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Starving the South: How the North Won the Civil Warby Andrew F Smith
Lincolns Humbug of a Blockade
Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States on November 6, 1860. He opposed the extension of slavery into new territories, and his election convinced many Southerners that it was time to leave the Union. By the time of Lincolns inauguration on March 4, 1861, seven slaveholding states had seceded, immediately expropriating as much Federal property as they could, including arsenals, forts, military camps, and the United States Mint in New Orleans. Eight other slave-holding states remained in the United States, but any precipitate action by the new administration might tip them into seceding as well.
The Lincoln Administration confronted many crises, but the most volatile was what to do with a few remaining Union-held forts in states that had seceded. Fort Sumter was the flashpoint: It controlled the entrance to Charleston, South Carolinas largest port. The fort was garrisoned by a small army detachment commanded by Major Robert Anderson, a pro-slavery, former slave owner from Kentucky. Anderson attended West Point, where he met Kentucky-born Jefferson Davis and tutored a Creole from Louisiana named Pierre T. G. Beauregard. In 1861, the commander of the Confederate troops stationed in Charleston was Beauregard, who under orders from Jefferson Davis, then the provisional president of the Confederacy, refused permission for Andersons garrison to buy food and supplies in Charleston. Instead, Davis and Beauregard demanded that Anderson surrender the fort. Anderson refused. By early March 1861, the fort began to run out of provisions. Anderson told the War Department that “unless we receive supplies I shall be compelled to stay here without food, or to abandon this post.”1
All Loyal Citizens
Lincolns cabinet was divided about whether to send provisions to the garrison. William Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, favored withdrawal, as did Simon P. Cameron, the Secretary of War, and Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. Relieving the fort, they argued, would require an army and a navy that the United States just did not have. Others disagreed. Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, and Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, thought that surrendering the fort would be treason, and any such action would dampen the morale of the many Unionists who lived in the slave-holding states. Others feared that withdrawal would be tantamount to official recognition of the Confederacy.
Lincoln concluded that if the Union troops evacuated Fort Sumter, the nation would be irrevocably split in two. At a cabinet meeting on March 28, 1861, he made the decision to send provisions to the Union garrison at the fort. A small flotilla of vessels loaded with supplies left Northern ports on April 5. When the ships arrived off the coast of South Carolina six days later, Beauregard gave Anderson a choice of immediately surrendering or facing bombardment. Anderson declined to surrender, and at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, batteries fired on the fort.2 The cannonade continued through the following day, until Anderson agreed to a cease-fire. On April 14, Anderson and his men lowered the American flag, boarded the ships that had come to supply the fort, and headed north. Thus ended the first military engagement of the Civil War.
Even before the Confederate artillery fired the first shots of the Civil War, various proposals were circulating in Washington on how best to encourage the South to return to the Union. Winfield Scott, the General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army and a Virginian by birth, is credited with the proposal to blockade the Confederacys Atlantic and Gulf ports and then to take control of the Mississippi River. Such actions would prevent war materiel from coming into the Confederacy from abroad and would split the Confederacy in two. After the South stagnated commercially, it would then peacefully rejoin the Union, or so proponents believed. The plan was leaked to the press, where it was disparagingly referred to as the “boa-constrictor,” the “anaconda,” or “Scotts Great Snake.”3 The press and the public wanted no part of it. Northern newspapers demanded the immediate conquest of Richmond and a speedy end to secession.
On April 15—one day after Fort Sumter surrendered—Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the mobilization of 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. In the North, the proclamation generated widespread support and unity. In the South, four states responded to Lincolns call by seceding from the Union, and strong secession movements pressed the remaining four slave-holding states to follow their example.
Within the Lincoln Administration, debate ensued about whether to declare a blockade of the Confederacy. It was Jefferson Daviss action that tipped the debate in favor of doing so. Two days after Lincolns call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Davis invited applications for “Letters of Marque” authorizing Confederate agents to seize and destroy American merchant ships. On April 19, Lincoln responded by declaring a blockade of Southern ports with the intent of preventing cotton, tobacco, and sugar from being exported and military equipment and supplies from coming into the South from abroad.4
Declaring a blockade was easy; enforcing it was another matter. The South had nine major ports and more than 3,500 miles of coastline, and it would be impossible for the North to prevent small ships from landing goods along thousands of bays, inlets, rivers, and islands. The Federal navy had only ninety ships at the beginning of the war, and more than half of these were outmoded sailing ships, many of them unseaworthy. As soon as Lincoln declared the blockade, the Navy Department recalled naval ships from foreign waters, purchased merchant ships, which were quickly converted into gunboats, and launched a major shipbuilding program. Within weeks, the United States had 150 ships ready for duty, and construction had begun on another 50 ships.
As ships returned from abroad and new ships came on line, the blockade became more effective. By December 1861, the navy had 264 ships on line, and the effects of the blockade were “severely felt” in the Confederacy.5
The Provision Blockade Is Nothing
Most Southerners did not see the blockade as a serious threat. Some, in fact, welcomed it. Jefferson Davis called it “a blessing in disguise,” believing that the blockade would force England and France “to a speedy recognition of the Confederacy, and to an interference with the blockade.” Even if the blockade became effective and England and France were not drawn into the conflict, Southerners concluded that “Lincolns humbug of a blockade” would still not succeed because of the Souths abundant food supply. As one Confederate officer in Nashville proclaimed, “The provision blockade is nothing; we shall have wheat, corn, and beef beyond measure, besides tobacco, sugar, and rice.” No one imagined that the blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports would have much of an impact on the availability, distribution, or cost of food in the Confederacy.6
Although the Anaconda plan was never officially approved, a modified version of it shaped Union strategy after the Northern defeat at Bull Run in July 1861. Southerners were well aware of the supposed “anaconda” strategy of the North, and many called it a “starvation policy.” This Anaconda strategy was well understood in both the North and South, and regular mention of the serpent—“contracting coils of the anaconda,” the “embraces of the Northern anaconda,” “the great anaconda has begun to enfold,” or “strangulation by the great anaconda,”—appeared in both Northern and Southern newspapers and magazines as the war progressed.7
An assistant to Jefferson Davis accurately foretold Union strategy, which was “to take our chief sea-coast cities, so as to cut off all supplies from foreign countries, get possession of the border States of Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, which are the great grain-growing States, properly belonging to the Confederacy; cut the railway connections between Virginia and the cotton States, and cut the cotton region in two divisions by getting full possession of the Mississippi River by getting possession of the sea-coast cities on the one side and the principal grain-growing region on the other; by separating the cotton region of the Confederacy from Virginia and cutting it into two separate divisions; by commanding completely the Mississippi River, they expected to starve the people into subjection.”8
The U.S. Navy needed coaling and supply depots in the South to resupply blockading ships. On August 28, 1861, Federal forces captured Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark on Cape Hatteras Inlet on North Carolinas Outer Banks, and later captured Roanoke, New Bern, Elizabeth City, and Plymouth. In South Carolina, U.S. Army and Navy units seized Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard, guarding the entrance to Port Royal Sound. On November 24, 1861, the North seized Tybee Island in Georgia near the Savannah River estuary and immediately began constructing long-range batteries to fire on Confederate-occupied Fort Pulaski, which surrendered months later. From forts and fortified positions on offshore islands, Federal gunboats prevented coastwise trading. These conquests also gave the United States access to the Souths food production areas, among them the fertile strip of land along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia; raiding parties ventured far into the hinterland confiscating commodities, dismantling the dikes, and flooding the rice fields. As a result, rice and other food production in these areas nosedived.9
From the beginning, the blockade reduced food imports into the South. Coffee, tea, spices, and wine quickly became difficult to acquire. More important losses from a nutritional standpoint were apples and dairy products, such as butter and cheese, which had been imported from New England; citrus fruits, dates, pineapples, and vegetables, which had been imported from Bermuda and the Caribbean islands became scarce, as did salt (used as a preservative), which had been mainly imported from abroad before the war. The nutritional effects of these losses increased as the war progressed.
The Confederacy did permit ships, mainly operated by private enterprises looking to make sizable profits, to run the blockade. Blockade-runners brought in much needed military equipment and supplies, but the most profitable part of their cargoes consisted of luxury goods, such as silks, laces, spices, molasses, liquor, sugar, coffee, and tea. What the South needed was machinery, salt, zinc, iron, steel, and copper, but these were heavy and bulky, and these items produced much smaller returns. The Confederate government tried to regulate blockade-runners, but this usually lessened the willingness of private entrepreneurs to risk having their ships and cargoes captured. Although the Confederacy finally outlawed the importation of alcoholic beverages and some other luxury goods, bans proved ineffective and these items were available in the Confederacy up to its final days—for those able to pay for them.
Starving the People of New Orleans
The most important port on the Gulf Coast was New Orleans—the largest city in the Confederacy. Southern officials believed that the citys formidable forts and some hastily converted and constructed naval vessels were powerful enough to repulse any possible Union invasion coming from the Gulf, so the regular military units stationed in New Orleans were sent northward to block the expected Federal campaign down the Mississippi River from Illinois. This left only an inexperienced home guard in the city proper, with limited supplies. When the Mississippi was closed to traffic in August 1861, the flow of grain and other foodstuffs from the Midwest to New Orleans was halted. During the following eight months, the citys storehouses were depleted. The food situation became desperate enough for city officials to make the outlandish request that Virginia send a trainload of grain every day to prevent famine in New Orleans.10
On April 24, 1862, the Union Flag Officer David G. Farragut, a Tennessean by birth, achieved strategic surprise when he led a flotilla past the forts protecting New Orleans and sank the ships sent to stop him. After an intense bombardment, the two forts surrendered, and the flotilla turned upriver toward New Orleans. The Confederate home guard evacuated the city, fearing that the meager supplies of flour and meat would not hold out during a siege.11 Northern troops occupied New Orleans, and the South lost its largest city, with its strategic location on the Mississippi River, its ship-building facilities, and its large industrial base.
When the Union military arrived in New Orleans, they had to offer provisions to “the starving people of New Orleans,” as Harpers Weekly reported it. The citys former Confederate authorities were blamed for the famine situation in New Orleans. The article continued, condemning Confederate officials: “If the leaders of this accursed rebellion could have looked upon the sight and reflected upon their responsibility for all this misery, it would have been strange if they had not experienced some dark forebodings of the terrible punishment that surely awaits them in another world, however easily they may escape a just retribution in this.”12
Farragut wasnt satisfied with just taking New Orleans. In a lightning move, he sent a small flotilla under the command of Commander S. Phillips Lee up the Mississippi River. The flotilla occupied Baton Rouge on May 5, and Natchez five days later. On May 18, the ships arrived before Vicksburg and fired a few shots into Confederate positions. But the Confederates in Vicksburg refused to surrender, and Commander Lees few troops were unable to take the city, so the flotilla turned back to New Orleans. Thus ended the first feeble Union attempt to take Vicksburg, a key port on the middle section of the Mississippi River.
With the occupation of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Natchez, the Union solidified its control of the lower Mississippi; this gave Federal troops access to rich agricultural areas in Louisiana and Mississippi. Beginning in the fall of 1862, Union troops under the command of Major General Benjamin Butler began to confiscate or destroy agricultural commodities and production facilities in lower Louisiana. Some plantations were deliberately reduced to ashes by Union troops in order to prevent food from falling into Confederate hands. Other plantations succumbed to the foraging activities of both armies. Still other plantations were simply abandoned by their owners, who took their slaves to more protected places further inland. Levees in Louisiana wore down or were torn down and agricultural machinery fell into disrepair or was destroyed. Louisiana produced 270,000 tons of sugar in 1861, but three years later production had dropped to a total of only 5,400 tons.13 Similar declines in the production of other agricultural commodities turned much of eastern Louisiana into an agricultural wasteland.
The Federal presence in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast was enough to encourage slaves to flee plantations. Eight months after the occupation of New Orleans, more than 150,000 slaves were behind Union lines. In the State of Mississippi alone, an estimated one third of the slaves left their plantations in 1862 and more would leave later. Since slaves grew much of the surplus food in the South, their absence meant a decrease in agricultural production.14
The Cotton Famine
For decades, American newspapers, magazines, and political leaders had extolled the power of Southern cotton, and for good reason: it accounted for 85 percent of all the cotton fabric manufactured in the United States, Great Britain, and France. Many Southerners had come to believe that without its cotton, the Norths textile industry—Americas largest and most lucrative business—would collapse, leading to economic ruin. Long before this happened, proclaimed Southerners, the North would call a halt to the war and recognize the Souths independence. For the same reason, many Southerners predicted that Great Britain and France would recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation just as soon as their existing supplies of cotton were exhausted. Southern newspapers hailed the coming of the “cotton famine” believing it would force England and France to break the blockade. Jefferson Davis, a major cotton grower and a strong believer in cotton power, boasted that Southern “cotton would pay all debts of war and force New England into penury and starvation.”15 As it turned out, Davis was wrong on both counts: cotton did not pay for the Confederacys war, and cotton did not force New England into penury or starvation.
Many secession leaders believed that the best way to hasten the cotton famine would be to embargo the export of cotton.16 They petitioned the Confederate Congress to stop its export, but the legislation never passed, in part because many Southern legislators were major cotton growers. So embargo supporters launched a vigorous campaign pressuring plantation owners to stop exporting cotton. Pro-embargo sentiments filled Southern newspapers and magazines, and the campaign did influence the passage of state laws restricting the planting of cash-crops, mainly cotton and tobacco.
The embargos success had some ironic results. According to international law, for blockades to be considered legal, they had to be effective. By restricting the export of cotton early in the war, the embargo made it appear as if the blockade was more effective than it was. Southern plantation owners, who had strongly supported secession and observed the embargo, were financially ruined because their finances depended on exporting their cotton crop. Conversely, plantation owners who did not observe the embargo generated substantial profits from the export of their cotton, as the embargo greatly reduced the amount of cotton available on the world market and escalated the price of cotton to astronomical heights.17
Despite the informal embargo, the peer pressure, and the legal restrictions, plantation owners continued to grow cotton and store it on docks and in warehouses. The South produced large cotton crops in 1861 and 1862. Growers had projected that the war would be of short duration and they expected to make a killing when they sold their bales after the war. Some cotton was run through the blockade or traded to the North, but most of it rotted or was burned by Southerners trying to prevent its capture by Union soldiers. Although cotton production appreciably declined during the following years, the South continued to raise twice as much cotton as was necessary for its needs. Stanley Lebergott, a professor of economics at Wesleyan University, pointed out that despite a rapid reduction in cotton growing, the number of people “growing cotton far exceeded the average size of the Confederate armies.”18 Had the manpower devoted to excess cotton production been diverted into producing foodstuffs, it might well have made a difference to the outcome of the war.
The alternative to the embargo was to trade as much cotton as possible at the beginning of the war before the blockade became effective. This was argued by Judah Benjamin, then the Confederate Attorney General. Early in 1861, he proposed that the government buy 100,000 bales, ship them to Europe, and pocket $50 million in specie, or use the money to buy 150,000 guns, munitions, and pieces of military equipment, which the Confederacy desperately needed at the beginning of the war. This might well have stabilized the Confederate financial system, but the Confederate government rejected the proposal.19
After two years of serious disruption in textile manufacturing in Britain, France, and New England, imports of cotton from Egypt and India surged and the demand for cotton textiles shrank as other fabrics were substituted. This brought an end to talk of the cotton famine, yet Confederate leaders continued to oppose selling or trading cotton long after this served any useful purpose.
The Salt Famine
Prior to the Civil War, Southerners used an estimated 450 million pounds of salt annually. Very little salt was produced in the antebellum South; most of it came from Wales on ships, which carried salt as ballast when they sailed to Southern ports to pick up cotton. In the nineteenth century, salt was used for commercial purposes, such as tanning leather for use in making harnesses and shoes. Salts most important use, however, was as a preservative. In an age without refrigeration, virtually all pork and beef that was not cooked and served immediately after slaughter was preserved in brine. Salt was used to preserve fish, and other foods, such as butter, had to be salted. Salt was also used in cooking and was added as a condiment at the table. At the time, Americans consumed more salt than any other nation in the world, and more salt was used in the South than in any other region of the United States.
Once the blockade was declared, ships no longer brought salt into Southern ports. New Orleans had large stockpiles of salt, but this accumulation had shrunk to nothing by the fall of 1861. The price for salt surged so high that many farmers who raised hogs were unable to preserve them because they had no salt. One farmer wrote to the governor of Mississippi: “With a great many now, the deepest anxiety prevails to keep our families from suffering for want of salted provisions. Meat is now ready to be slaughtered.”20
The shortage of imported salt was only one reason for its rising price; another cause was speculation. An editor of a Mississippi newspaper reported in November 1861 that “all the salt in New Orleans and elsewhere is now in the hands of speculators.… Something must be done in the matter, and be done quickly. We are willing that speculators should reap a rich profit, but we are not willing for them to suck the very life blood out of the people, if we can avoid it.”21
The salt famine became severe in 1862. In March of that year an Alabama official reported that speculators were using “every artifice and fraud” to acquire salt. In May 1862 the editor of AtlantasSouthern Confederacy announced that “we will be in a dreadful condition unless we get salt.” In December twenty women from Greenville, Alabama, became fed up with the salt famine. They marched on the local railroad station shouting “Salt or Blood,” and forced an agent to give up the contents of a large sack of salt.22
Facing severe shortages, Southern leaders encouraged domestic salt production. States offered rewards for locating salt deposits and bonuses for its production. Southerners began to manufacture salt from salt lakes, saline artesian wells, and seawater. While such domestic production helped families and small farmers, these sources did not produce enough salt to meet the military and civilian needs of the Confederacy. Only five areas in the South had sufficient concentrations of salt to produce the large quantities needed to replace imported salt. These were the Great Kanawha River, near Charleston, then in Virginia; Goose Creek near Manchester, Kentucky; the salt wells in Clarke, Washington, and Mobile counties in Alabama; the saline wells near New Iberia in northern Louisiana; and the great saline artesian wells in the extreme southwest corner of Virginia, near Saltville. In addition, large-scale operations to convert ocean water to salt emerged in Florida. These operations produced enough salt for military, industrial, and civilian needs, but it was difficult to transport due to the lack of railroads in Florida.23
When the price of salt skyrocketed in early 1862, Daniel D. Avery and his son-in-law, Edmund McIlhenny, began working the salt springs on Avery Island, not far from New Iberia, about 140 miles west of New Orleans. By accident, Avery discovered a source of dry, pure rock salt a mere fifteen to twenty feet below the surface. Avery and McIlhenny began to quarry this salt in May 1862. A Confederate agent sent out to evaluate the site claimed that the mine could supply “the Confederacy if properly managed.” As the Union forces controlled New Orleans, salt from Averys Island had to be shipped by a circuitous route overland to the Red River, and to the Mississippi, where it could then be distributed throughout the eastern Confederacy.24
Union forces were well aware of the importance of salt to the Confederacy, and they targeted salt production facilities. The salt manufacturing areas around Kanawha Valley in Virginia and Goose Creek in Kentucky were taken or destroyed by the North early in the war. In Louisiana, Union forces seized New Iberia and took control of Avery Island in 1863. Saltville, Virginia, was regularly targeted, but it wasnt finally captured until December 1864. Meanwhile, the Union navy conducted continuous amphibious efforts to disrupt salt manufacturing in North Carolina and repeatedly assaulted saltworks and plantations along Floridas Gulf Coast. Many plantation owners took their slaves inland, where, often, both master and slave became subsistence farmers.25
Another solution to the salt famine was for Southerners to curtail their use of salt. Those living near the coast cooked rice, grits, and hominy in seawater. Civilians were encouraged to eat tinned corned beef, which didnt need salt added at the table. Southern newspapers, journals, and books published dozens of recipes made with little salt. Salt conservation and even salt recycling became common practices. Southerners collected and reused loose salt grains from cured meat. Troughs and barrels used for brining meat were dried and the salt recaptured for future use. The floorboards in salt houses were ripped out and soaked in water, which was then boiled down to produce a little salt. People even dug up the soil under old smokehouses and recovered salt, which was fed to cattle and horses. In addition to conservation and recycling efforts, Southerners experimented with numerous methods for curing meat with little or no salt, but the meat often spoiled. Experimenters also produced a substance that tasted somewhat like salt, according to Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis; however, this had no preservative property.26
Without salt, Southerners frequently went without meat, and as time went on, things only got worse. After the occupation of Avery Island and New Iberia by Union forces in 1863, a resident of the area told the Confederate Congress that those living in “Louisiana lying east of the Mississippi River are starving for the want of salt and salt meat.” Southern governors spoke of “salt famines” and established programs for citizens to buy salt cheaply, yet the price continued to rise.27 Despite these efforts, the salt famine meant shortages of pork that would previously have been preserved. The beef supply also dwindled because salt was essential to the diet of cattle, and without it, the animals did not fatten up. Likewise, cavalry and artillery horses sickened from the absence of salt (a necessary electrolyte for animals kept hard at work) in their diet. By the end of the war, Confederate leaders were offering exorbitant fees for blockaders to bring in salt and salted meat. Had the South just figured out a better way to tap the natural salt deposits that they had, imports would have been unnecessary. Then there was the transportation problem.
Unable to Meet Requirements
As the blockade prevented coastwise shipping and Union gunboats raided rivers, railroads took on a crucial role for transporting goods, troops, and military equipment. Prior to war, the South had imported virtually all of its railroad equipment. The Confederacy had few factories that could build train engines, rolling stock, rail track, or the machinery and equipment needed to sustain the regions transportation needs, and there was no great encouragement by the Confederate government to launch such efforts. Early in the conflict the South failed to centralize its railroads so that they might run more efficiently, and it did not encourage blockade-runners to bring in heavy equipment for railroads, when doing so might have made a difference.
The Confederacy did appoint a railroad czar without much authority or power. In December 1861 he requested that the government exempt from conscription skilled railroad men, and supply much-needed equipment to repair the railroads. If this were not done, he warned, “the railroads will very soon be quite unable to meet requirements of Government.” In April 1863, the Richmond Sentinelpointed to transportation as the bottleneck in the supply system, and recommended that the Southern railways be coordinated by a “master mind” in order to transport provisions from where they were grown to where they were needed.28 These suggestions, which had been made by others, fell flat, thanks to the laissez-faire economic policies of the Confederate government.
The railroads slowly deteriorated, making food distribution increasingly difficult. When the main railroad lines began to give out, Southerners cannibalized smaller trunk lines, decreasing the number of miles served by railroads, thus weakening the overall system. The railroads, even when not interdicted by Union soldiers, could not transport enough food to feed civilians, the military, cavalry horses, and draft animals. Even when food was available, inefficiencies resulted. Civil War railroad historian George Edgar Turner concluded: “Tons of bacon, rice, sugar and other perishable foods spoiled in accumulated masses while soldiers in near-by Virginia famished for want of them.” Historian Charles W. Ramsdell pointed out that Lees army starved, “not because there was no food in the Confederacy, for it was plentiful in many portions of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, but because the railroads simply could not carry enough of it.” When Petersburg and Richmond were cut off, and “the remnant of the feeble roads wrecked by Shermans destructive march through Georgia and the Carolinas,” Ramsdell continued, “the stoppage of all supplies followed, and the long struggle was over.”29
The South also had problems with its roads and wagon transportation. The roads were mainly unimproved, which meant that when it rained, they were filled with mud and were impassable. Even in good weather, the Souths wagon transportation was inadequate, largely because of the scarcity of draft animals, thousands of which had annually come from the Midwest before the war.30 Southern armies purchased or expropriated large number of mules, oxen, and horses, and these had to be replaced regularly. The animals had to be fed as they traveled. Transporting bulky and heavy forage required even more draft animals. The military often commandeered or impressed animals from farmers as needed, which caused yet more problems: Without draft animals, farmers could not plant, harvest, or transport their crops, further contributing to food shortages.31
Historians have lavished attention on the success of blockade-runners. Indeed, an estimated 300 steamers made an estimated 1,300 attempts to test the blockade, and about a thousand of these runs were successful. Citing the success of these blockade-runners, some historians have pronounced the Union operation a failure. However, the 1,000 successful blockade attempts should be compared to the 20,000 ships—many of them much larger than the sleek blockade-runners—that arrived or departed harbors in what became the Confederacy during the four years prior to the war. The amount of supplies imported and cotton exported during the war was a small fraction of what had been transacted in the prewar period. What was brought in through the blockade did not even come close to fulfilling Southern wartime needs.
The revenue from cotton exported through the blockade generated substantial profits—mainly for shipbuilders, blockade-runners, and insurance companies. Blockade-running did little for Confederate finances. The profits on exports were not adequate to establish credit, acquire large loans, or bring in specie to support the Confederate currency. Blockade-running did, however, contribute to inflation and escalating food prices. The willingness of wealthy Southerners to pay exorbitant prices for scarce items made it more lucrative for blockade-runners to carry luxury goods rather than much-needed staple foods.32 Many Southerners greatly resented the blockade-runners, the traders who sold the luxury goods, and those who purchased them—all while most Southerners suffered severe privations.
The blockade may not have stopped all goods from entering the Confederacy, but it greatly reduced the amount of large bulky items, such as foodstuffs, railroad equipment, and raw materials, and jacked up the cost of all imported goods. Over time, the blockade contributed to the Souths demoralization and its ultimate defeat. No one can seriously believe that the North could have won the war without the blockade.
Copyright © 2011 by Andrew F. Smith
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