The Impact of Union Blockade of the South Civil War, Confederate Blockade Runners Facts and Information
Three months after Fort Sumter, the Union invaded the North Carolina Coast which was lightly guarded. The landed at Cape Hatteras first. It was the largest Naval expedition at that time to invade anywhere. The Confederate fort on Hatteras Island (Fort Clark) was evacuated before the Union troops overran it. At nearby, Fort Hatteras, the confederate soldiers surrendered. Hatteras Island became a Union base to stop supplies to Virginia armies. The blockade began. All major ports except Wilmington fell to the Union army. These ports and nearby areas were seized shortly after Fort Sumter in 1861 and before North Carolina had seceded.
Confederate Blockade Runners
The port of Wilmington located in the Cape Fear Region became the lifeline of the south. It was guarded by Fort Fisher NC which soon became known as the Gibraltar of the South. Two or three blockade runners left or entered daily. Blockade runners brought much needed supplies through the port of Wilmington. From here, trains took to the supplies Weldon then onto Virginia. Railroad lines also delivered much needed supplies to Charleston, Columbia and elsewhere. Wilmington became the chief supplier of the Confederacy for munitions, medical supplies, food and more.
Governor Zebulon Vance resented the fact that Virginia had allowed the Carolina coast to be invaded and occupied by Union troops. During the occupation, Union troops had raided area NC towns. In addition, slaves ran away from nearby plantations to join the Union troops stationed on the Carolina coast. The Union occupation of the NC coast was a real problem. Vance's solution was to run a Blockade running expedition to supply Confederate troops with shoes, clothing, food, rifles and ammunition. It was essentially to make NC self sufficient and to get revenge on the Union occupying troops.
Vance had John White go to England to buy a Clyde Steamer. The ship was named the Ad-Vance. It was state owned and became the most successful Blockade running ship. The ship made over a dozen trips to Bermuda and elsewhere to bring back medical supplies, weapons, ammunition, food, blankets and other goods. All these goods were smuggled in through the port of Wilmington. The south grew to depend upon Wilmington and the Blockade runners for most everything they needed.
The Blockade runner ships were typically the Clyde steamers which ran low in the water. They were tapered to run smoother and had high powered engines. These steamers could outrun and outmaneuver Union boats. Captains were often recruited British navy officers who had experience sailing in Southern ports. Their crews were seasoned Irish and British sailors.
Confederate Economy after Blockade
The impact of Union Blockade on the South was devastating to the South's economy. It was difficult if impossible to get supplies in or out of the Confederate states. Before the war, the south had a good trade with England supplying cotton to the mills there. The blockade made it necessary for England to look elsewhere for cheap cotton. There after England began buying cotton from Egypt and India. The long term impact of the war on trade with England for the south was that after the war cotton prices were next to nothing. Competition with Egypt and India brought prices down and everyone thought that they could rebuild with cotton so they planted more. This flooded the market and further brought cotton prices down.
Other effects of the Union Blockade: Prices of goods increased because the goods became scarce. Confederate soldiers were forced to acquisition food and other goods and supplies from local farmers, citizens etc. They paid for the supplies with either Confederate money or notes or just took what they needed in the name of the Confederacy.
Famous Blockade Runners
Blockade runners were also privateers who disrupted Union shipping from New York to the Caribbean to South America and beyond.
James Waddell commanded the Confederate Cruiser the Shenandoah. The ship sailed around the world disrupting Union shipping from 1864-65.
John Moffitt commanded the ironclad Albemarle that was built on the Roanoke River in NC. He also commanded the Confederate cruiser the Florida and made runs from Wilmington to the Bahamas for medical and war supplies. At the end of the war, he sailed the Confederate ship the Owl to Liverpool, England rather than surrender.