The Blockade "Improved Tactics" April 19, 1861 - June 23, 1865
The blockade of Southern ports as first established in the summer of 1861 was full of holes and largely ineffectual. As the Union navy committed more and more ships to blockade service and set up coaling and supply stations on the Southern coast, they were able to improve their strategy and tactics and capture more of the ships trying to enter or leave Southern ports. Blockade runners countered Northern improvements with innovations of their own, most notably in utilizing specially designed sleek, fast ships that could slip past and outrun the blockaders.
The North organized the blockading fleet into four squadrons, each assigned to patrol a designated section of the Southern coast. Experience proved that the main key to an effective blockade was having an adequate number of ships on duty at the same time. The blockaders stationed off a certain port would be arrayed in two lines, one close in to the shore and the other several miles out to sea. When a blockader spotted a ship trying to slip in or out of port, it would send up a signal rocket in the direction of the runner. The other blockaders would then converge at all speed in the same direction. If the runner made it past one of the lines of blockaders, the other line would already be warned and on the lookout. The runners learned to counter the Northern signal rockets by themselves carrying the same type of rockets. Then, by sending the rockets up at right angles to their ships' direction of travel. they would throw off many of the pursuing vessels.
As more of the vital Southern ports were captured by land forces during the war, the blockaders were able to concentrate their efforts on the remaining open ports. Very few runners were captured in 1861, but by 1865 the blockaders were able to capture about half of the runners trying to slip past them. Over the entire war, out of 1,300 attempts there were about 1,00 successful runs by ships bound to or from foreign ports.
Fascinating Fact: Very few Union warships had the speed necessary to chase and capture one of the sleek steam-driven blockade runners.
Back to index page