The port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, was the most successful and lasting entry for blockade-running during the war, not falling until mid-January 1865. Though Governor Zeb Vance had created State-owned runners to bring in military supplies, the Richmond government forced private runners into limiting luxury items and carrying government cotton and goods – thus reducing their profits. The “Captain Roberts” mentioned below was in fact Augustus Charles Hobart Hampden, a British sailor of fortune who wrote “Never Caught” in 1867, a personal account of his 27 trips through the Northern blockade. The home he rented is passed on the “Confederate Wilmington” walking tour, see: www.cfhi.net.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
“Rhett Butler” and the Other Runners Speak
“Shortly after the various features of the 1864 legislation were put into effect, Captain Roberts, one of the most successful blockade-runners, ceased all activities, saying:
“The game, indeed, was fast drawing to a close. Its decline was caused in the first instance by the impolitic behavior of the people at Wilmington, who, professedly acting under orders from the Confederate Government at Richmond, pressed the blockade-runners into their service to carry cotton on Government account in such an arbitrary manner, that the profit to their owners, who had been put to enormous expense and risk in sending vessels in, was so much reduced that the ventures hardly paid.”
Another of the most famous blockade-runners – often believed to have been the real-life model for Margaret Mitchell’s character of Rhett Butler . . . was Thomas Taylor, who made twenty-eight trips through the blockade. Unlike Captain Roberts, Taylor continued to run the blockade because he had negotiated a secret profit arrangement with the Confederate Commissary-General that compensated him for the 1864 legislation.
Late in the war, despite his best efforts to the contrary. Taylor accurately predicted the downfall of the Confederacy. Writing to his superiors on January 15, 1865 [the date of the Northern attack on Fort Fisher], he said, “I never saw things more gloomy, and I think spring will finish them unless they make a change for the better.”
As he had put it, had blockade-running been encouraged, “instead of having obstacles thrown in the way, I am convinced that the conditions of affairs would have been altered very materially, and perhaps would have led to the South obtaining what it had shed so much blood to gain, viz., its independence.”
It appears that the blockade-runners could adjust to the advances of the Union blockade, but not to the economic constraints of the Confederate legislation. As Captain Roberts explained, “the enterprise had lost much of its charm; for, unromantic as it may seem, much of the charm consisted in money-making.”
Economic motives, however much we support or reject them ethically, morally, or philosophically, appear to have determined the outcome for the lifeline of the Confederacy.”
(Tariffs, Blockades and Inflation, the Economics of the Civil War; Mark Thornton and Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., Scholarly Resources Books, 2004, excerpts, pp. 53-54)