Blockade Runners, Confederate

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BLOCKADE RUNNERS, CONFEDERATE. On 16 April 1861, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the Confederacy's 3,500 miles of coastline. The effectiveness of the blockade increased after early Union victories along the coast, elevating the risk of capture from an average of one in ten in 1861 to one in three by 1864. The trade with other countries by running the blockade proved highly lucrative. The value to the Confederacy is told in the record of 1.25 million bales of cotton run out as well as in 600,000 small arms and other munitions, endless supplies of provisions, clothing, hospital stores, manufactures, and luxuries run in. The estimated value of the goods entering the Confederacy is $200 million.

Had it not been for the blockade runners, the Confederate armies more than once would have been on the verge of starvation. Except for the increasing stringency of the blockade, the runners might have enabled the South to win its independence by keeping a federal squadron of six hundred vessels occupied. Furthermore, runners afforded the one means of outside communication.

Blockade running had its disadvantages, however. The traffic drained away the gold supply, contributing to depreciation of Confederate currency. It drew attention to the ports, probably precipitating attacks on their defenses. The yellow fever scourge in Wilmington, Delaware, had its source in a blockade runner. The traffic also stimulated a hunger for speculation and the riotous living of the blockade-running gentry, demoralizing many citizens.


Browning, Robert M. From Cape Charles to Cape Fear: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

Carse, Robert. Blockade: The Civil War at Sea. New York: Rinehart, 1958.

Wise, Stephen R. Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running during the Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

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See alsoBlockade ; Civil War ; King Cotton ; andvol. 9:A Confederate Blockade Runner .