Blockade Running "A Naval Obstacle Course"
Importing or exporting goods and materials through the Union blockade of the Southern coast was an easy matter at the beginning of the Civil War. There were so few blockaders and so much traffic that 9 out of 10 ships attempting to run the blockade did so safely. But as more and more ship were added to the blockading squadrons, the effectiveness of the blockade increased, and the runners had to resort to using specially designed fast ships. As the risk increased, so did the profits to be made, and great fortunes could be amassed by those who successfully took the risk. A captain could make more than $5,000 on one successful round trip between Nassau and the Southern coast, for cotton prices in England had increased 10 times over their prewar levels and the Confederacy desperately needed supplies.
It has been estimated that the blockade was violated 8,200 times during the war and that 1,500 runners were captured or destroyed. In 1862, one out of eight attempts to run the blockade was unsuccessful; in 1863, one in four; in 1864, one in three; and in 1865, the chances were still no worse than one in two. For the entire war, five out of six runners got through the cordon. At the end of the war there were still about 150 runners operating in and out of Southern ports. The side-wheeler R.E. Lee ran the blockade 21 times in less than a year. The Port of Wilmington shipped out $65 million worth of cotton in the last year of the war and brought in vast amounts of material to help sustain the Confederacy.
These figures, however, are just one side of the story. The blockade may have been violated- by both runners and all other ships entering or leaving the ports- a total of 8,200 times during the war, but for the four years prior to the war more than 20,000 vessels had operated out of those same ports. The runners may have been able to keep trade alive, but they could not compensate for the great merchant marine that would have been able to sustain the Confederacy had the blockade not been in force.
Fascinating Fact: The Confederacy shipped half a million bales of cotton through the blockade during the last three years of the war. In the three years before the war, 10 million bales had been exported.
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