The Union Blockade of the Southern States

by Robert M. Browning, Jr.

The Union Naval blockade isolated the Confederacy and kept it from establishing a full-scale war economy.

For centuries, blockades have been important instruments of warring nations, and when successful, gave an advantage to the country that implemented one. In April 1861, Abraham Lincoln announced he would institute a blockade of the Confederate coastline. Lincoln's call for a blockade, which created the need for a large navy, may have been his wisest wartime decision given the important role played by this service during the conflict.

The navy of the United States was far from strong when the war began and was incapable of blockading the entire Confederate coast. On paper, there were only ninety warships in the navy. Fifty were sailing vessels, of which the larger were useful mainly as receiving and training ships. Of the forty steam vessels listed, two lay unfinished, three served as receiving ships, and three patrolled on the Great Lakes. Eight others, including five steam frigates, were laid up for repairs. These five steam frigates constituted the main element of American naval strength. Although formidable warships, they could not effectively patrol the South's shallow waters because of their deep drafts. The navy had only three armed vessels ready for service on the Atlantic coast at the outbreak of war. The remaining ships were in the Gulf of Mexico or on foreign stations from which some did not return for six months.[1]

The announcement of the blockade came in two messages. The first was a proclamation by Lincoln on April 19 and included all the coastal Confederate states except North Carolina and Virginia. On April 27, Lincoln issued a second proclamation that included the latter two states. He indicated in the proclamations that the United States would “follow the law of nations” and that the warships would first issue a warning and capture any vessel on the next attempt to evade the blockade.[2]

Legal Aspects of a Blockade

Before the announcement of the blockade, Lincoln and his cabinet had discussed other options. Lincoln's idea to blockade the Confederacy did meet with some disagreement. Some argued that the government should close the ports rather than blockade them. Heated discussions ensued over the two proposed plans. Assuming that the rebellion was an internal struggle, the government could simply close its southern ports under United States law. Closing the ports appeared simple, requiring only an executive order. One defect in this approach was that the ordinance of closure only allowed enforcement in American territorial waters. Furthermore, violators of this order would only have violated a United States revenue law and thus could only be tried in a federal court in the state and district where the infraction occurred, an impossibility because these were now under Confederate control. More importantly, closing the ports would not force European nations to acknowledge this action because international law did not recognize this form of trade interdiction.

Secretary of State William Henry Seward persuaded Lincoln to adopt a blockade. Seward knew that most of the nations of the world recognized blockades, which would avoid international complications. By issuing a notification of a blockade, however, the Union implicitly gave the Confederacy belligerent status because a blockade is a belligerent right, and implies that there is fighting with an external enemy.

On May 13, 1861, the British government announced its neutrality. The British did not protest Lincoln's blockade because their long-term naval interests lay in expanding and maintaining the blockade practice. Although the American blockade annoyed them, created animosities, and was at times inconvenient, the British accepted it. On May 16, France confirmed its acceptance as well.[3] With French support it became clear that the major powers of Europe would recognize the United States blockade if the navy maintained it according to international law. This resolved one of the Union's earliest and most grave issues.

On July 13, six days after the first blockade proclamation, congress passed the Ports Act. This legislation gave the president the authority to close the ports. Lincoln wisely continued the blockade and did not use this law to close a port until April 11, 1865, long after foreign intervention was no longer a threat.

The 1856 Declaration of Paris framed the international standards of blockade practice. Most of the world’s nations signed this agreement, but the United States was not a signatory. International law required only that “an adequate force” remain at all times the entrance to a port to prevent communication. By the widest interpretation of the law, one vessel qualified as an adequate force.

The Union ships had to establish the blockade of each Confederate port by written notification. After this notification went ashore, the vessels then in port had 15 days to leave without fear of capture. Once the navy instituted the blockade of a port, at least one vessel had to remain on station. If for some reason the blockaders left, or weather or enemy warships drove them off, then the navy had to reinstate the blockade. This required sending another notification ashore and allowed a 15-day grace period for vessels to exit the port without penalty.

At the beginning of the war, some Union leaders believed that a comprehensive blockade would require as few as thirty warships. Reality quickly dispelled this notion because the blockade was not even slightly effective for many months. In the six weeks after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, nearly 30,000 bales of cotton left the port of Charleston alone. From June to December 1861, 150 vessels, mainly small coasting craft, arrived at Charleston through the interior waterways. The other major Southern ports experienced similar commerce. This laxity had the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer boasting, “Contempt for Lincoln’s blockade must prevail even at Timbucktoo!”[4]

In an attempt to devise an overall strategy and to offer solutions to a range of potential problems, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles created a Commission of Conference, also known as the Blockade Strategy Board. This board was the only group that met during the war that approached in character that of a general staff. The idea for the creation of this board originated with Professor Alexander Dallas Bache, the superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. Organized on June 27 1861, the board consisted of Bache, Chief Engineer of the Army Department of Washington, Major John Gross Barnard, and two naval officers, Captain Charles Henry Davis, who acted as recorder and secretary, and Captain Samuel Francis Du Pont, who served as chair.

The board met at the Smithsonian Institution from July to September. Poring over charts and studying hydrographic, topographic, and geographic information, its members developed strategies and devised methods to render the blockade more effective. They also accumulated the information necessary to establish logistical bases. In six major reports and four supplementary ones, they recommended points the navy could seize as coaling stations and naval bases. The board also prepared a general guide for all blockading operations that the Navy Department followed closely throughout the war.[5]

The Early Blockade

The task of patrolling 3,500 miles of shallow coastline containing 189 inlets, harbors and rivers would require a much larger force than the navy had available in April 1861. The specific geography of the Confederate shoreline complicated the implementation and maintenance of the blockade. Compounding this challenge were the numerous barrier islands that protected inward passages along most of the Confederate coast. Inlets separated these islands at intervals and often opened into large estuaries. This intricate network of waterways allowed shallow-draft vessels to keep communications open without the need to enter the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

In May 1861, the Navy Department initially created two blockading squadrons. The Atlantic Blockading Squadron’s responsibilities included the eastern ports from Chesapeake Bay to Key West, Florida and the Gulf Blockading Squadron patrolled from Key West to the Rio Grande. At the end of October 1861, the Atlantic Blockading Squadron divided into the newly formed North Atlantic and South Atlantic Blockading squadrons. The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron’s responsibilities were the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron watched the coast from South Carolina to Key West. Later, the latter boundary moved to include the coast only as far south as Cape Canaveral. The Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron split in February 1862. The East Gulf Blockading Squadron patrolled from Cape Canaveral to St. Andrew’s Bay, Florida, and the West Gulf Blockading Squadron’s area of responsibility began west of St. Andrew’s Bay, Florida and stretched to the Rio Grande.


An early embarrassment to the efficiency of the blockade was the operation of Confederate privateers. The majority of these vessels sortied out of Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. These warships operated under Letters of Marque issued by the Confederate government. This commission allowed private vessels to make prizes of Union shipping. The privateers, however, could only operate out of Confederate ports since international law, as laid out in the 1856 Declaration of Paris, did not recognize privateering. Thus, once they captured a prize they had to return to a Confederate port. While these vessels had limited early successes, as the blockade became more stringent they could not operate without extreme risk and by 1862, they were no longer a threat. They did, however, occupy the full attention of the naval authorities early in the war. While the Union officials protested this form of warfare, the United States failure to sign the 1856 Declaration of Paris, gave it little sympathy from foreign governments.

The Atlantic Coast

In May 1861, when the Atlantic Coast Blockading Squadron formed, it included only fourteen warships. There were only three major port cities to watch from Virginia to Key West—they were Norfolk, Charleston and Savannah. Norfolk never developed as a Confederate port because of the United States Navy’s presence in the Chesapeake Bay. The ports in the sounds of North Carolina also might have served the Confederacy. The shallow draft of the bars entering the sounds limited the trade and by the spring of 1862 most of the interior towns were under Union control.

Union warships did not blockade Savannah, Georgia until June 1861. The single narrow channel that led into the river made the blockade of this port relatively simple. When Union forces captured Fort Pulaski, guarding the mouth of the Savannah River, in April 1862, this effectively closed the port to most of the traffic. [6]

Even apart from its political and psychological importance, Charleston stood out as the major port on the Atlantic Coast and the most crucial to blockade. The city had a wide and deep harbor, one of the best in the south. The bar lay about five miles from the harbor entrance and four main channels offered access into the harbor. When Bermuda and Nassau became the major points of transshipment for blockade goods, the port of Charleston with its well-developed rail connections became a prime port. Only about 780 miles from Bermuda and just over 500 miles from Nassau, Charleston offered a quick trip for blockade runners. Until early 1863, Charleston served as the Confederacy’s most frequented port and remained open for business until February 1865.


By the beginning of 1863, Charleston became the major target of the Union military forces and the Navy Department sent a large number of warships and ironclads there. After the April 1863 attack on the forts at the mouth of the harbor, the ironclads moved into the main ship channel and these warships effectively restricted the blockade running traffic. It was at this time that Wilmington, North Carolina, became the most important port in the Confederacy. While there was already a brisk trade at Wilmington, the virtual closure of Charleston forced the Confederacy and the mercantile firms running the blockade to refocus their efforts. Wilmington’s importance as a blockade running port was unsurpassed for the rest of the war.

Wilmington was North Carolina’s principal seaport and, with a population of about ten thousand, the state's largest city. In 1861, the city boasted the largest naval stores market in the country and traded in other natural resources. At the beginning of the war Wilmington seemed to have no special attribute that would make it so important to the Confederacy. Wilmington was an important port in North Carolina, but compared to Charleston, Norfolk, and Savannah its overall trade was miniscule. It was not considered important enough to blockade until nearly three months into the war

Geography and communications determined Wilmington's growth and importance. Wilmington had rail connections to both Charleston and Richmond, which linked it to two of the Confederacy's most important cities. Wilmington lay on the banks of the Cape Fear River, twenty miles from the river’s mouth and fifteen miles from a second navigable entrance at New Inlet, and beyond the reach of a direct assault by naval vessels. Smith Island lay between the two navigable entrances and stretched for six miles into the ocean. In addition, Frying Pan Shoals extended over twenty miles farther into the Atlantic, making the distance between the inlets by sea almost fifty miles while the distance directly between them was only six or seven. The double inlets required two separate blockading forces and made it possible for the blockade runners to lie in the river and to observe the blockading fleet at their stations and then choose the most weakly guarded inlet from which to make their escape.

After Bermuda and Nassau became the major points for transshipment of goods into the South, Wilmington became even more convenient. Large ships brought contraband cargoes to these island ports where smaller and faster blockade runners carried them to the Confederacy. Only 570 miles from Nassau, a steamer could travel to Wilmington in 48 hours. Bermuda was only 674 miles from Wilmington and a steamer could make the trip in about 72 hours.

During the war, more than 100 different steamers ran the blockade of Wilmington about 260 times in total. Stopping this trade became a priority for the Navy Department and the naval force here became the largest concentration of warships of any squadron. Additionally, the tactics to stop blockade running continually evolved and some of the Union warships patrolled as far as 130 miles offshore and along the tracks of the blockade runners coming from the island entrepots.

The Gulf Coast Blockade

The blockade of the Gulf Coast was, in some ways, more difficult than the East Coast blockade. While both Charleston and Wilmington attracted a large Confederate trade, the expansive and shallow waters of the Gulf Coast also invited blockade running activity. The Navy Department initially focused on many of the busy Confederate ports on the Atlantic, but the vastness of the Gulf coast would stymie the federal government’s efforts to forge an effective blockade. From the Gulf’s entrance at Key West to Brownsville was nearly 2,000 miles, not including the interior waters of the bays and the inlets that stretched along the coast. Like the Atlantic Coast, shallow water and barrier islands limited most of the trade to shallow draft vessels. Only a couple of entrances to the Mississippi River, Mobile, Alabama, and Galveston, Texas, could accommodate oceangoing steam blockade runners. The rest of the coast was perfectly suited to small vessels—particularly schooners.

During the war, schooners violated the blockade on the Gulf Coast more than any other type of vessel. They were fast, could sail close to the wind and could escape into the small shallow inlets. During the night and certain phases of the weather, they were nearly impossible to detect. The owners of these craft were often owner/operators. They carried local produce like cotton and sugar out and usually imported dry goods, medicines and items that they could sell locally.[7] The steam powered blockade runners, however, received the most attention from the Union navy. Local papers heralded their passage through the blockade and this alerted the Navy Department.

The trade along the Gulf coast differed from that seen along the East Coast because small sailing vessels, in large numbers, ran the blockade of the Gulf coast throughout the war. With a fleet consisting of mainly large warships, the task of blockading the Gulf coast effectively was initially nearly impossible. During 1861, in the Gulf alone, over 400 different vessels ran through the Union cordon more than 1,600 times in total. From 1861-65, there were nearly 3,000 attempts to run the blockade of the Gulf coast, about two a day, a rate 33% more than on the East Coast.[8]

The Capture of New Orleans

The most important ports in the Gulf were Mobile, New Orleans and Galveston. The five entrances to the Mississippi River were difficult to watch with only the small naval force available in the first months of the war. New Orleans was the Confederacy’s largest city and a major manufacturing center. These attributes made the city an important target and with the warships struggling to contain blockade running, the Navy Department organized an expedition to capture the city. This was part of a larger goal of the department to gain control the Mississippi River. The capture of New Orleans in 1862 stopped the blockade running trade into the river and was a blow to the Confederacy, denying it its largest city and commercial center.

The Blockade of Mobile

For most of the war, the West Gulf Blockading Squadron’s major task was the blockade of Mobile, Alabama. The entrance to Mobile had features that complicated the Union’s success. Outside the harbor were several bars and islands that dissected the entrance. The outer bar was more than three miles from the mouth of the harbor. Four channels led to the mouth of the bay. Deep draft vessels could enter the main channel only. Complicating the blockade’s enforcement here was the shallow water to either side of the main ship channel. It allowed only the most shallow draft warships to maneuver in these shoal areas. The Confederate defenses, likewise, kept the Union ships at a distance from the mouth of the harbor. Mobile remained the most important port in the Gulf during the war because the larger steam blockade runners could access the harbor and the city’s rail connections led to important points in the Confederacy.

Havana served as the main entrepot for blockade goods running into the Gulf Coast ports. Only 590 miles from Mobile, steam blockade runners could make the trip in two days. As the war progressed and more warships were available, the blockaders began patrolling along the approaches to Havana to curtail the trade.

Mobile remained a viable and important port until August 5, 1864. On this day, a fleet led by Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut advanced into the harbor and defeated the Confederate warships in the Battle of Mobile Bay. This ended Mobile’s role as a Confederate port.


Galveston, Texas was a shallow-water port allowing vessels with no more than a 13-foot draft to enter. While this was a major limitation, the lack of rail connections in the state of Texas was even more so. None of the state’s railroads connected east of the Mississippi and this limited the importance of any goods imported into Galveston. Galveston’s value, however, increased slightly after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. This port remained open until June 1865. The surrender of the forces in the Trans-Mississippi occurred later than R.E. Lee’s surrender. Kirby Smith’s command did not officially surrender until 2 June and the Union forces took control of Galveston on 5 June. Like the rest of the Gulf Coast, small schooners sailed in and out of this port with near impunity. Its closeness to Havana, ports in Mexico and the British colony of Belize enabled small sailing craft to make their journeys quickly. Some of these craft made more than two dozen trips during the war.

The Blockade of Florida

The East Gulf Blockading Squadron handled the blockade of the state of Florida. The blockade of this state, while never easy, did not have the dire strategic consequences as other areas. The sparse population of the state and its lack of railroad connections to the rest of the South limited the value of the cargoes to the Confederacy and to the merchants who would illegally run the blockade. Small craft performed most of the blockade running and the cargoes mainly benefited the local inhabitants rather than the Confederacy.

Commerce Raiders, Torpedo Boats and Ironclads

Confederate commerce raiders, like the Alabama and the Florida, torpedo boats, and Confederate ironclads challenged the maintenance of the blockade and made blockade duty uncertain and dangerous.[9] Despite the numerous attacks by these classes of Confederate warships, there were few Union losses. After the Alabama attacked and sank the Hatteras off Galveston, the small and lone gunboats could not safely make patrols along stretches of the Gulf Coast or to blockade shallow inlets without support. The real impact that the commerce raiders had on the blockade was the detachment of large numbers of naval vessels to chase the Confederate warships around the world, decreasing the effectiveness of the blockade. The greatest threat to the blockaders in fact, proved to be from small steamers or small boat expeditions that sortied against sail-powered or anchored blockaders. They managed to capture and destroy many Union ships during the war.

Types of Blockading Ships/Purchasing Program

Because the Union navy began the war with only a small number of warships and many of them incapable of blockading the Southern coast, the Navy Department had to both purchase and build a navy. Initially, it obtained every steam vessel it could purchase in the Northern ports, including tugs, ferryboats, and passenger vessels. These steamers often made less than adequate blockaders. Not designed to carry heavy guns or large crews, the merchant ships frequently had no protection for their engines, some of which lay above deck.

The initial building program that augmented the navy was that which built the Unadilla-class gunboats often called the 90-day gunboats due to their rapid construction. There were twenty-three in this class and they served both as blockaders and in river operations. Following this, the navy also constructed twenty-eight Sassacus-class gunboats that served in a similar capacity. Particularly valuable were the sloops of war constructed during the war. These vessels had heavy armament, good speed and a long cruising range and were capable of dealing with commerce raiders, other enemy combatants and Confederate fortifications.

The Union navy also had success converting captured blockade runners into blockading vessels. These ships often served as successful blockaders due to their speed. Examples include the Robert E. Lee, which became the USS Fort Donelson, and the Ella and Annie renamed the USS Malvern.

Blockade Runners

Early in the war, passenger steamers, square-rigged sailing vessels and other pre-war traders ran the blockade. Sailing vessels tested the Union blockade more than any other type of vessel. Sailing vessels, however, were generally slower than steamers, lookouts could see them farther at sea, and they were dependent on the weather and the currents to move. Gradually these ships became less capable of successfully evading the Union ships once the Navy Department stationed more warships off the major ports. While large vessels powered by wind alone could no longer be risked, fast schooners ran the blockade during the entire war.

Stopping steam powered blockade runners developed into the Union navy’s greatest challenge. The British, the main participants in this trade, began building steam ships to meet the challenges of a stricter blockade. These new, specially designed steamers were the fastest of the day. Usually constructed of iron or steel, they sat low in the water, had extremely narrow beams and rakish designs, and sometimes had turtle-back forward decks to help them drive through heavy seas. Both screw and side-wheel vessels had distinct advantages.

Avoiding detection was the most important characteristic necessary for the success of the blockade runners. In many cases, they carried only a light pair of lower masts, with no yards. A small crow's nest on one of the masts often appeared as the only alteration from the ship's sharp outline and low profile. Some steamers had telescoping funnels, which the crew could lower to the deck in order to maintain the lowest profile possible. Usually painted a dull grey to camouflage the vessel, they also sported other colors and in some instances, the color approached a pinkish hue. When approaching the shore, these vessels showed no lights, and sometimes muffled their paddle wheels with canvas, all to avoid detection.

High profits were the incentive that lured many foreign businessmen into the trade. A single round trip might allow profits enough to pay for both the cargo and the vessel. These high returns ensured that the trade would continue. A well-handled steamer could average about one round trip a month but might make a round trip in as little as eight days. Some of the blockade runners ran through the blockade as regularly as packets.

General Practices of the Blockade

Early in the war, the blockaders usually lay at anchor but remained ready to move. They normally maintained their stations at the main ship channels only. Shallow draft vessels running the blockade had easy access to nearly all the water near the ports, and this complicated the enforcement of the blockade when many of the Union warships were large and had deep drafts. With few ships available, the naval vessels irregularly checked the shallower inlets nearby the main ports, usually doing so when cruising for coal and repairs and travelling back to their blockading stations.

The Confederate defenses at the entrances to the ports or inlets complicated the enforcement of the blockade. The threat of gunfire kept the warships at a respectable distance and gave an added advantage to blockade runners that could get under the protection of the defenses. During the day the blockaders anchored out of the range of the fortifications, but at night usually moved nearer the mouth of the harbors and as near as they could to the Confederate defenses without being seen. They changed their positions before daylight. At night, small picket boats deployed from the blockaders and patrolled closer to shore and into the shallow areas giving better coverage. These craft could get close in at night and they could signal the warships when a blockade runner left port.

On both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts the flag officers, when possible, kept what they termed a close blockade. A single vessel lying directly in the channel could control the waterway and virtually stop blockade running activity. The blockaders could only do this when there were no Confederate defenses, but it effectively closed the most shallow and less important entrances. These vessels, however, were most vulnerable to attacks by Confederate gunboats and small boats.

Blockading tactics continued to evolve as the war progressed. As more vessels became available, the warships increasingly patrolled farther from the harbors and along the shipping lanes, particularly those leading to Havana, Bermuda and Nassau. The steam blockaders also began moving about more at night, ready to chase blockade violators. These practices increased the stringency of the blockade.


While weather, enemy activity and other operational needs had an impact on the blockade, logistical problems had an equally large influence on its effectiveness. The logistical difficulties became more evident as the warships began to take their stations in numbers and the navy deployed more steamers. During the first month of the war, the Navy Department realized that getting coal to the blockaders would be a vital concern. Despite the efforts to establish coaling bases and repair facilities, as much as 20% of the blockading fleet remained away for coal or repairs during much of the war. In mid-1864, the navy had the equivalent of an entire squadron sitting in repair facilities waiting to get back to their stations.

Successes and Failures

Scholars still debate the effectiveness of the blockade and the lack of Confederate customs records makes the question difficult to resolve. In North and South Carolina, there were at least 2,054 attempts to run through the blockade, averaging 1.5 attempts a day. Along these coasts over 472 different sailing vessels tested the blockade. The steamers numbered over 250.[10] Looking at figures for the blockade of the Gulf Coast, it makes the blockade look like a sieve. There were nearly 2,500 successful trips into Gulf ports, an 83% success rate, and nearly two attempts each day. Blockade runners, however, made a large percentage of their successful trips during the first year of the war.[11] The figures, however, do not tell the full story. Small sailing craft made most of these successful runs and their cargoes contributed little to the war effort.

The blockade’s effectiveness relied on its deterrence, and after 1862, only the fastest and most specialized steam vessels could successfully escape. Small sailing vessels did continue to run the blockade in the Gulf of Mexico. While much materiel passed through the blockade, it amounted to only a small percentage of the South’s pre-war commerce. The Confederacy might have solved a number of its manufacturing and transportation issues had the blockade never been implemented. The Union blockade isolated the Confederacy and kept it from establishing a full-scale war economy. It exacerbated inflation and when the raw materials ran out, or the Union forces captured or destroyed the industrial centers, the Confederacy had little means to replace the losses. The blockade, while not airtight, created a situation whereby the Confederacy could not hope to win a long lasting conflict.

  • The quotation in the title is from Gideon Welles to David Farragut, January 25, 1862 in United States Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 31 vols. (Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1894-1927), Series I, volume 18, p. 9, (hereafter cited as O.R.N., I, 18, 9). [1] Robert M. Browning Jr., From Cape Charles to Cape Fear: The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron During the Civil War (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993), 1-2.; Receiving ships were usually old or obsolete ships stationed at navy yards.  They served as floating barracks and accommodated new recruits and men awaiting orders.  
  • [2] Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, 19, 27 April 1861 in O.R.N., I, 5, 620-1).
  • [3] Browning, From Cape Charles to Cape Fear, 5.
  • [4] Hills to Wells, 2 May 1861, in O.R.N., I, 5, 361; Daily Intelligencer, (Atlanta) September 18, 1861.
  • [5] Browning, From Cape Charles to Cape Fear, 9.
  • [6] Vessels did patrol off Savannah earlier but did not remain.
  • [7] See William Watson, The Civil War Adventures of a Blockade Runner ( London: Unwin Brothers, 1892).
  • [8] Marcus W. Price, “Ships that Tested the Blockade of the Gulf Ports: 1861-1865,” The American Neptune, Vol. XI, No. 4 (Oct. 1951):262, 290. Price includes the entire Gulf in his figures, which would include the ports in West Florida.
  • [9] Torpedo boats were small fast craft that carried a spar torpedo that projected in front of the vessel.  The weapon was discharged by running the torpedo into the enemy’s ship.  
  • [10] Marcus W. Price, “Ships that Tested the Blockade of the Gulf Ports: 1861-1865,” The American Neptune, Vol. XII, No. 3 (July 1952): 236.
  • [11] Price, “Ships that Tested the Blockade of the Gulf Ports”, 196, 199.        

If you can read only one book:

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


  • Browning, Robert M. Jr. Success Was All That Was Expected: The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron During the Civil War. Dulles, VA, Brassey’s, 2002.

  • ———. Lincoln’s Trident: The West Gulf Blockading Squadron During the Civil War. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015.

  • Buker, George E. Blockaders, Refugees, & Contrabands, Civil War on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 1861-1865. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

  • Surdam, David G. Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

  • Wise, Steven R. Lifeline of the Confederacy, Blockading Running During the Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.


  • Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Kure Beach, North Carolina

    The Fort Fisher State Historic Site includes outdoor exhibits relating to the fortifications and indoor exhibits of artifacts and displays relating to blockade running. The site is open from 9:00-5:00 daily with seasonal changes to operating hours. The address is 1610 S. Fort Fisher Blvd, Kure Beach, NC 28499, (910) 458-5538.

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  • The Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, NC

    Cape Fear Museum collects, preserves and interprets objects relating to the history, science, and cultures of the Lower Cape Fear including exhibits relating to blockade running. The site is open at different times depending on the season. The address is 814 Market street Wilmington NC 28401, (910) 798-4362.

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  • The National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus Georgia

    The National Civil War Naval Museum tells the story of the Sailors, Soldiers, and Civilians, both Free and Enslaved as affected by the Navies of the American Civil War and provides a repository for relevant archives and artifacts on the subject including exhibits relating to blockade running. The museum is open Sunday and Monday 12:30-4:30 and Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-4:30. The address is 1002 Victory Drive, Columbus, GA 31901, (706) 327-9798.

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  • The Bermuda National Trust Museum, St. George’s Bermuda

    The offices of the Confederate agent, Major Norman Walker, were housed in The Bermuda National Trust Museum during the American Civil War (1861-1865), which makes this significant historic building a most appropriate site for the permanent exhibit Rogues & Runners: Bermuda and the American Civil War. The museum also has exhibits of artifacts relating to blockade running. The museum is open Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10:00-4:00 and closed on public holidays. The museum’s address is 32 Duke of York Street, St. George’s, Bermuda.

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Web Resources:

  • “Blockade Runner” is a general article on the history of blockade running.

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  • “Blockade Runners of the American Civil War” is a general article on Civil War blockade running.

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  • “Union Blockade” is a good discussion of the Union blockade.

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  • “Union Navy” is an overview of the United States Navy during the Civil War.

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  • “Blockade Runners in the American Civil War” is a well-done short video on the Union’s blockade.

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Other Sources:

  • The National Archives

    The National Archives has collections of original documents relating to the navy during the Civil War. These include the squadron correspondence, papers of both Union and Confederate officers and sailors as well as logbooks and other official government papers.

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  • The Library of Congress

    The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies The 31 volume set of Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (ORN) contains the most important administrative and operational documents of both the Union and Confederate navies. These duplicate much of what is in the collections of the National Archives. This publication is the single-most important published primary source available. Baylor University Libraries Making of America contains a free on-line version of the ORN.

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