Range of Confederate privateers?

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sawpatin

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I don't know much about Confederate privateering in general, other than it wasn't as successful as might have been hoped for the CSA. What waters did these vessels tend to prowl in? Did they generally stick to the Gulf of Mexico or Eastern Seaboard, or were there any that hunted down Union shipping farther afield (e.g. the eastern Atlantic, the Pacific, the South American coasts, etc) ?

Just to avoid confusion, I'm asking specifically about armed, privately operated vessels holding letters of marque, not raiders that were formally part of the navy like the CSS Alabama or Shenandoah...
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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I haven't done a ton of reading on this area (but really, there isn't a ton of material out there to read... the only full-length book on the topic is William M. Robinson, Jr.'s The Confederate Privateers, written back in 1928!) but my general impression is that they were small vessels operating close to shore or points they could dart out from and dart back to, like the Carolina Sounds (which is also why that area and the Gulf had a privateer/piracy problem in earlier centuries). I do not think they went on very extended voyages, if for no other reason than their craft weren't up to long ocean passages.
 

sawpatin

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I do not think they went on very extended voyages, if for no other reason than their craft weren't up to long ocean passages.
You may be right. I was just perusing this list (http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/csn/annex_1.txt) and came across some vessels which could have been capable of leaving coastal waters, although it seems many of these are marked with a '+' (which seems to indicate they were taken into CSN service) or a '*' (which seems to indicate no recorded service as privateers).
 
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sawpatin

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Bit more info on privateers which seems to back up the idea of them being primarily small coasters:

"The majority of seagoing privateers were small sailing vessels, often displacing less than 100 tons. Sailing barques and schooners were the primary size and type of privateer, and these were often provided with only a minimal armament. Larger steam privateers also existed, such as the sidewheel steamer Phoenix, which displaced over 1,600 tons, but these were rare."
^ 'Confederate Raider 1861-65' by Angus Konstam, pg. 39-40, 2003 Osprey Publishing

I suspect the Phoenix mentioned by Konstam to be the Phenix in that list I linked above...

Plate A in Konstam's book has an illustration of the Calhoun, a 508 ton sidewheel steamer that was commissioned as a privateer in May 1861 at New Orleans. Konstam (page 44) says that she took 6 prizes in her first month of operation off the Mississippi Delta, before being purchased by the CSN for use as a river gunboat. He points out that, as a steam-powered vessel, she was among a minority in Confederate privateers, and as @Mark F. Jenkins theorised, she seems to have stuck to littoral waters...
 
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Seduzal

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Well that’s a new one on me. Never heard of this before. Learned something new! Thanks for sharing this interesting questions.
 

sawpatin

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Well that’s a new one on me. Never heard of this before. Learned something new! Thanks for sharing this interesting questions.
Thanks. It's an interesting topic imo, Confederate Privateers. Privateering by the 1860s was on its last legs, largely due to most of the maritime powers of the 19th century signing the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law in 1856, which outlawed privateering among the signatories. The CSA though, not being a signatory, was able to issue letters of marque. The USA was also not a signatory, but I believe Lincoln's government stated at the beginning of the war that they would abide by the principles of the Paris Declaration...
 
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Carronade

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Plate A in Konstam's book has an illustration of the Calhoun, a 508 ton sidewheel steamer that was commissioned as a privateer in May 1861 at New Orleans. Konstam (page 44) says that she took 6 prizes in her first month of operation off the Mississippi Delta,
That is, before it became well-known that the secession crisis had escalated to actual war and that the Confederacy was licensing privateers. I expect there were a lot fewer American ships in southern littoral waters once the word got out, another reason for the small privateers to phase out.

I recall reading of similar situations in the Revolution and War of 1812. At first, a lot of hastily improvised privateers went to sea, capturing merchant ships that might not even know war had broken out - and often being taken themselves as the Royal Navy geared up. Then came a transition to purpose-built privateers operating more professionally.
 

sawpatin

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@Carronade Yes, Konstam does say in that book that the number of privateers started to significantly drop off after the first year of the war, to the point of becoming virtually inexistent by the end of 1862. The Confederate government does seem to have continued issuing letters of marque into 1864, but by that point it seems there were very few (if any) active privateers in service. A tightening of the Union blockade, and Confederate Navy requisitioning/compulsory purchasing of privately owned ships, probably had something to do with it too...
 

georgew

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Thanks. It's an interesting topic imo, Confederate Privateers. Privateering by the 1860s was on its last legs, largely due to most of the maritime powers of the 19th century signing the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law in 1856, which outlawed privateering among the signatories. The CSA though, not being a signatory, was able to issue letters of marque. The USA was also not a signatory, but I believe Lincoln's government stated at the beginning of the war that they would abide by the principles of the Paris Declaration...
Shorter range vessels were deemed more functional. To get a return on investment the prize had to be returned to a southern port. A prize arriving at a neutral port might be seized pending adjudication by that country's foreign ministry. It is also interesting that the greatest early investment in submarines and semi-submersibles in the south appears to have come from sources intending to use their creations as privateers. The Cheeny vessels at Richmond were CSN but their development and employment is still hazy. The submarine recovered and refurbished at New Orleans appears to have been at least partially constructed by personnel seconded from the Army. The submarine recovered from the canal was intended as a privateer. Apparently the CSN did understand the possibilities of submersibles but was focused on the short range assembly of conventional vessels. By the end of 1862 most of the industrial facilities capable of supporting more long range developmental programs had been lost to the Union. The occasional small projects underway in the south (Mobile) were not privateers because private sources of investment had dried up. Hence attempts to purchase the more "high tech" vessels abroad. Britain and France normally come to mind, but the CSN was aware of developments by Monturial in Spain. It was proposed to run out the former Harriet Lane from Galveston, sell her at Havana and use the proceeds to buy another vessel more suitable for cruising. In the end she made one run in private hands and rotted in harbor until the end of the war. Attempts were made to raise private funds to purchase vessels suitable to convert as privateers in Europe, but again failed. Some private funds were used in Britain for purchase or construction of ships deemed nominally civilian but robust enough to be used as gunboats (Ajax, Alexandria). Alexandria was seized in port and only one of a pair of towboat/gunboats built in Britain actually arrived too late for use.
 
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sawpatin

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To get a return on investment the prize had to be returned to a southern port. A prize arriving at a neutral port might be seized pending adjudication by that country's foreign ministry.
Something I wondered about actually, did Confederate representatives in Spanish Caribbean ports ever serve in a prize court capacity for their privateers? I've read that Confederate ships, including blockade runners and privateers, sometimes put in to Cuban and Puerto Rican ports, and I'm aware that there were Confederate agents in places like Havana. Spain was not a party to the 1856 Paris Declaration at that time, so at least on principle privateering would not have been illegal in their eyes. I've read that some countries in the past designated their consuls/foreign representatives to carry out the prize court role abroad (e.g. the French in US ports during the 1790s), but I don't know if the Confederacy did...
 

Story

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This is a 1:124 scale model of the CS Privateer 'Beauregard', Savannah GA (1861), a too-slow-for-the-job schooner (7 kph) fitted out by a private investment group with a single rifled 24lb gun (probably a pivot, as the Antebellum slavers were armed).

Waiting for a 24lb pivot gun, standing and running rigging. Currently berthed on a bed of Joe Frogger rum cookies.
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https://newengland.com/today/food/desserts/cookies-bars/joe-froggers/

Hull spliced from leftover LINDBERG Blockade Runner bow and stern sections.
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Probably wind up rigged Brigantine style.
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AHiI1T2.jpg
 
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DixieRifles

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What waters did these vessels tend to prowl in? Did they generally stick to the Gulf of Mexico or Eastern Seaboard, or were there any that hunted down Union shipping farther afield (e.g. the eastern Atlantic, the Pacific, the South American coasts, etc) ?
In my research of an young officer, I found out he was in the CS Navy serving in the gunboats as part of the Mississippi River fleets. When they lost many of their ships, they formed the Confederate River Defense Fleet comprised on private vessels that were crewed by CS Navy personnel and private individuals who had interest in the shipping on the river.
The CDRF was the force that defended Memphis that culminated in the 1st Battle of Memphis. This link has detail maps of the placement and movements of the ships involved in this battle.
First Battle of Memphis

appcrop-5battle_t607-jpg.jpg
 

Ara Oko

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If seamen from the war of Independence can attack a UK target (a Fort), albeit unsuccessfully, there is no reason to suspect their successors couldn't range the Atlantic and west indies if so ordered.
Indeed, blockading the South was a high priority for the North. Largely a failure by most accounts I've read to date.
 
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sawpatin

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When they lost many of their ships, they formed the Confederate River Defense Fleet comprised on private vessels that were crewed by CS Navy personnel and private individuals who had interest in the shipping on the river.
Fascinating! I'd heard of the CRDF, but I had thought it was all naval personnel and vessels. I'm assuming the vessels were all put under the command of naval officers? Or were there any that were fully operated by private individuals?
 

DixieRifles

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I'm assuming the vessels were all put under the command of naval officers? Or were there any that were fully operated by private individuals?
I'm not the expert. However, as I understand it, the experience riverboat captains and pilots used their own ships and employed any Navy or ex-Navy men and locals to man the guns. I think the Naval officer resigned his commission so he could join in with the CRDF.
 

sawpatin

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I'm not the expert. However, as I understand it, the experience riverboat captains and pilots used their own ships and employed any Navy or ex-Navy men and locals to man the guns. I think the Naval officer resigned his commission so he could join in with the CRDF.
Ah, this sounds a bit like a riverine militia then. I'm going to have to see if I can find out more about it from someone. Thanks for bringing the non-navy side of this organisation to my attention. Definitely sounds interesting...
 
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USS ALASKA

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There were a great deal of limiting factors that kept the Confederacy from employing privateers en masse. Privateers and privateering were essentially 'state-sponsored' pirates with a 'for-profit' motive, (unlike 'official' CSN Commerce Raiders). As @georgew mentioned, without easily accessible ports in which to sent prizes to have them adjudicated, the 'profit' incentive was extremely limited in places were that could be realized. No profit - no Raison d'être. CS privateers would have to escape the blockade, take their prizes, then get them back through the blockade as there where no other places that would welcome them. (Were there any other ports that prizes could be taken that weren't Confederate controlled? I can't think of any...) Even countries that harbored Confederate sympathies weren't likely to to have official findings against the Union if for no other reason than the political 'blowback' it would cause. The Confederacy, not being a 'sea-faring' nation as thought of traditionally, didn't have a surplus of vessels and manpower in which to employ this weapon system. The United States, in earlier conflicts, did have those assets to engage once the adversary began hunting the US merchant fleet, driving it to shelter. Those resources were then idled property with nothing else better to do.

This does bring up an interesting question. If any Confederate privateer would have been taken by Union forces, how would the crew have been treated? As legitimate combatants...or as something worse or less than that...?

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sawpatin

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(Were there any other ports that prizes could be taken that weren't Confederate controlled? I can't think of any...)
I was doing a bit of digging to see if Spain might have permitted Confederate representatives in places like Cuba or Puerto Rico to make prize court judgements, since they weren't a party to the Paris Declaration. From what I managed to turn up, it seems that officially foreign privateers could only sell prizes in Spanish ports if those prizes came from a nation that Spain was at war with. Since Spain and the US weren't at war, it thus seems unlikely that Spanish ports could have offered an official prize port for CSA privateers.

As to black-market sales of captured cargoes in Spanish territory, that I don't know enough to comment on. There were certainly blockade runners doing business in Cuba...

This does bring up an interesting question. If any Confederate privateer would have been taken by Union forces, how would the crew have been treated? As legitimate combatants...or as something worse or less than that...?
I believe this set the precedent. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
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