BLOCKADE OF SOUTH CAROLINA Part 3 of 3

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Posted : May 6, 2022

Vy: Mike Thomas

In early Sept ember 1863, the Union army did what it’s navy could not by bringing blockade running at Charles-ton to a screeching halt through the capture of Morris Island. Until early March 1864, not a single blockade runner arrived at or sailed from Charleston. Instead, shipments normally des-tined there were diverted to Wilmington. Though other blockade running locations along South Carolina’s coast remained open, the South’s busiest port was closed.

During those six grueling months of the shutdown, General P.G.T. Beauregard and other Confederate leaders sought ways to open the port again. With limited assets and choices, their eyes fell on the spar-torpedo boats, and, with Beauregard’s guidance and encouragement, these new weapons were brought to the forefront. The first use of this revolutionary type vessel had occurred in August 1863 when the CSS Torch, attempting to relieve pressure on Battery Wagner, came within a whisker of damaging or sinking the powerful USS New Ironsides. Her venture showed clearly that such an attack was feasible. Unfortunately, the David successfully carried out another torpedo boat attack two months later, resulting in heavy damage to the New.

“Blockade,” continued from page 1
Ironsides. On February 17, 1864, the H L Hunley sank the USS Housatonic off Charleston’s harbor in the first successful submarine attack in history.
Shortly after the Housatonic was sunk, two other David attacks added further to the Yankee concerns. One, against the USS Memphis near the Edisto River on March 6th, failed only because the torpedo malfunctioned. The other, against the USS Wabash off Charleston on April 18th, was foiled when the Wabash detected the David, slipped her anchor, and steamed away at high speed. Each of these torpedo boats attacks significantly impacted the Union fleet. Fear replaced complacency in the minds of the blockaders’ officers and crew, and they moved further and further away from Charleston at night.
Blockade runners returned in small numbers in March and April 1864 to discover Charleston was again open to them. With the Union fleet no longer positioned so tightly, they slipped past Union guns on Morris Island undetected into Charleston’s harbor. The port began a gradual increase in blockade running transits, and the last half of 1864 surged to levels reached before Morris Island fell a year earlier. That growth continued right up to Charleston’s evacuation in February 1865. Those un-named and unsung individuals handling blockade running operations at McClellanville, Murrells Inlet, Winyah Bay, the North, and South Santee Rivers, and Little River Inlet performed brilliantly throughout the war and deserved credit and recognition. Unfortunately, few records of their activities exist. Best estimates are that South Carolina blockade running sites, including Charleston, handled over 400 successful wind-driven transits and nearly that many steamer trans-its.

Blockade running was proper, as one prominent historian wrote, the “Lifeline of the Confederacy.” Most authoritative studies conclude that the overall Union blockade was relatively ineffective and estimate that 85% of blockade running transits were successful. Charleston and elsewhere along coastal South Carolina certainly had big hands in this busi-
ness.

NOTE: If you haven’t already, you should get a copy of Compatriot Thomas’ book “Wade Hampton’s Iron Scouts: Confederate Special Forces.” It’s a great read about one of South Carolina’s greatest heroes. See the review in the March/April issue of the Confederate Veteran magazine.

 

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