How important were the blockade runners?

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Drew

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It seems to me that the north had its own resources in supplying long arms and most manufactured goods including ships, artillery and iron works. The British and the French were apparently willing to apply "neutral" to selling ships & other products to both Denmark and Prussia when they went to war. Both countries aspired to Empire and their commercial interests (big banks, industrial concerns) had their beginnings in the mercantile system where other nations and possessions were the basic source for supplying raw materials which the parent country turned into finished products for resale to the source nations. The movers and shakers in Britain were well aware that the south had very long odds in "winning". Imagine yourself in the diplomatic corps in London reading reports from your Consuls. They were doing business with a "country" that should have been able to easily feed its own population, but lacked the infrastructure to distribute the goods. As pointed out on this board, late in the war Wilmington became a hub for distribution of imported food for Lee's army. Take the city or cut the rail line out of the city and the deterioration of Confederate forces holding Richmond accelerated. From the Confederate viewpoint, the function of the runners changed based upon the needs of the Army. And availability of cotton to entice the private runners into taking the growing risks of the blockade began to disappear. In turn the need for Confederate government runners increased in terms of supplying military and medical goods. At some point the wealthy class capable of purchasing civilian goods at huge prices would begin to be tapped out unless they had banked funds in Britain or France to draw upon. Also production of their basic goods began to dry up as labor forces deteriorated and the means for transporting cotton to the declining number of runner ports either disappeared or were monopolized by military necessity.
This is about the most meandering post I've seen on CWT in a while. What is the focus and, do you have sources for any of this? Inquiring minds would like to know.
 

Saphroneth

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Its a bit surprising that at the end of the war the US wasn't more aggressive in trying to scoop up more of the idled runners as enemy property.
Well, if they were UK-registered and weren't in the act of breaking blockade inwards or outwards, they weren't valid targets. The odd ship scooped up doing something tricky is one thing, dozens of them is something else entirely and the US doesn't want war with the British.


A strengthened semi-blockade of Bermuda and Nassau. The Union navy kept cruisers in the area to make intercepts just out of territorial waters.
Notably this actually relied upon two things:
1) An expansive interpetation of blockade law, one which the British were quite happy with because it was all precedent for the future. There's actually notes from the 1910s which indicate that US lawyers recognized that the British blockade of Germany was applying ACW precedent.
2) The British allowing a quite considerable amount of coaling in British possessions for warships, including coaling repeatedly at British possessions without the theoretically required trip back home.
 

USS ALASKA

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...the CS Govt should have invested more in their own runners.
Sir, would this have brought about a negative - to the CSA - reaction from the British?

The Confederacy was buying other ships in addition to the Cornubia and the ships were initially commanded by British captains in order to give the appearance of British ownership and conceal their identity as Confederate ships. One British captain advised Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory: "I would suggest that as fast as the ships are paid for, [Confederate States] Navy officers be put in command as a general rule," adding that such vessels "ought to be kept registered in the names of private individuals, otherwise serious embarrassment may arise, as Lord Russell has stated in the House of Lords that if it could be shown that the steamers trading between the Confederate States and the British Islands were owned by the Confederate States Government, they would be considered as transports and would be forbidden to enter English ports, except under the restrictions imposed upon all men-of-war of the belligerent powers."

http://www.cfcwrt.org/Newsletters/2018-2019/Feb-2019.pdf
480

Thanks,
USS ALASKA
 
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USS ALASKA

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Well, if they were UK-registered and weren't in the act of breaking blockade inwards or outwards, they weren't valid targets.
Notably this actually relied upon two things:
1) An expansive interpetation of blockade law, one which the British were quite happy with because it was all precedent for the future. There's actually notes from the 1910s which indicate that US lawyers recognized that the British blockade of Germany was applying ACW precedent.
British flagged vessels were taken that weren't exactly in the immediate "...act of breaking blockade inwards or outwards..." under the escalating liberal interpretation of the "Continuous Voyage" doctrine as @Copperhead-mi has posted. Some were adjudicated as in violation of the blockade and some were returned and a penalty paid by the USG. And as you posted above, the British were pleased with this development as it expanded her abilities in future blockading situations. I believe in admiralty law, the term is jus gentium where the same legal rulings theoretically apply to other countries.

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/civil-war-blockade-papers.149497/page-4
493 / 4

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
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Saphroneth

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I believe in admiralty law, the term is jus gentium where the same legal rulings theoretically apply to other countries.
The interesting thing about it to me is that the blockade appears to have explicitly blocked foodstuffs.
 
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wausaubob

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The United States spent considerable naval resources, with a supporting army force, to close Mobile Bay in August of 1864. That is evidence that the US thought the blockade runners were important. After the US closed the port to blockade runners, the Confederacy did win any battles in the west. I don't think they had much of an artillery arm in the west after the US closed Mobile Bay. That may be some evidence that fuses were hard to come by.
 

wausaubob

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After Mobile Bay was closed to blockade runners, the US navy employed a three tiered system to attempt to catch blockade runners using Wilmington, NC. There were observers close in to the passes between the islands, pursuit boats to try to catch runners that had been detected, and ocean going ships prepared to catch runners that did not clear the fleet before sunlight. The navy, and the cabinet thought this effort was worthwhile. The captured vessels were carefully presented to the prize courts in New York. The US and the British were making blockade law.
In December and January, Grant and Lincoln made two attempts to capture Fort Fisher. They relieved the popular war Democrat, Ben Butler, and spent a large number of lives to complete the capture. That is further evidence that they thought it was important.
Approximately 3 months later the war ended. The foodstuffs brought in through the blockade, and food traded by Butler to forces near Richmond, kept the Confederacy alive and a few favored Confederate divisions fed.
 
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wausaubob

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Attempts to stop blockade running in Texas were not comparable. Many things happened in Texas that are consistent with a tacit armistice prevailing. Even after the war Grant was very tolerant of the Texas Democrats. And Texas did get a railroad network, in the post war economy.
 

wausaubob

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Therefore, cargos run through the blockade at Mobile, and Wilmington, which could loaded onto a train, were very important.
 
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