War, to contrast it from its direct opponent, the Confederate States Navy...

 maintained a strenuous effort on the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Gulf Coast
Gulf Coast of the United States
The Gulf Coast of the United States, sometimes referred to as the Gulf South, South Coast, or 3rd Coast, comprises the coasts of American states that are on the Gulf of Mexico, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and are known as the Gulf States...

 of the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 designed to prevent the passage of trade goods, supplies, and arms to and from the Confederacy. Ships that tried to evade the blockade
Blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...

, known as blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

s, were mostly newly built, high-speed ships with small cargo capacity. They were operated by the British (using Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 officers on leave
Leave (military)
In military, leave is a permission to be away from one's unit, either for a specified or unspecified period of time.The term AWOL, standing for absent without leave, is a term for desertion used in armed forces of many English speaking countries....

) and ran between Confederate-controlled ports and the neutral ports of Havana
Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

, Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

; Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau is the capital, largest city, and commercial centre of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The city has a population of 248,948 , 70 percent of the entire population of The Bahamas...

, and Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

, where British suppliers had set up supply bases.

President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 proclaimed the blockade on April 19, 1861.
Encyclopedia
The Union Blockade, or the Blockade of the South, took place between 1861 and 1865, during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, when the Union Navy
Union Navy
The Union Navy is the label applied to the United States Navy during the American Civil War, to contrast it from its direct opponent, the Confederate States Navy...

 maintained a strenuous effort on the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Gulf Coast
Gulf Coast of the United States
The Gulf Coast of the United States, sometimes referred to as the Gulf South, South Coast, or 3rd Coast, comprises the coasts of American states that are on the Gulf of Mexico, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and are known as the Gulf States...

 of the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 designed to prevent the passage of trade goods, supplies, and arms to and from the Confederacy. Ships that tried to evade the blockade
Blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...

, known as blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

s, were mostly newly built, high-speed ships with small cargo capacity. They were operated by the British (using Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 officers on leave
Leave (military)
In military, leave is a permission to be away from one's unit, either for a specified or unspecified period of time.The term AWOL, standing for absent without leave, is a term for desertion used in armed forces of many English speaking countries....

) and ran between Confederate-controlled ports and the neutral ports of Havana
Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

, Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

; Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau is the capital, largest city, and commercial centre of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The city has a population of 248,948 , 70 percent of the entire population of The Bahamas...

, and Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

, where British suppliers had set up supply bases.

President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 proclaimed the blockade on April 19, 1861. His strategy, part of the Anaconda Plan
Anaconda Plan
The Anaconda Plan or Scott's Great Snake is the name widely applied to an outline strategy for subduing the seceding states in the American Civil War. Proposed by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, the plan emphasized the blockade of the Southern ports, and called for an advance down the Mississippi...

 of General Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott was a United States Army general, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852....

, required the closure of 3,500 miles (5,600 km) of Confederate coastline and twelve major ports, including New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

, and Mobile, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

, the top two cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

-exporting ports prior to the outbreak of the war, as well as the Atlantic ports of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

, and Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476 according to the 2010 Census, making it the eighth most populous city in the state of North Carolina...

. To this end, the Union commissioned 500 ships, which destroyed or captured about 1,500 blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

s over the course of the war; nonetheless, five out of six attempts to evade the blockade were successful. However the blockade runners carried only a small fraction of the usual cargo.

Proclamation of blockade and legal implications

On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Blockade Against Southern Ports:
Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein comformably to that provision of the Constitution which requires duties to be uniform throughout the United States:

And whereas a combination of persons engaged in such insurrection, have threatened to grant pretended letters of marque to authorize the bearers thereof to commit assaults on the lives, vessels, and property of good citizens of the country lawfully engaged in commerce on the high seas, and in waters of the United States: And whereas an Executive Proclamation has been already issued, requiring the persons engaged in these disorderly proceedings to desist therefrom, calling out a militia force for the purpose of repressing the same, and convening Congress in extraordinary session, to deliberate and determine thereon:



Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, with a view to the same purposes before mentioned, and to the protection of the public peace, and the lives and property of quiet and orderly citizens pursuing their lawful occupations, until Congress shall have assembled and deliberated on the said unlawful proceedings, or until the same shall ceased, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States, and of the law of Nations, in such case provided. For this purpose a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade, a vessel shall approach, or shall attempt to leave either of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the Commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning, and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port, she will be captured and sent to the nearest convenient port, for such proceedings against her and her cargo as prize, as may be deemed advisable.



And I hereby proclaim and declare that if any person, under the pretended authority of the said States, or under any other pretense, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such person will be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy.



In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.



Done at the City of Washington, this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.



Recognition of the Confederacy

In his Memoirs of Service Afloat, Raphael Semmes
Raphael Semmes
For other uses, see Semmes .Raphael Semmes was an officer in the United States Navy from 1826 - 1860 and the Confederate States Navy from 1860 - 1865. During the American Civil War he was captain of the famous commerce raider CSS Alabama, taking a record sixty-nine prizes...

 contended that the announcement of a blockade carried de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

 recognition of the Confederate States of America as an independent national entity since countries do not blockade their own ports but rather close them. Under international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

 and maritime law, however, nations had the right to stop and search
Visit and Search
Visit and Search is the right of a belligerent warship, under certain conditions, to board a neutral merchant ship in order to verify its true character.According to the U.S. Navy,- References :*...

 neutral ships in international waters if they were suspected of violating a blockade, something port closures would not allow. In an effort to avoid conflict between the United States and Britain over the searching of British merchant vessels thought to be trading with the Confederacy, the Union needed the privileges of international law that came with the declaration of a blockade.

However, by effectively declaring the Confederate States of America to be belligerent
Belligerent
A belligerent is an individual, group, country or other entity which acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Belligerent comes from Latin, literally meaning "to wage war"...

s—rather than insurrectionists, who under international law would not be legally eligible for recognition by foreign powers—Lincoln opened the way for European powers such as Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy. Britain's proclamation of neutrality was consistent with the position of the Lincoln Administration under international law—the Confederates were belligerents—giving them the right to obtain loans and buy arms from neutral powers, and giving the British the formal right to discuss openly which side, if any, to support.

Scope

A joint Union military-navy commission, known as the Blockade Strategy Board
Blockade Strategy Board
The Blockade Strategy Board of the American Civil War, also known variously as the Commission of Conference or as the Du Pont Board, was a group of four men, meeting in the summer of 1861 at the request of the Navy Department, who laid out a preliminary strategy for enforcing the blockade of...

, was formed to develop plans for seizing key Southern
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 ports to utilize as Union bases of operations to expand the blockade. It first met in June 1861 in Washington, D.C., under the leadership of Captain Samuel F. Du Pont.

In the initial phase of the blockade, Union forces concentrated on the Atlantic Coast. The November 1861 capture of Port Royal
Battle of Port Royal
The Battle of Port Royal was one of the earliest amphibious operations of the American Civil War, in which a United States Navy fleet and United States Army expeditionary force captured Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, on November 7, 1861...

 in South Carolina provided the Federals with an open ocean port and repair and maintenance facilities in good operating condition. It became an early base of operations for further expansion of the blockade along the Atlantic coastline, including the Stone Fleet
Stone Fleet
The Stone Fleet consisted of a fleet of aging ships purchased in New Bedford and other New England ports, loaded with stone, and sailed south during the American Civil War by the Union Navy for use as Blockships...

. Apalachicola, Florida
Apalachicola, Florida
Apalachicola is a city in Franklin County, Florida, on US 98 about southwest of Tallahassee. The population was 2,334 at the 2000 census. The 2005 census estimated the city's population at 2,340...

, received Confederate goods traveling down the Chattahoochee River
Chattahoochee River
The Chattahoochee River flows through or along the borders of the U.S. states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. It is a tributary of the Apalachicola River, a relatively short river formed by the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and emptying into Apalachicola Bay in the Gulf of...

 from Columbus, Georgia
Columbus, Georgia
Columbus is a city in and the county seat of Muscogee County, Georgia, United States, with which it is consolidated. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 189,885. It is the principal city of the Columbus, Georgia metropolitan area, which, in 2009, had an estimated population of 292,795...

, and was an early target of Union blockade efforts on Florida's Gulf Coast. Another early prize was Ship Island, which gave the Navy a base from which to patrol the entrances to both the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Mobile Bay
Mobile Bay
Mobile Bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, lying within the state of Alabama in the United States. Its mouth is formed by the Fort Morgan Peninsula on the eastern side and Dauphin Island, a barrier island on the western side. The Mobile River and Tensaw River empty into the northern end of the...

. The Navy gradually extended its reach throughout the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

 to the Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 coastline, including Galveston
Galveston, Texas
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of...

 and Sabine Pass
Sabine Pass, Texas
Sabine Pass is a neighborhood of Port Arthur, Texas, United States. It lies on the west bank of Sabine Pass, near the Louisiana border.Originally known as Sabine City, the original date of settlement of Sabine Pass is unknown, but is estimated at 1836...

.

Union Navy

With 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline and 180 possible ports of entry to patrol, the blockade would be the largest such effort ever attempted. The United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 had 42 ships in active service, and another 48 laid up and listed as available as soon as crews could be assembled and trained. Half were sailing ships, some were technologically outdated, most were at the time patrolling distant oceans, one served on Lake Erie
Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...

 and could not be moved into the ocean, and another had gone missing off Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

. At the time of the declaration of the blockade, the Union only had three ships suitable for blockade duty. The Navy Department
United States Department of the Navy
The Department of the Navy of the United States of America was established by an Act of Congress on 30 April 1798, to provide a government organizational structure to the United States Navy and, from 1834 onwards, for the United States Marine Corps, and when directed by the President, of the...

, under the leadership of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869. His buildup of the Navy to successfully execute blockades of Southern ports was a key component of Northern victory of the Civil War...

, quickly moved to correct the deficiency. All U.S. warships patrolling abroad were recalled, a massive shipbuilding program was launched, and civilian merchant and passenger ships were purchased and modified to carry guns. In 1861, nearly 80 steamers and 60 sailing ships were brought into service, and the number of blockading vessels rose to 160. Some 52 more warships were under construction by the end of the year. The Union continued to commission new ships throughout the war, and put some captured Confederate blockade runners into service.

By the end of 1861, the Navy had grown to 24,000 officers and enlisted men, over 15,000 more than in antebellum service. Four squadrons
Squadron (naval)
A squadron, or naval squadron, is a unit of 3-4 major warships, transport ships, submarines, or sometimes small craft that may be part of a larger task force or a fleet...

 of ships were deployed, two in the Atlantic and two in the Gulf of Mexico.

Blockade service

Blockade service was attractive to Federal seamen and landsmen alike. Blockade station service was the most boring job in the war but also the most attractive in terms of potential financial gain. The task was for the fleet to sail back and forth to intercept any blockade runners. More than 50,000 men volunteered for the boring duty, because food and living conditions on ship were much better than the infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 offered, the work was safer, and especially because of the real (albeit small) chance for big money. Captured ships and their cargoes were sold at auction and the proceeds split among the sailors. When the USS Aeolus seized the hapless blockade runner Hope off Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476 according to the 2010 Census, making it the eighth most populous city in the state of North Carolina...

, in late 1864, the captain won $13,000 ($ today), the chief engineer $6,700, the seamen more than $1,000 each, and the cabin boy $533, rather better than infantry pay of $13 ($ today) per month. The amount garnered for blockade runners widely varied. While the little Alligator sold for only $50, bagging the Memphis brought in $510,000 ($ today) (about what 40 civilian workers could earn in a lifetime of work). In four years, $25 million in prize money was awarded.

Blockade runners

While a large proportion of blockade runner
Blockade runner
A blockade runner is usually a lighter weight ship used for evading a naval blockade of a port or strait, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the blockade. Very often blockade running is done in order to transport cargo, for example to bring food or arms to a blockaded city...

s did manage to evade the Union ships, as the blockade matured, the type of ship most likely to find success in evading the naval cordon was a small, light ship with a short draft—qualities that facilitated blockade running but were poorly suited to carrying large amounts of heavy weaponry, metals, and other supplies badly needed by the South. To be successful in helping the Confederacy, a blockade runner had to make many trips; eventually, most were captured or sunk. Nonetheless, five out of six attempts to evade the Union blockade were successful. During the war, some 1,500 blockade runners were captured or destroyed.

Ordinary freighters were too slow and visible to escape the Navy. The blockade runners therefore relied mainly on new ships built in Britain with low profiles, shallow draft, and high speed. Their paddle-wheels, driven by steam engines that burned smokeless anthracite coal
Anthracite coal
Anthracite is a hard, compact variety of mineral coal that has a high luster...

, could make 17 knots (31 km/h). Because the South lacked sufficient sailors, skippers and shipbuilding capability, the runners were built, officered and manned by British sailors. Private British investors spent perhaps £50 million on the runners ($250 million in U.S. dollars, equivalent to about $2.5 billion in 2006 dollars). The pay was high: a Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 officer on leave might earn several thousand dollars (in gold) in salary and bonus per round trip, with ordinary seamen earning several hundred dollars. Blockade runners ran the gauntlet between Confederate ports and the British islands of Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

 and the Bahamas, or Havana, Cuba, 500–700 miles (800–1,100 km) apart, carrying several hundred tons of compact, high-value cargo such as cotton, turpentine or tobacco outbound, and rifles, medicine, brandy, lingerie and coffee inbound. They charged from $300 to $1,000 per ton of cargo brought in; two round trips a month would generate perhaps $250,000 in revenue (and $80,000 in wages and expenses).

Blockade runners preferred to run past the Union Navy at night, either on moonless nights, before the moon rose, or after it set. As they approached the coastline, the ships showed no lights, and sailors were prohibited from smoking. Likewise, Union warships covered all their lights, except perhaps a faint light on the commander's ship. If a Union warship discovered a blockade runner, it fired signal rockets in the direction of its course to alert other ships. The runners adapted to such tactics by firing their own rockets in different directions to confuse Union warships.

In November 1864, a wholesaler in Wilmington asked his agent in the Bahamas to stop sending so much chloroform and instead send "essence of cognac" because that perfume would sell "quite high." Confederate patriots held rich blockade runners in contempt for profiteering on luxuries while Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's soldiers were in rags. On the other hand, their bravery and initiative were necessary for the nation's survival, and many women in the back country flaunted imported $10 gewgaws and $50 hats as patriotic proof that the "damn yankee
Yankee
The term Yankee has several interrelated and often pejorative meanings, usually referring to people originating in the northeastern United States, or still more narrowly New England, where application of the term is largely restricted to descendants of the English settlers of the region.The...

s" had failed to isolate them from the outer world. The government in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, eventually regulated the traffic, requiring half the imports to be munitions; it even purchased and operated some runners on its own account and made sure they loaded vital war goods. By 1864, Lee's soldiers were eating imported meat. Blockade running was reasonably safe for both sides. It was not illegal under international law; captured foreign sailors were released, while Confederates went to prison camps
Prisoner-of-war camp
A prisoner-of-war camp is a site for the containment of combatants captured by their enemy in time of war, and is similar to an internment camp which is used for civilian populations. A prisoner of war is generally a soldier, sailor, or airman who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or...

. The ships were unarmed (the weight of cannon would slow them down), so they posed no danger to the Navy warships.

One example of the lucrative (and short-lived) nature of the blockade running trade was the ship Banshee, which operated out of Nassau and Bermuda. She was captured on her seventh run into Wilmington, North Carolina, and confiscated by the U.S. Navy for use as a blockading ship. However, at the time of her capture, she had turned a 700% profit for her English owners, who quickly commissioned and built the Banshee No. 2, which soon joined the firm's fleet of blockade runners.

In May 1865, the Lark
CSS Lark
The Lark was a paddle steamer employed by the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. She was the last blockade runner to successfully escape from a Southern port before the Union blockade completely closed off this vital source of supplies.Lark was designed and built by John...

 became the last Confederate ship to slip out of a Southern port and successfully evade the Union blockade when she left Galveston, Texas
Galveston, Texas
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of...

, for Havana
Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

.

Impact on the Confederacy

The Union blockade was a powerful weapon that eventually ruined the Southern economy, at the cost of very few lives. The measure of the blockade's success was not the few ships that slipped through, but the thousands that never tried it. Ordinary freighters had no reasonable hope of evading the blockade and stopped calling at Southern ports. The interdiction of coastal traffic meant that long-distance travel depended on the rickety railroad system, which never overcame the devastating impact of the blockade. Throughout the war, the South produced enough food for civilians and soldiers, but it had growing difficulty in moving surpluses to areas of scarcity and famine. Lee's army, at the end of the supply line, nearly always was short of supplies as the war progressed into its final two years.

When the blockade began in 1861, it was only partially effective. It has been estimated that only one in ten ships trying to evade the blockade were intercepted. However, the Union Navy gradually increased in size throughout the war, and was able to drastically reduce shipments into Confederate ports. By 1864, one in every three ships attempting to run the blockade were being intercepted.

The blockade almost totally choked off Southern cotton exports, on which the Confederacy depended on for hard currency. Cotton exports fell 95%, from 10 million bales in the three years prior to the war to just 500,000 bales during the blockade period. The blockade also largely reduced imports of food, medicine, war materials, manufactured goods, and luxury items, resulting in severe shortages and inflation
Inflation
In economics, inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services. Consequently, inflation also reflects an erosion in the purchasing power of money – a...

. Shortages of bread lead to occaisional bread riots
Richmond Bread Riot
The Southern Bread Riots were events of civil unrest in the Confederacy on April 2, 1863. The riots were triggered mainly by foraging armies, both Union and Confederate, who ravaged crops and devoured draft animals. The staggering inflation created by the Confederate government was also a primary...

 in Richmond
Richmond
Richmond often refers to:*Richmond, Virginia, the capital of Virginia*Richmond, North Yorkshire, the original Richmond in Yorkshire.*Richmond, London, previously Richmond, Surrey*Richmond, British Columbia, a city in Metro Vancouver...

 and other cities, showing that patriotism was not sufficient to satisfy the demands of housewives. Land routes remained open for cattle drovers, but after the Union seized control of the Mississippi River in summer 1863, it became impossible to ship horses, cattle and swine from Texas and Arkansas to the eastern Confederacy. The blockade was a triumph of the U.S. Navy and a major factor in winning the war.

Confederate response

The Confederacy constructed torpedo boat
Torpedo boat
A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval vessel designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs rammed enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes, and later designs launched self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes. They were created to counter battleships and other large, slow and...

s, tending to be small, fast steam launches equipped with spar torpedo
Spar torpedo
A spar torpedo is a weapon consisting of a bomb placed at the end of a long pole, or spar, and attached to a boat. The weapon is used by running the end of the spar into the enemy ship. Spar torpedoes were often equipped with a barbed spear at the end, so it would stick to wooden hulls...

es, to attack the blockading fleet. Some torpedo boats were refitted steam launches; others, such as the David
CSS David
CSS David was a Civil War-era torpedo boat built as a private venture by T. Stoney at Charleston, South Carolina in 1863, and put under the control of the Confederate States Navy. The cigar-shaped boat carried a 60- or 70-pound explosive charge on the end of a spar projecting forward from her bow...

 class, were purpose-built. The torpedo boats tried to attack under cover of night by ramming the spar torpedo into the hull of the blockading ship, then backing off and detonating the explosive. The torpedo boats were not very effective and were easily countered by simple measures such as hanging chains over the sides of ships to foul the screws of the torpedo boats, or encircling the ships with wooden booms to trap the torpedoes at a distance.

One historically notable naval action was the attack of the H. L. Hunley
H. L. Hunley (submarine)
H. L. Hunley was a submarine of the Confederate States of America that played a small part in the American Civil War, but a large role in the history of naval warfare. The Hunley demonstrated both the advantages and the dangers of undersea warfare...

, a hand-powered submarine launched from Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, against Union blockade ships. On the night of February 17, 1864, the Hunley attacked the USS Housatonic
USS Housatonic
Three ships of the United States Navy have been named Housatonic after the Housatonic River., was launched 20 November 1861 and sunk by the Confederate submarine H. L...

. The Housatonic sank with the loss of 5 crew; the Hunley also sank, taking her crew of 8 to the bottom.

Major engagements

The first victory for the U.S. Navy during the early phases of the blockade occurred on April 24, 1861, when the sloop USS Cumberland and a small flotilla of support ships began seizing Confederate ships and privateers in the vicinity of Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe was a military installation in Hampton, Virginia—at Old Point Comfort, the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula...

 off the Virginia coastline. Within the next two weeks, Flag Officer Garrett J. Pendergrast
Garrett J. Pendergrast
Garrett Jesse Pendergrast was an officer in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:A native of Kentucky, Pendergrast was married to Virginia Barron, the daughter of James Barron...

 had captured 16 enemy vessels, serving early notice to the Confederate War Department that the blockade would be effective if extended.

Early battles in support of the blockade included the Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's drainage basin covers in the District of Columbia and parts of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West...

, from May to June 1861, and the Blockade of the Carolina Coast, August–December 1861. Both enabled the Union Navy to gradually extend its blockade southward along the Atlantic seaboard.

In early March 1862 the blockade of the James River in Virginia was gravely threatened by the first ironclad, the CSS Virginia aka Merrimack
CSS Virginia
CSS Virginia was the first steam-powered ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy, built during the first year of the American Civil War; she was constructed as a casemate ironclad using the raised and cut down original lower hull and steam engines of the scuttled . Virginia was one of the...

 in the dramatic Battle of Hampton Roads
Battle of Hampton Roads
The Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack or the Battle of Ironclads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War from the standpoint of the development of navies...

. Only the timely entry of the new Union ironclad USS Monitor
USS Monitor
USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy during the American Civil War. She is most famous for her participation in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, the first-ever battle fought between two ironclads...

 forestalled the threat. Two months later, the CSS Virginia and other ships of the James River Squadron
James River Squadron
The James River Squadron was formed shortly after the secession of the State of Virginia as part of the Virginia State Navy. The squadron is most notable for its role in patrolling the James River, which was the main water approach to the Confederate capital, Richmond...

 were scuttled in response to the Union Army and Navy advances.

The port of Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

 was effectively sealed by the reduction and surrender of Fort Pulaski on April 11, 1862.

The largest Confederate port, New Orleans, Louisiana, was ill-suited to blockade running since the channels could be sealed by the U.S. Navy. From April 16 to April 22, 1862 the major forts below the city, Forts Jackson and St. Philip were bombarded by David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter was a member of one of the most distinguished families in the history of the United States Navy. Promoted as the second man to the rank of admiral, after his adoptive brother David G...

's mortar schooners. On April 22 Flag Officer David Farragut
David Farragut
David Glasgow Farragut was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the...

's fleet cleared a passage through the obstructions. The fleet successfully ran past the forts on the morning of April 24. This forced the surrender of the forts and New Orleans.

The Battle of Mobile Bay
Battle of Mobile Bay
The Battle of Mobile Bay of August 5, 1864, was an engagement of the American Civil War in which a Federal fleet commanded by Rear Adm. David G. Farragut, assisted by a contingent of soldiers, attacked a smaller Confederate fleet led by Adm...

, August 5, 1864, closed the last major Confederate port in the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 1864, Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles
Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869. His buildup of the Navy to successfully execute blockades of Southern ports was a key component of Northern victory of the Civil War...

 sent a force against Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher was a Confederate fort during the American Civil War. It protected the vital trading routes of the port at Wilmington, North Carolina, from 1861 until its capture by the Union in 1865....

, which protected the Confederate's access to the Atlantic from Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open Confederate port. The first attack failed, but with a change in tactics (and Union generals), the fort fell in January 1865, closing the last major Confederate port.

As the Union fleet grew in size, speed and sophistication, more ports came under Federal control. After 1862, only three ports—Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city in and is the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population is 106,476 according to the 2010 Census, making it the eighth most populous city in the state of North Carolina...

; Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

; and Mobile, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

—remained open for the 75 to 100 blockade runners in business. Charleston was shut down by Admiral John A. Dahlgren
John A. Dahlgren
John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren was a United States Navy leader. He headed the Union Navy's ordnance department during the American Civil War and designed several different kinds of guns and cannons that were considered part of the reason the Union won the war...

's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1863. Mobile Bay was captured in August 1864 by Admiral David Farragut
David Farragut
David Glasgow Farragut was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the...

. Blockade runners faced an increasing risk of capture— in 1861 and 1862, one sortie in 9 ended in capture; in 1863 and 1864, one in 3. By war's end, imports had been choked to a trickle as the number of captures came to 50% of the sorties. Some 1,100 blockade runners were captured (and another 300 destroyed). British investors frequently made the mistake of reinvesting their profits in the trade; when the war ended they were stuck with useless ships and rapidly depreciating cotton. In the final accounting, perhaps half the investors took a profit, and half a loss.

The Union victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July 1863 opened up the Mississippi River and effectively cut off the western Confederacy as a source of troops and supplies. The fall of Fort Fisher and the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, early in 1865 closed the last major port for blockade runners, and in quick succession Richmond was evacuated, the Army of Northern Virginia disintegrated, and General Lee surrendered. Thus, most economists give the Union blockade a prominent role in the outcome of the war. (Elekund, 2004)

Squadrons

The Union naval ships enforcing the blockade were divided into squadrons based on their area of operation.

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron

The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron was based at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was tasked with coverage of Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 and North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

. Its official range of operation was from the Potomac River
Potomac River
The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately long, with a drainage area of about 14,700 square miles...

 to Cape Fear in North Carolina. It was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops. It was created when the Atlantic Blockading Squadron
Atlantic Blockading Squadron
The Atlantic Blockading Squadron was a unit of the United States Navy created in the early days of the American Civil War to enforce a blockade of the ports of the Confederate States...

 was split between the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons on October 29, 1861. After the end of the war, the squadron was merged into the Atlantic Squadron on July 25, 1865.

Commanders

Squadron Commander From To
Flag Officer
Flag Officer
A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark where the officer exercises command. The term usually refers to the senior officers in an English-speaking nation's navy, specifically those who hold any of the admiral ranks; in...

 Louis M. Goldsborough
Louis M. Goldsborough
Louis Malesherbes Goldsborough was a rear admiral in the United States Navy during the Civil War. He held several sea commands during the Civil War, including the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron...

 
October 29, 1861 September 4, 1862
Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 Samuel Phillips Lee
Samuel Phillips Lee
Samuel Phillips Lee was a Rear Admiral of the United States Navy. He commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron from 4 September 1862 to 12 October 1864. His flagship was Philadelphia.-Life and career:...

 
September 4, 1862 October 12, 1864
Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter was a member of one of the most distinguished families in the history of the United States Navy. Promoted as the second man to the rank of admiral, after his adoptive brother David G...

 
October 12, 1864 May 1, 1865
Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 William Radford
William Radford
William Radford was an rear admiral of the United States Navy, who served during the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War.-Biography:...

 
May 1, 1865 July 25, 1865

South Atlantic Blockading Squadron

The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops operating between Cape Henry in Virginia down to Key West
Key West
Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Key West is home to the southernmost point in the Continental United States; the island is about from Cuba....

 in Florida. It was created when the Atlantic Blockading Squadron was split between the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons on October 29, 1861. After the end of the war, the squadron was merged into the Atlantic Squadron on July 25, 1865.

Gulf Blockading Squadron

The Gulf Blockading Squadron was a squadron of the United States Navy in the early part of the War, patrolling from Key West to the Mexican border. The squadron was the largest in operation. It was split into the East and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons in early 1862 for more efficiency.

Commanders

  • William Mervine
    William Mervine
    William Mervine was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, whose career included service in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War.-Biography:...

     (May 6, 1861 – September 22, 1861)
  • William McKean
    William McKean
    William Wister McKean was an admiral in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was noted for his service in the Union blockade that effectively closed Confederate seaports in the Gulf of Mexico....

     (September 22, 1861 – February 1862)

West Gulf Blockading Squadron

The West Gulf Blockading Squadron was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops along the western half of the Gulf Coast, from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Rio Grande and south, beyond the border with Mexico. It was created early in 1862 when the Gulf Blockading Squadron was split between the East and West. This unit was the main military force deployed by the Union in the capture and brief occupation
Battle of Galveston
The Battle of Galveston or the Second Battle of Galveston was a naval and land battle that occurred on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War when Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. John B...

 of Galveston, Texas
Galveston, Texas
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of...

 in 1862.

Commanders

  • David Farragut
    David Farragut
    David Glasgow Farragut was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the...

     1862
  • James S. Palmer November 30, 1864
  • Henry K. Thatcher
    Henry K. Thatcher
    Henry Knox Thatcher was a rear admiral in the United States Navy, who served during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

     February 23, 1865

See also

  • Blockade mail of the Confederacy

External links

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