The board determined where to target ports and where to locate refueling and refitting bases—many of which had to be captured from the Confederates. Three blockading squadrons were established. But the gulf proved to be too much for one squadron to handle, and the zone was split into two sections, East and West, in When the plan was announced in ,many naval experts suggested that no blockade could possibly control the more than 4, miles of Confederate coastline;time and effort would be better spent, they said, controlling the half dozen largest port cities, to shut down Southern trade.
Even that lowered expectation, however, did not prove entirely feasible. In some cases lazy prewar ports became thriving commercial trade centers during the conflict.
Strangling the Confederacy: Coastal Operations in the American Civil War
A convincing argument can be made on that basis alone that the blockade was a tactical failure,and probably hindered other important strategic endeavors by tying down vital Union resources. Data from for the ports of Wilmington and Charleston suggest the average number of runs into those ports between to was 4. Similar ratios emerge when calculating for other ports. During that same period and at those same two ports, vessels were captured or destroyed.
Extrapolating from that data, it can concluded that over the course of the war four or five successful runs were made for every capture or destruction of a blockade runner.
Strangling the Confederacy: Coastal Operations in the American Civil War by Kevin Dougherty
It is likely that more than 10, attempts were made to run the blockade,since ships were regularly taken out of service,lost to accidents and repairs or removed for reasons other than capture or destruction at the hands of the Union Navy. That is not evidence of a successful blockade. Wilmington, N. In May , only two Federal ships were on blockade duty for the entire miles or so of North Carolina coastline. Wilmington was a premier deep-water port with a complex network of channels that made bottling it up from the ocean side nearly impossible without controlling the city or nearby forts,primarily Fort Fisher, with land forces.
On July 21,,a small converted merchantman took up station outside the main channels on blockade duty. Faced with such feeble opposition,pro-Southern merchant ships entered and left Wilmington at will in the early part of the war. Even in ,after significant efforts had been made by the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron to stop North Carolina trade,more than ships made it in to Wilmington,bringing in desperately needed supplies for General Robert E.
During that same period only about a dozen ships were captured or failed in their attempt to run into port. Arguments have been put forth that blame the Confederate defeat on the fact that profiteering owners and captains of blockade runners filled most of their hulls with overpriced luxury goods at the expense of vitally needed war material.
Profiteering from private cargos run through the blockade likely was a contributor to inflation. But reliance on an unstable and fiat paper currency, the withholding of the cotton crop from overseas distribution and a shortage of specie and gold were also prime contributors.
In fact,the profit motive was the necessary engine that fueled almost all blockade running. The truth is that while evasion of import duties or violation of government cargo restrictions was a fact of life in some smaller ports and more remote coastal hideaways, the South imported massive amounts of war materiel through the blockade,and the Confederate government maintained customs offices in all major ports to collect taxes and to ensure that the portion of any cargo reserved for the government was actually delivered. One account reports that the Confederacy imported more than , individual firearms through the blockade, easily enough to equip every Rebel soldier in every theater.
Importation of arms was not a problem, therefore. The problem was with transportation, once ashore. In three months alone in late ,approximately 4 million pounds of meat,nearly 4 million pounds of lead and saltpeter and almost half a million pairs of shoes were imported. Some luxuries,such as silk,did come into those ports during that period,but they were simply not heavy enough or available in enough quantities to affect the overall importation of war-related supplies. The trade ran in both directions.
After an initial policy of withholding the cotton crop from export, the Davis administration opened the floodgates,and practically every runner leaving port had cotton bales in the hold or stacked on deck. The blockade runner R. There is even evidence that Northern merchants imported cotton through third-party agents in Caribbean ports, and Yankee coffee, salt and other articles ended up on Confederate tables in return.
Loyal Confederates observing this unscrupulous war trade, which benefited the cotton-hungry Northern economy, were outraged and even implied that the Union fleet may have intentionally permitted some Northern-bound cargos to slip through the blockade to neutral ports. On the other hand, when the Federals encountered Confederate resistance at close-quarters they often experienced difficulties, as in the failures at Fort Fisher, and the debacle at Battery Wagner What makes this book particularly unique is its use of modern military doctrine to assess and analyse the campaigns.
Kevin Dougherty, an accomplished historian and former career Army officer, concludes that, without knowing it, the Navy Board did an excellent job at following modern strategic doctrine. While the multitude of small battles that flared along the Rebel coast throughout the Civil War have heretofore not been as well known as the more titanic inland battles, in a cumulative sense, the Union strategy and campaign to blockade and strangle the Confederacy spelled eventual doom for the south.
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