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Dec 25, 2016 - Economics, Southern Patriots, The War at Sea    Comments Off on “Rhett Butler” and the Other Runners Speak

“Rhett Butler” and the Other Runners Speak

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)

 

Young Purser Hoist the Rebel Colors

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1846, well-known Wilmingtonian businessman, author and philanthropist James Sprunt was a young seventeen year-old who took to sea aboard blockade runners. A successful cotton merchant after the war, he also held the position of British vice consul German consul, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage, and President of: the Seamen’s Friend Society, State Literary and Historical Association of North Carolina, North Carolina Folk Lore Society – and was a Trustee of the University of North Carolina. His most famous work is entitled “Chronicles of the Cape Fear, published in 1914.

When asked on one occasion what suggestion from his experience in life he would offer the young, he replied, “Unswerving integrity, sobriety, perseverance, out-of-door exercise, and faith in the goodness of God.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Young Purser Hoists the Rebel Colors

“He came to manhood in a troubled time. The War Between the States had begun. The Federal Government proclaimed a blockade of Southern ports. The natural advantages of Wilmington made it an ideal port for blockade runners, as there were two entrances to the river and as the slope of the beach for miles is very gradual to deep water. Therefore, a light draft steamer, hard pressed by the enemy, could run along the outer edge of the breakers without great risk of grounding, whereas the pursuer, being usually of deeper draft, was obliged to keep farther off shore.

In the third year of the War at age seventeen, he took passage on a blockade runner to Bermuda with the promise of a position on the North Heath, a vessel then building on the Clyde. When she arrived at Bermuda, Captain Burroughs, her commander, who had successfully run the blockade twelve times . . . [on the] Cornubia, appointed him purser of the North Heath.

But shortly after sailing from St. George, Bermuda, bound for Wilmington, they ran into a hurricane and for two days and nights were in imminent danger of their lives. For an entire night she wallowed like a log in a trough of mountainous waves . . . the water had risen in her hold until every one of the fourteen furnaces was extinguished. Eventually the captain…got the ship under control and she was put about and headed back to Bermuda for repairs. A little later . . . he was appointed purser of the steamer Lilian [under Captain John Newland Maffitt], and on this vessel he passed through all the dangers and exciting experiences of a daring blockade runner.

[The USS Shenandoah] log of Saturday, July 30, 1864, off Cape Lookout says: “At 3:45PM sighted a steamer burning black smoke to the eastward; made all sail in chase. At 5:45PM he showed rebel colors . . . [and] began to fire at him with the 30 and 150 pounder rifle Parrott . . . at 8PM stopped firing, gave up the chase, stopped engines.”

Of this Dr. Sprunt wrote half a century afterwards: “. . . it was I who hoisted those “rebel” colors on that eventful day fifty-five years ago: and thereby hangs the tale.” Then follows the blood-stirring story of the Lilian, loaded to the hatch combings with gunpowder for Lee’s army; of her hundred-mile chase and bombardment by the Shenandoah, of the “fearful accuracy” of the cruiser’s gunnery . . . the young purser’s sensations as the hurtling shells passed only a few feet from his head . . . the bursting of one of her boilers, reducing her to a desperate condition, of her wonderful escape after nightfall . . . and on the following morning, though badly crippled, passed through the Federal fleet off Fort Fisher under furious fire from the whole squadron and steamed into Wilmington with her cargo of powder.”

On the third outward voyage the Lilian was chased and bombarded for five hours by five Federal cruisers, disabled by a shot below the water line and captured, and James Sprunt, sharing the fate of his associates, became a prisoner of war (August 24, 1864) and was confined for some time in a casemate of Fort Macon.

In company with Pilot “Jim Billy” Craig, afterwards well-known as the Reverend J.W. Craig, an honored minister of the Methodist Church, he escaped from prison and they made their way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. His last service afloat in the War was as purser of the Confederate steamer Susan Beirne, of which Eugene Maffitt [son of Captain John Newland Maffitt] was chief officer, and he continued on this blockade runner until the fall of Fort Fisher.”

(James Sprunt, A Tribute from the City of Wilmington, Edwards & Broughton, 1925, pp. 12-18)

Heroes and Idols of the North

Grant learned quickly who his masters were and who would ensure his government position and pension after the cheering stopped. A man most unsuited to the presidency, he was merely the front-man for corporate interests which rode his popularity into unchecked power. The Captain Winslow mentioned below, ironically was born in Wilmington, North Carolina and fought against his native State; his family ties with the old New England Winslow family caused him to join the revolutionaries of the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Heroes and Idols of the North

“General Grant, in spite of all that is said about his modesty, his integrity and his respect for civil authority, is already beginning to put on princely airs. For a long time he has been very firmly slamming his door in the face of Cabinet members who have tried to look too closely into the affairs of his army. Today he sent Mr. Lincoln a message expressing his satisfaction with his performance and conveying kind congratulations in the tone the Tsar of Russia might use when writing to his dear cousin the Emperor of Austria.

America is at present honoring one of those ephemeral heroes who change from week to week. Grant has a rival for the applause of the masses in the person of Captain [John A.] Winslow. This naval officer, who defeated the privateer Alabama, has been literally borne in triumph from one end of the United States to the other. Boston has just given him a splendid welcome, New York is clamoring for him and the national propensity for imitation—which reminds one of Panurge’s sheep — will surely bring him many more ovations. Prominent men like Mr. [Edward] Everett do not hesitate to harness themselves to his triumphal chariot.

You would almost think that the fight between the Alabama and the Kearsarge was the most glorious feat of arms in this century. The hero, puffed up by his unexpected fame, goes from banquet to banquet telling the tale of his great deeds. If you believe all he says, you would think that all by himself on his little boat he held the envious powers of Europe at bay, paralyzed with terror, that he thumbed his nose at the French navy, slapped a British admiral in the face and defied Lord Russell by sailing right up the Thames — indeed, that he has made the name of America shine like a fiery sword in the eyes of a terrified Europe.

The American public soon gets enough of its idols. Clever men never let themselves be exploited in this way; they prefer to be the impresario who sponsors one of these seven-day wonders; in this way they avoid inflating for themselves the dangerous balloon of popularity that rises so high and so swiftly, but will just as suddenly let fall those it has lifted up.”

(A Frenchman in Lincoln’s America, Ernst D. de Hauranne, Donnelly & Sons, 1974, Volume II, pp. 92-94 )

 

May 31, 2015 - The War at Sea    No Comments

Silencing Claims of Confederate Piracy

As the victorious North blamed the British for their merchant marine woes done with the hand of Confederate raiders, it demanded payment as a settlement. The Northern negotiators were reminded that their New England ancestors were branded uncivilized pirates by England and guilty of the very acts they accused Southern patriots of.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Silencing Claims of Confederate Piracy:

“The diplomatic correspondence of the United States during the Civil War teems with denunciatory assaults upon the Confederate Government for attacking their commerce. The Alabama, Florida, etc., are invariably called “piratical cruiser,” and their commanders “pirates.” The destruction of American ships at sea was described by Mr. Seward, Mr. [Charles] Adams, and the Consuls, as being opposed to the sentiments of “civilized and commercial nations,” and “unauthorized acts of violence upon the ocean,” as the indulgence “of a purely partisan malice,” as “barbarous acts,” malicious and piratical,” etc.

The British public learned . . . that during the American War of Independence, and to a much greater extent during the war of 1812-15, the cruisers of the United States were repeatedly and specifically ordered to destroy British merchant ships at sea, and not attempt to bring them into port.

In face of these facts, which the over-astute diplomacy of Mr. Seward either suppressed or at least ignored, the European sentiment in respect to the action of the Confederate Government was gradually modified, until at last public opinion settled down to the very general belief that the United States had no sort of justification for their complaints and denunciations, and that, as between two belligerents, the Confederates were practicing a perfectly lawful and justifiable mode of harassing their enemy, and adding to the cost and burden of the war which was being waged against them, and the violent interference with their claim of self-government.

It is generally known that some months after the end of the war, the late Admiral [Raphael] Semmes…was arrested at his house in Mobile, and carried to Washington, under military guard. He was held in confinement for some time, and the purpose was to institute criminal proceedings against him [for piracy].

About that time, Mr. John A. Bolles, the Solicitor to the Navy Department of the United States, published an article in the Atlantic Monthly under the title “Why Semmes of the Alabama Was Not Tried.” Mr. Bolles cites Cooper’s “Naval history” to prove that during the “Revolutionary War” many British vessels were captured by Colonial cruisers and destroyed at sea.

Referring to the history and policy of the United States during the war with England, commonly called the “War of 1812,” he says: — “Not less than seventy-four British merchant-men were captured, and destroyed as soon as captured, under express instructions from the Navy Department, and in pursuance of a deliberate purpose and plan, without any attempt or intent to send or bring them in as prizes for adjudication.

The orders of the Department upon the subject are numerous, emphatic, and carefully prepared. They need to be studied and remembered, and they effectually silence all American right or disposition to complain of Semmes for having imitated our example in obedience to similar orders from the Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Such were the policy and the orders of President Madison and of the Secretary of the Navy in 1812, 1813, 1814; and such, beyond question, would be the plan and the instructions of any Administration under the circumstances.”

(The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, 1861-65, James D. Bulloch, Sagamore Press, 1959, pp. 114-119)

Jan 2, 2015 - The War at Sea    No Comments

Blockade Running from Bermuda

It is said that masters of private blockade runners could expect $5,000 in gold for a successful round trip from Bermuda to Wilmington and back, and the Captain Roberts mentioned below used his profits to rent the opulent residence of Wilmington Mayor John Dawson while in port. The Confederate commerce raiders like John Maffitt and John Wilkinson were so successful in their work that they destroyed the North’s merchant marine, which never recovered.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Blockade Running From Bermuda

“In July 1863 Captain [Hezekiah] Frith loaded his sturdy little Bermuda schooner, the Harkaway, with a cargo of boots, shoes and cloth and ran the blockade into Wilmington. Frith was evidently proud of his contribution to the Southern cause. [US] Consul [Charles M.] Allen noted that upon his return he “flew the Confederate flag a considerable time while in port.”

Another captain who often called at Bermuda . . . [was] “Captain Roberts” . . . the nom de guerre of the Honourable Augustus Charles Hobart-Hampden, a younger son of the Earl of Buckinghamshire. Roberts/Hampden held the rank of Captain in the Royal Navy and at one time served as commander of [Queen Victoria’s] yacht.

Roberts started blockade running in 1863 . . . On one run he earned a 1,100-percent profit selling corset stays, Cockle’s Pills and toothbrushes to Southerners starved for consumer goods.

Another raider to call at Bermuda was the CSS Florida, under the command of Lieutenant John [Newland] Maffitt, CSN. She left Liverpool as the Oreto in March, 1862, and received her guns from the CSS Nashville in Nassau a month later. After capturing a number of prizes in the South Atlantic, Maffitt turned north, threatening US shipping along the eastern seaboard.

Arriving in St. George’s in early July for coal and repairs, the Florida exchanged salutes with the British garrison at Fort Cunningham. While in port the Florida . . . took on all the coal then available in St. George’s. She also transferred . . . captured items from various prizes to the Robert E. Lee, which ran them into Wilmington. While his ship was being repaired, Maffitt was “handsomely entertained” by the island’s British garrison, who, according to Georgiana Walker, “believed that Capt. Maffitt had achieved gallant deeds upon the sea & . . . [and] honored him accordingly.”

In mid-1864 the blockade runner Edith was converted to a commerce raider and commissioned as the CSS Chickamauga. She left Wilmington for her first cruise on October 28, under the command of Capt. John Wilkinson, CSN, former captain of the runner Robert E. Lee.

The Chickamauga prowled the shipping lanes as far north as Long Island Sound, taking seven prizes before calling at Bermuda to provision. One of the vessels she captured southwest of Bermuda, the US merchant ship Harriet Stevens, carried a supply of gum opium that Wilkinson consigned to a runner for delivery to Southern hospitals.

(Rogues & Runners, Bermuda and the American Civil War, Catherine Lynch Deichmann, Bermuda National Trust, 2003, excerpts pp. 46-57)

Jan 2, 2015 - The War at Sea    No Comments

Ineffective Blockade of Southern Ports

Lincoln’s blockade of Southern ports was initially a propaganda device intended to discourage foreign recognition and trade with the American South, and its effectiveness through 1865 was largely exaggerated. Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin’s diplomats regularly advised foreign leaders of the increasing volume of Southern trade in an out of its ports, and despite the so-called blockade by Lincoln’s navy.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Ineffective Blockade of Southern Ports

From Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Department of State, Richmond, September 2, 1863

Hon. John Slidell, etc., Paris, France

“Sir: Although it is painfully apparent that but little hope can be entertained of present redress for the injury suffered by this confederacy in consequence of the respect accorded by neutral nations to the so-called blockade of our entire coast proclaimed by the United States, it is none the less deemed a duty to renew the oft-repeated protests of this Government, lest silence be construed into acquiescence of the principles and policy avowed by one of the maritime powers of Europe, and tacitly adopted by all others.

Can the Governments of Europe justly expect that we shall continue to permit their vessels to convey without question the property of our enemies, while their lawful commerce with us remains obstructed and embarrassed by their acquiescence in the flagrant violation of public law committed by the unscrupulous people who are warring against us?

The reports of the [US] Secretary of the Navy of the United States made to President Lincoln on the 4th of July and 2nd September 1861, show that at the date of that President’s inauguration, on the 4th of March, 1861, the total number of vessels of the United States of all classes in commission was twenty-four, of which half were in distant seas; and that of the home squadron, consisting of twelve vessels, only four were immediately accessible to orders.

It results from these statements that the United States were provided on the average with one vessel for every three hundred miles of the coast, or one vessel for every fifteen of the ports of which they proclaimed the blockade. Such was the blockade at its inception. [Just] the returns from [the ports of Charleston and Wilmington] from July 1861, [to 13 August 1863]…exhibit a trade constantly and largely progressive in spite of the additions made to the Federal naval forces since the inception of the blockade.

Turning now to the port of Wilmington, we find a progressive monthly increase in the cotton exported from 526,824 pounds in January, 1863, to 2,144,887 pounds in July; while in the present month of August [1863] these exports are likely to reach 4,000,000 pounds, if we may judge from the reports of the first thirteen days of the month.

The average foreign commerce of the port, estimate on the same basis as Charleston, is about $270,000 a month, exclusive of large quantities of naval stores. This commerce at the present rate, therefore, without allowing anything for its rapid increase, amounts to $3,240,000 per annum; while the whole foreign commerce of the State of North Carolina, including the ports of Edenton, Plymouth, Newbern, Washington, Beaufort, and Wilmington, in the year 1858 amounted to only $715,488.

Thus one “blocked” port in 1863 carried on more than four times the amount of the whole foreign commerce of the States in 1858, and this business is done by ocean steamers running almost with the regularity of packets. In January last this Government determined to introduce some supplies and to export some cotton on its own vessels, and for that purpose purchased a few ocean steamers. The report shows that these steamers have made since January forty-four voyages through the “blockading fleet” without suffering a single loss by capture. No comment can add to the force of this statement.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State”

(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, Including the Diplomatic Correspondence (excerpt), Vol. II, James D. Richardson, US Publishing Company, 1905, pp. 547-550)

 

The Confederacy's Open Sea Blockade of the North

The destructive effect of Southern raiders over Northern commerce during the war is seldom recognized as Confederate cruisers drove the Northern merchant marine shipping from the seas, a defeat from which it never recovered in postwar years.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Confederacy’s Open Sea Blockade of the North

“The mediation enthusiasm in Great Britain during the autumn of 1862 was the nearest thing to intervention undertaken by the European powers during the Confederate war, although in reality diplomatic circumstances were a bit more volatile afterwards than historians have often assumed. The Powers had not declared irrevocable neutrality; they were determined to watch and wait.

If there should be a significant alteration in the American situation, both Britain and France were prepared to reassess. During the first half of 1863 the Confederates had reason to believe that there were significant alterations in the South’s position, especially vis a vis the British.

By turns that spring the Confederates and then their Northern enemies injected new elements into the international situation on the seas. At long last it seemed that the success of Southern cruisers in what Secretary [Stephen] Mallory termed “commercial warfare” would make the Confederate navy a factor in Atlantic diplomacy. In effect the Confederates established an open-sea blockade; using foreign ships, they roamed the seas in search of Union commercial vessels, whose cargoes they captured or destroyed.

The architect of the Confederate commercial war was James Dunwoody Bulloch, a Georgian who had served in the “old navy.” Bulloch spent the war period, and the rest of his life, in England as a purchasing agent for the Navy Department.

Not only did he contract for ships and oversee their construction, he undertook the more difficult task of running the diplomatic blockade of European neutrality. Bulloch managed to launch the most important of the South’s nineteen commerce raiders. His greatest success was the Alabama. Built at the Laird shipyards, the ship was disguised as the merchant vessel Enrica until its maiden voyage in July 1862.

[Under] the command of Captain Raphael Semmes . . . the Alabama began preying upon United States commerce. Although the Alabama never entered a Confederate port during its extended cruise of twenty-two months, it destroyed or captured more than sixty Northern ships. It and the other Confederate raiders were responsible for the doubling of marine shipping rates in the North.

(The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865, Emory M. Thomas, Harper and Row, 1979, pp. 182-183)