Blockade Running "Profits Worth The Risk"
Blockade runners enabled the Confederacy to survive for as long as it did. Supplies brought into the South through the blockade included 60 percent of the weapons used by the Confederate armies and most of the ingredients needed to manufacture ammunition. In the last six months of 1864, through the ports of Wilmington and Charleston alone came 500,000 pairs of shoes, 1.5 million pounds of lead, 3.5 million pounds of meat, 2 million pounds of saltpeter, 43 cannon, and 50,000 rifles, along with clothes, blankets, and medicine. It was largely because of these imports that Lee's 72,000-man Army of Northern Virginia, fighting in the trenches at Petersburg, was able to receive 150,000 shirts, 167,000 pairs of shoes, 140,000 pairs of pants, and 100,000 jackets during the last months of the war.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederate states had very little industry and manufacturing and only a small merchant fleet; the Southern economy had been largely dependent upon foreign or Northern ships to import its manufactured goods. Naturally, the Confederacy looked to the country with the world's largest merchant marine, Great Britain, to provide ships and merchants willing to attempt to slip through the Union blockade. At first the risk was not great because the Union lacked the ships needed to put muscle into the "paper" blockade. As the blockade grew more effective and the risk became greater, the profits to be made by a successful blockade runner also grew. "King Cotton" was the great commodity that fueled the trade and made the risk worthwhile. Great quantities of cheap, high-quality cotton waited on Southern wharves to be picked up and sold at greatly inflated prices to the cotton-starved textile industries in Europe.
About 300 ships tried to run the blockade a total of 1,300 times during the war, succeeding over 1,000 times. Blockading ships captured 136 runners and destroyed 85. The average runner made four trips; the Syren was the most successful with 33 trips, while the Denbigh made 26 trips.
Fascinating Fact: Salt that cost $6.50 in the Bahamas sold for $1,700 in the South. Such immense profits made blockade running worth the risks.
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