The American Confederacy’s leadership exploited Northern war-weariness in 1864 by sending agents and money to Canada to open a northern front, increased its destruction of New England’s merchant fleet, and work toward Lincoln’s political defeat in November 1864.
Confederate commerce raiders effectively destroyed the North’s merchant shipping as it caught, burned or sunk hundreds of vessels, made future merchant voyages uninsurable, and forced the North to transfer goods to foreign ships for safety. The CSS Shenandoah of Captain James Waddell targeted New England’s whalers, capturing or sinking 38 vessels in one year.
It is noteworthy that Confederate overseas agent James Dunwoody Bulloch’s half-sister Martha was the mother of Theodore Roosevelt and grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Turning New England’s Mind to Thoughts of Peace
“Ironically, however, the very success of the Florida, the Alabama and other Confederate cruisers had added one more dilemma to those confronting Bulloch: toward what end would any new raiders be directed?
Earlier cruisers, after all, had succeeded beyond the Confederates’ wildest expectations. Writing to [Secretary of the Navy Stephen] Mallory the previous February , Bulloch had reported, “There really seems nothing for our ships to do now upon the open sea.”
Even in the Pacific, passing mariners noticed a conspicuous absence of US ships. As one correspondent wrote, “The master of a French ship reported not one [Northern] ship at the Guano Islands off Peru, where in 1863, seventy or eighty had waited impatiently for their profitable cargoes.”
By early spring, however, Mallory had a new target in mind. That March, in a letter to Bulloch, he proposed redeploying existing commerce raiders and acquiring new ones for a concerted assault on New England’s globally-dispersed fishing and whaling fleet. The Alabama, the Florida, and other raiders had already made sporadic attacks on New England’s whaling vessels operating off the Azores and other Atlantic islands; likewise, there had been raids on fishing schooners off the New England coast.
What Mallory now envisioned was something on a grander scale. By driving up operating costs and insurance rates for New England’s fishing and whaling industries, he believed, the Confederate Navy would render the region a powerful lobby in Washington devoted to ending the war.
As he put it, “The simultaneous appearance of efficient cruisers on the New England coast and fishing banks, in the West Indies and South Atlantic, in the Pacific among the whalemen, and in the East Indies, would have a decided tendency to turn the trading mind of New England to thoughts of peace.”
(Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah, Tom Chaffin, Hill & Wang, 2006, excerpts pp. 24-25)