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)