BLOCKADE OF SOUTH CAROLINA Part 2 of 3

Posted By : Manager

Posted : March 30, 2022

By Mike Thomas

Most blockade runners were sailing vessels at the outset of the War for Southern Independence. Trans-Atlantic voyages serviced south Carolina to and from the British Isles and ships sailing to and from the Caribbean. By Mid-1862, sailing vessels were being phased out in favor of steamships because the Union fleet’s growing numbers included many fast steamers. In late 1861, British and Confederate interests began utilizing Nassau, Bermuda, and Havana as trans-shipment points for economic efficiency. Vessels with cargo for the Confederacy sailed to these ports to have their car-go offloaded and placed on a blockade runner destined for a Southern port. In turn, Southern states’ export goods at these ports were put on ships destined for the British Isles or elsewhere. South Carolina’s coastal shipping points included not only Charleston, but McClellanville, Winyah Bay, Murrells Inlet, the North and South San-tee Rivers, and Little River Inlet, with Nassau being their principal trans-shipment point. Turpentine, rice, and rosin were the prime exports for the first part of the war, but cotton eventually surpassed these commodities.

Transits were full of danger and suspense for the blockade runners. Despite flying flags of neutral nations, international law allowed them to be stopped on the high seas by Union warships. They then had their manifests, and other documents closely examined for irregularities and searched for contraband. Yankee boarding officers often seized a ship if any suspicion was raised. Dan-ger was always present as a vessel made its final dash to or departure from South Carolina’s harbors. Some were intercepted and captured, while others were driven ashore by alert Union vessels. Yet, the overwhelming majority of transits were successful.
The Union blockade of Charleston and other shipping locations along the South Carolina coast in 1862 was only partially effective. Nevertheless, Confederate General P.G. T. Beauregard sent the new ironclads CSS Palmetto State and Chicora against the blockading fleet off Charleston in January 1863 to break the blockade. Their sortie failed to break it but certainly cracked it. Fearful of future attacks, Union warships moved much further away from Charleston, resulting in blockade runners more than doubling their transits. The first eight months of 1863 were the hey-day for steamer blockade runners calling South Carolina locations, with about 100 successful transits recorded just for Charleston. Service at coastal sites north of Charleston continued at high levels.
By this time, Nassau, a small town with a pre-war population of about 7,000, had grown into an im-mense shipping hub. A Northern observer reported in February 1863, “Nassau does as much business now in 24 hours as it used to do in a year. A few days ago, there were 11 steamers in port recently purchased for running the blockade. A vessel runs the blockade every three days to Charleston…One captain has run the blockade 21 times.” Beauregard’s aggressive use of the gunboats a month earlier made much of this possible.
Unfortunately, Charleston’s thriving business was abruptly halted when Morris Island fell to the Union army in early September 1863. Not a single blockade running transit to or from Charleston was made until early March 1864.

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