The Blockade "An Effective Union Strategy" April 19, 1861 - June 23, 1965
A major part of Union Gen. Winfield Scott's war strategy was to blockade the Southern coast and prevent any trade from entering or leaving Southern ports. The South had very few manufacturing and industrial facilities and depended on its cotton trade to secure man-made products. A successful blockade would severely hamper the South's ability to wage war.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the blockade of Southern ports on April 19, 1861, there was, in fact, very little that the North could do to prevent Southern trade. The U.S. Navy had only 42 operational warships, and most of these were sailing vessels, obsolete in a time that had seen the superiority of steam-powered ships. The North actually had only three suitable warships available for blockading duty, because most of its ships were patrolling distant seas. The South's 3,549 miles of coast, with 180 possible places for ships to enter, made the Union blockade the largest such effort ever attempted by any nation.
At first the South, and even Britain, ridiculed the blockade because it seemed impossible to turn the proclamation into reality. But the North possessed the resources, manpower, and will to gradually construct an effective blockade. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles brought home his far-flung fleet and began a massive shipbuilding program. He also bought appropriate vessels from the North's large merchant fleet and converted them for blockade duty. By the end of the year, Welles reported to Congress that the navy had purchased 136 ships and had 52 under construction.
Even without the initial power to back up the proclamation, the mere declaration of the blockade kept away many foreign ships that would otherwise have taken advantage of the South's need for war materials.
Fascinating Fact: In 1861, the blockade was effective in capturing only one out of nine vessels entering or leaving Southern ports. In 1862, the success rate of the blockade increased to one out of seven.
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