The majority of
the blockade running was done from Wilmington under the cover of Fort Fisher.
These ventures fed the Confederate soldiers and brought all of the vital
supplies to continue to war effort. General Robert E. Lee himself said to
Colonel Lamb that Fort Fisher must be held or he could not sustain an army. The
Union attempted to completely block off the entrance to Cape Fear River, but
was not wholly successful due to the odd geography. The North was aware of the
danger of this fort and indeed began blockading there with the ship Daylight
as early as July 20th, 1861. Land forces were needed for
reinforcement, but the Union eventually was able to capture it and stomp out
the majority of the blockade running fleet. Before this could happen, they had
increased the number of blockaders to 30 ships that formed a crescent at night
to prevent even the smallest ships from passing<1>.
Although this did not actually achieve its goal to stop all flow of contraband,
it did increase the costs and risks to blockade-runners and limit some of the
trade that they wished to conduct. Despite first appearances, the part of the
blockade that helped the North the most was the profitability of blockade
running. Greed fueled most of the ship captains, leading them to ignore the
customs tax that they were supposed to pay to the Confederacy<2>.
They felt that the risk-takers should be the money makers.
While the blockade was effective
enough to destroy the economy of the South, there were still instances where
improvements could have been made, perhaps through better naval training. One
instance was of the Confederate ship Sumter commanded by E.C. Reed,
which brought arms, ammunition, clothing, cloth, medicines, and two large
Blakely guns. The Sumter could not exceed 9 mph and happened to arrive
at port during the daylight. Being to slow to desire a chase, they hoisted an
American flag and sailed right on into harbor. The Union soldiers did not know
what had happened until the ship had safely landed<3>.
Keener intellect, or perhaps simply better training, could have caught this
ship, plundered its supplies, and sped up the downfall of the South.
As well as being effective, the
blockade was also perfectly legal, as defined by the Congress of Paris in 1856.
Her Majesty’s Foreign Office of Britain even commented on February 2nd,
1862, issuing a statement to the effect that the Union was legitimized as long
as it followed certain laws of procedure<4>.
Tactics that the world disapproves of may be effective, but will often create
third party enemies (take World War II as an example). The Union was quite
diplomatic and assured further world support by not breaking the Congress of
Paris rules, except privateering (a strategy that was well employed during the
aforementioned creation of a navy).
As a whole, the Union was able to
raise Confederate prices and contribute to the financial distress of the South
by blockading the coast. Since supplies are key to any operation, a lack
thereof, such as in this case, will stop progress. Essentially, the Confederate
troops could no longer fight back because they had nothing to fight with.
Therefore, the blockade must have been a crucial, if the not the most
important, strategy during the Civil War.
<1> Sprunt, Cape
<2> Ball, Financial
<3> Sprunt, Cape
<4> Sprunt, Cape