Mexico's Role in Subverting the Union Blockade

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Mark F. Jenkins

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Ooh, let me take that opportunity to tell people to read Watson's memoirs. I don't know if he really did all the things he describes (though I think he didn't embroider too much-- there seems to be a good deal of supporting evidence), but he does tell a great story. :D
 

leftyhunter

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At the risk of being tarred and feathered I'll toss this into the mix.
1. The materials brought in via Matamoros proved more valuable to the civilian population and industries versus ordnance.
2. Matamoros was a darned inconvenient spot to ship cotton overland. It wasn't just the issue of wagons and stock to haul the goods in a period of severe drought, there was also the issue of cotton presses. There were two I've found along the Rio Grande. Unpressed cotton ran about 250 lbs, pressed cotton about 465 lbs per bale. We're talking about a commodity sold by weight and how much you could pack into the ship. There was also the issue of getting the goods off the beach at Bagdad and out to the shipping anchored off-shore. There were oared "ferries", usually flagged in Mexico, but the mouth of the Rio Grande could be very dangerous and a number of boats and lives were lost trying a direct delivery from Brownsville and later White's Ranch. There were a limited number of river steamers, but a many of the originals had been appropriated by the Union Army in 1863.
3. Although clever attempts at hiding munitions were attempted (half barrels of flour with the powder in the lower half), you still had to bribe your way across the river into Texas and then ship it overland.
4. Runs into the Brazos, Galveston and Sabine were potentially more productive in terms of reduced times for trans-shipment.
5. One factor that is generally overlooked is that Galveston didn't receive much traffic from steamers until Mobile fell. The hauling capacity of the new steamers diverted to Texas actually exceeded the capacity of the Texas RRs and steam presses to supply the pressed bales needed for export. Sail driven runners had hauled very small cargoes from the beginning of the war.
6. You can argue the importance of Texas imports and exports to supply the Trans-Mississippi, but after the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson the possibility of moving bulk amounts of goods was limited and the time factor critical due to Union patrols. It made a lot more sense to run goods into Wilmington, and the failure to reinforce that point in the Winter of 1864/65 was nothing short of criminal. There were also plans to open us a route from Havana to the Suwanee River in Florida. Just how they would move goods on to other parts of the Confederacy is a question.
None the less as late as April 1863 Freemantle saw 70 ships outside Montomoros awaiting Mexican steamers.
My point was not that Montamoros and Bagdad were the busiest ports of the Confederacy but none the less they were important strategic ports until the Union Captured Brownsville.
I have quoted sources that from 70 to 300 ships were off shore to load or deliver cargo.These ships need not be small blockade runners but standard size cargo ships as they were foreign flagged. I did quote from a book that weaponry imported from Mexico reached all parts of the Confederacy. So despite the logistical difficulties weapons,and cotton flowed in and out if Mexico until the Union Captured Brownsville.
Leftyhunter
 

georgew

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None the less as late as April 1863 Freemantle saw 70 ships outside Montomoros awaiting Mexican steamers.
My point was not that Montamoros and Bagdad were the busiest ports of the Confederacy but none the less they were important strategic ports until the Union Captured Brownsville.
I have quoted sources that from 70 to 300 ships were off shore to load or deliver cargo.These ships need not be small blockade runners but standard size cargo ships as they were foreign flagged. I did quote from a book that weaponry imported from Mexico reached all parts of the Confederacy. So despite the logistical difficulties weapons,and cotton flowed in and out if Mexico until the Union Captured Brownsville.
Leftyhunter
Howdy. I don't question the range of vessels that anchored off Bagdad, but many were not involved in "the trade". By 1864 there are accounts of huge numbers of timber-built structures at Bagdad. A number of runners went out to the east from the Texas shore and then steered south for Mexican waters carrying timber which apparently sold with a good mark up. Some of this timber did not come from the Confederacy. Small steamers were at a premium in the area and several were built at New Orleans and sent south to Bagdad with timber cut in Mississippi or Louisiana. It appears that there was a kind of bottle-neck in terms of transporting goods from Bagdad to Matamoros. Some of the delays were institutional - the French absolutely checked cargoes for arms and munitions. A number of the smaller, more poorly financed vessels actually abandoned incoming cargoes on the beach as they were unable to get it shipped by wagon before their money ran out. You needed some of the ready for bribes, also. We know from some of the ORN's that some of the larger steamers at Bagdad hauled in harness materials, dehydrated vegetables and booze - lots of it. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the total number of bales shipped out of the Trans-Mississippi through Texas/Mexico was on the order of 60-70,000 bales. A good source on where a tremendous amount of the trade was being conducted along the Mississippi Valley is very well described in a book called "Trading with the Enemy". It has a chapter on the economics of cotton production which goes a long way to explain why the cotton growers thought that Europeans would intervene on the side of the South. A lot of the bales never went to sea, they went north on steamers or via rail road to the Eastern mills in the north. There was a ton of money in this trade and northern politicians and traders were delighted to obtain warrants to trade across the lines. The officers of the ships and units in the area were less enthusiastic, but some also gave in to taking a slice for cooperation. There was a lot of talk at the time of the Red River Expedition that David Porter and his crews collected quite a few bales in Louisiana that had been pre-positioned by a corrupt Confederate Quarter Master. The bales were re-stenciled and put into the ledgers as captured CSA property.
 

Norm53

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As you can tell, being new to the site, I'm reviewing this and other older threads for information and comparing it with what I'm reading in Long's Almanac, The Civil War Day by Day.

For the January 28, 1863, entry in that book, the author states, "Mr. Davis wrote Maj. Gen. T.H. Holmes in the Trans-Mississippi that 'The loss of either of the two positions, - Vicksburg and Port Hudson - would destroy communications with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate'".

Coming from Pres. Davis, who must have known the military value of all areas, doesn't his comment suggest that considerable valuable resources were successfully making their way from points west of the river, including Mexico, to Southern depots and armies east of the river?

Norm
 

wausaubob

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Despite it all, once the railroad running east from Vicksburg was broken permanently by the US, Texas and Arkansas were basically on their own. Moving livestock and sugar products out of Texas and Louisiana became a risky and expensive enterprise.
 

Norm53

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Despite it all, once the railroad running east from Vicksburg was broken permanently by the US, Texas and Arkansas were basically on their own. Moving livestock and sugar products out of Texas and Louisiana became a risky and expensive enterprise.
Then (for any poster) what else might have motivated Pres. Davis to send this message at that time?
 

DaveBrt

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We have 2 threads on the same subject going at the same time. I just posted the below in the other thread. If you want the definitive answer, read the mentioned book:

I have Entrepot in my to-read stack (1st edition). The author has 75 large pages completely covering the Trans-Mississippi importation question -- over the Rio Grande, blockade running into Texas and Louisiana, and across the Mississippi. The results of his scholarship are clear -- 100 bales of cloth made it into Vicksburg in late 1862 from the Rio Grande. ALL other imports from the sea or from Mexico were consumed by the Trans-M. forces. In fact, arms were shipped West on many occasions, starting with a shipment from Beauregard from Corinth in early 1862.

Of interest to me are two items: The long line of cotton bales frequently mentioned belonged to speculators. The Government was continually short of cotton to pay for what was waiting on the Mexican shore. Also, northern Mexico produced large quantities of lead, powder and food that were sold into Texas
 

Norm53

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We have 2 threads on the same subject going at the same time. I just posted the below in the other thread. If you want the definitive answer, read the mentioned book:

I have Entrepot in my to-read stack (1st edition). The author has 75 large pages completely covering the Trans-Mississippi importation question -- over the Rio Grande, blockade running into Texas and Louisiana, and across the Mississippi. The results of his scholarship are clear -- 100 bales of cloth made it into Vicksburg in late 1862 from the Rio Grande. ALL other imports from the sea or from Mexico were consumed by the Trans-M. forces. In fact, arms were shipped West on many occasions, starting with a shipment from Beauregard from Corinth in early 1862.

Of interest to me are two items: The long line of cotton bales frequently mentioned belonged to speculators. The Government was continually short of cotton to pay for what was waiting on the Mexican shore. Also, northern Mexico produced large quantities of lead, powder and food that were sold into Texas
Thank you; I noted your reference. I infer then that Davis was thinking of the importance of trans-Miss. in itself, not for what it could supply to cis-Miss. It will take me a while to appreciate actions occurring in trans-Miss.; I keep thinking that actions cis-Miss. wil make or break the Confederacy, not trans-Miss.
 

leftyhunter

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As you can tell, being new to the site, I'm reviewing this and other older threads for information and comparing it with what I'm reading in Long's Almanac, The Civil War Day by Day.

For the January 28, 1863, entry in that book, the author states, "Mr. Davis wrote Maj. Gen. T.H. Holmes in the Trans-Mississippi that 'The loss of either of the two positions, - Vicksburg and Port Hudson - would destroy communications with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate'".

Coming from Pres. Davis, who must have known the military value of all areas, doesn't his comment suggest that considerable valuable resources were successfully making their way from points west of the river, including Mexico, to Southern depots and armies east of the river?

Norm
I interpret Davis's letter as implying that if possible the Confederacy needed to retain Vicksburg and Port Hudson in order to secure needed supplies from the Trans Mississippi and Western Europe via the port of Baghdad. Mexico was the only nation that had a land border with the Confederacy plus a port not far from the Confederate city of Brownsville,Texas. The critical importance of Baghdad was that the USN had no legal right to inspect a foreign registered vessel in foreign waters.
The inherent problem for Davis is that by June 1863 the Confederate Army is stretched thin and too spread out to reinforce each other.
Grant and Sherman are threatening Vicksburg, Rosecrans's AoC is gathering strength in Central Tennessee. Rosecrans most likely will mount an offensive but when and where? General Burnside could mount an offensive from New Berne, North Carolina to the vital rail network at Goldsboro,North Carolina. General Hooker and the AoP could mount another offensive into Virginia but Davis can't know when and where.
Davis realizes the extent of his dilemma but has only so many troops to go around. It's a huge problem with no real solution.
Leftyhunter
 

DaveBrt

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As you can tell, being new to the site, I'm reviewing this and other older threads for information and comparing it with what I'm reading in Long's Almanac, The Civil War Day by Day.

For the January 28, 1863, entry in that book, the author states, "Mr. Davis wrote Maj. Gen. T.H. Holmes in the Trans-Mississippi that 'The loss of either of the two positions, - Vicksburg and Port Hudson - would destroy communications with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate'".

Coming from Pres. Davis, who must have known the military value of all areas, doesn't his comment suggest that considerable valuable resources were successfully making their way from points west of the river, including Mexico, to Southern depots and armies east of the river?

Norm
Holms had few troops and fewer arms, but he was the only military force that could hold Arkansas and northern Louisiana. I think Davis was trying to stiffen his spine -- arms and ammunition have I none, but such as I have, give I thee -- now, go win one for the Gipper!
 

wausaubob

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Texas and New Mexico had unique problems. The Comanches held large areas of wilderness, and the Mexican/American population was not sympathetic with the Confederacy. The Californians were working their westward across Arizona throughout 1862. So the idea that arms and equipment would be carted up from the Rio Grande to Louisiana lacks credibility.
The Texans were running their own cotton operations, for their own purposes. And Texan politicians were dissenters in Richmond.
What Texas had was livestock, cattle and horses. Louisiana had molasses and sugar.
One should recall that the US navy was active above New Orleans and below Memphis in 1862. While it was possible for the Confederates to cross the Mississippi, it was not easy. I have lost track of when the railroad westward to Monroe was pulled up, but the Confederates gave it up early.
A sort of cease fire settled over most of Texas, and even Quantrill was unwelcome. People who had intelligence on the Texas situation, like Grant and Sherman, wanted to avoid wasting any lives on fighting in Texas.
By the time of July of 1863 Texas was a good place to sit out the remainder of the war.
 

DaveBrt

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Texas and New Mexico had unique problems. The Comanches held large areas of wilderness, and the Mexican/American population was not sympathetic with the Confederacy. The Californians were working their westward across Arizona throughout 1862. So the idea that arms and equipment would be carted up from the Rio Grande to Louisiana lacks credibility.
The Texans were running their own cotton operations, for their own purposes. And Texan politicians were dissenters in Richmond.
What Texas had was livestock, cattle and horses. Louisiana had molasses and sugar.
One should recall that the US navy was active above New Orleans and below Memphis in 1862. While it was possible for the Confederates to cross the Mississippi, it was not easy. I have lost track of when the railroad westward to Monroe was pulled up, but the Confederates gave it up early.
A sort of cease fire settled over most of Texas, and even Quantrill was unwelcome. People who had intelligence on the Texas situation, like Grant and Sherman, wanted to avoid wasting any lives on fighting in Texas.
By the time of July of 1863 Texas was a good place to sit out the remainder of the war.
Brownsville, Corpus Christi and the southern Texas coast was taken in November 1963 and held until the spring of 1864. Most of the troops who fought against the Red River Expedition were Texas troops. Not as quiet as you imply.
 

wausaubob

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That gets us further from Mexico. I think the French were more of a threat than the Mexicans. So if we think of the French in Mexico, than that did bother Seward and Lincoln.
 

leftyhunter

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Texas and New Mexico had unique problems. The Comanches held large areas of wilderness, and the Mexican/American population was not sympathetic with the Confederacy. The Californians were working their westward across Arizona throughout 1862. So the idea that arms and equipment would be carted up from the Rio Grande to Louisiana lacks credibility.
The Texans were running their own cotton operations, for their own purposes. And Texan politicians were dissenters in Richmond.
What Texas had was livestock, cattle and horses. Louisiana had molasses and sugar.
One should recall that the US navy was active above New Orleans and below Memphis in 1862. While it was possible for the Confederates to cross the Mississippi, it was not easy. I have lost track of when the railroad westward to Monroe was pulled up, but the Confederates gave it up early.
A sort of cease fire settled over most of Texas, and even Quantrill was unwelcome. People who had intelligence on the Texas situation, like Grant and Sherman, wanted to avoid wasting any lives on fighting in Texas.
By the time of July of 1863 Texas was a good place to sit out the remainder of the war.
Also @Norm53 ,
Not exactly. Your thinking of West Texas which is irrelevant. Baghdad is close to Brownsville in East Texas. I have sources early in this thread that significant amounts of weaponry was impossible from Baghdad to Brownsville and then early in the ACW made its way East across the Mississippi River. The situation in New Mexico is irrelevant to this thread.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

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That gets us further from Mexico. I think the French were more of a threat than the Mexicans. So if we think of the French in Mexico, than that did bother Seward and Lincoln.
The French were never a threat to the Union. The French violated America's self imposed Monroe Doctrine but Napoleon the Third had no plans to militarily involve France in the ACW. The fighting in Mexico was not even particularly popular in France that is why France had to employ the then new Foreign Legion.
Leftyhunter
 

georgew

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After years of reading Confederate quartermaster vouchers, Confederate command letterbooks and Southern railroad records, I have NEVER found a report of imported war material crossing the Mississippi River going east. There are many records of the shipments of salt, sugar, molasses, cattle and men going east until Vicksburg's surrender. There are a few records of arms headed west.

I do not believe any meaningful amount of military material crossed into Texas, by any route, and proceeded across the Mississippi River. To support your claim of the importance of Brownsville, you need to produce some numbers.
I think that the real issue on incoming cargoes through Matamoros lies in the fact that there were too many parties with a vested interest in limiting weaponry. The French, Union and Juaristas were all players. There was a tremendous shortage of darn near everything in the Trans-Mississippi by the end of 1862. If any weapons were coming in through Texas they were either distributed to locally raised units or went north through Louisiana and Arkansas. There were a number of weapons shipped for Texas via Galveston and Sabine River. But loss rates were an issue and the Confederate Quartermaster Dept was careful to not put too high a percentage of them in any one vessel. There were reports of some critical supplies being shipped in false bottoms of barrels. Aside from the shipment problems through Matamoros, for much of the war very few of the runners into Sabine or Galveston were steamers with better capacities. It wasn't until after the fall of Mobile that the steam runners became more common. The government owned ships like Lark,Wren and Owl come to mind. But a number of the commercial runners made only a single run and loss rates were going up. Then there was a shortage of pressed cotton bales toward the end. Unpressed bales only weighed about half as much so a run into Texas began to look less profitable even if successful. What they needed in Texas and the Trans-Mississippi was industrial equipment. They knew it and efforts were on-going to acquire it. Even the State prison workshops were used to supply soft-goods and baling materials.
 

Bruce Allardice

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Confederate commanders in the Trans-Mississippi Department such as Kirby Smith constantly complained that they didn't have enough rifles to arm their troops. In fact there were several instances (as late as 1864) where arms were shipped there from the East.
The simple fact is that Brownsville imports were not enough to even equip the Trans-MS, let alone ship arms east. As pointed out elsewhere, the transportation costs were simply too great.
 
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