The wartime blockade of South Carolina’s coast

Posted By : manager

Posted : February 25, 2022

By: Mike Thomas
Part 1 of 3

The wartime blockade of South Carolina’s coast is usually incompletely presented. Blockade runners operating in stealthy secrecy left little in the form of documentation, but other available sources provide clear glimpses into this clandestine activity. Unfortunately, many historians and scholars barely touch on the bustling and vibrant blockade-running of 1861 to mid-1862. Further, their studies usually focus only on Charleston, thereby neglecting aspects crucial to understanding the entire blockade running picture along the South Carolina coast.
Charleston was the Confederacy’s primary blockade-running port until Morris Island was taken by Union forces in September 1863. But from the war’s earliest days until its end in 1865, smaller locations between Charleston and the North Carolina line were actively engaged in this business. Win-yah Bay, Bull’s Bay, Murrells Inlet, the North and South Santee Rivers, and Little River Inlet constantly received and sent smaller merchant ships full of trade goods. These sites shuttle cargo between the vessel and railroad connections, plantations, mills, and communities well inland. Their well-coordinated activities were sizeable in numbers and quantities.

Mr. Lincoln and the U.S. Navy quickly learned it was one thing to proclaim a blockade but quite another to enforce it. It took over a year to obtain good ships for a sizeable im-pact on blockade running. Meanwhile, innovative and daring entrepreneurs in South Carolina and the British Isles operated a highly active and productive Trans-Atlantic trade. Sailing ships of all sorts, brigs, brigantines, sloops, barks, and especially schooners, left various sites in the Palmetto State with turpentine, tobacco, rice, rosin, and, at times, peanuts. They returned with a wide assortment of commodities primarily for personal, household, or industrial use, along with limited quantities of military goods. Other vessels sailed to ports in the Caribbean with tur-pentine, corn, rosin, and rice, returning loaded with fresh fruit, sugar, soda, candles, fish, tea, coffee, salt, and molasses. Cotton exports were quite limited until late 1862 but later rose to become the top Southern export.

Sizeable import shipments of arms, munitions, and other commodities needed by the military began arriving in mid-1861. They became the top import as the war continued, leaving less room for personal commodities. Military cargo landed in Wilmington, NC, went almost exclusively to Richmond for distribution to the Army of Northern Virginia. Though some of it landing in South Carolina was shipped to Richmond, the vast majority went to Augusta, GA, to support the Army of Tennessee.
By mid-1862, the Union navy strength was sufficient to ensure a closer blockade, and, with many fast new steamers within this enlarged fleet, the days of sailing ship blockade runners were numbered. However, blockade runners anticipated these events and switched from sail to steam without skipping a beat. The most detailed studies available indicate wind-driven vessels made as many as 400 successful transits along South Carolina’s coast during the war, most of which occurred in 1861 & 1862.

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