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The Perils of Running the Blockade: The Influence of International Law in an Era of Total War

From: Civil War History
Volume 32, Number 2, June 1986
pp. 101-118 | 10.1353/cwh.1986.0012

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Perils of Running the Blockade:
The Influence of International Law in an Era of Total War
Mark E. Neely

Mark E. Neely, Jr., is the director of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is writing a book on "Lincoln and the Constitution: The Fate of Civil Liberties in Times of Total War."


1. James M. McPherson, Lincoln and the Strategy of Unconditional Surrender: 23rd Annual Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture (Gettysburg, Pa.: Gettysburg College, 1984), 13, 14, and "Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution," paper delivered at Brown University Conference on "Lincoln and the American Political Tradition," June 1984, 11.

2. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (1973; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1977), 145-46; Mark E. Neely, Jr. "The Contents of Lincoln's Pockets at Ford's Theatre," Lincoln Lore 1669 (Mar. 1977): 3.

3. Roy P. Basler et al., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1953-55), 5:49.

4. Clement Eaton, A History of the Southern Confederacy (1954; rpt. New York: Free Press, 1965), 144; E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1950), 295. For a similar view, stressing "drama" and "high adventure," see Kathryn Abbey Hanna, "Incidents of the Confederate Blockade," Journal of Southern History 11 (1945): 229. Marcus W. Price, in "Ships That Tested the Blockade of the Carolina Ports, 1861-1865," American Neptune 8 (1948): 196-241, "Ships That Tested the Blockade of the Gulf Ports, 1861-1865," ibid., 11 (1951): 262-90, "Ships That Tested the Blockade Gulf Ports, 1861-1865," ibid., 12 (1952): 229-38, and "Ships That Tested the Blockade of the Georgia and East Florida Ports, 1861-1865," ibid., 15 (1955): 97-131, refers to the sailors' "lust for adventure or . . . high wages" ("Carolina Ports," 212) and calls the business men who invested in and managed the trade "adventurers" ("Gulf Ports," 263, and "Georgia and East Florida," 98). Frank Vandiver's introduction to Confederate Blockade Running Through Bermuda, 1861-1865: Letters and Cargo Manifests (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1947), has only a brief description (xxii) of the easy-come easy-go life of flush sailors on shore leave in Bermuda. Frank Lawrence Owsley's King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America, 2d ed., rev. by Harriet Chappell Owsley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1959), does not dwell on the daring involved in blockade-running, in part perhaps because it would run counter to his thesis that the blockade was ineffectual and easily punctured. John B. Heffernan, "The Blockade of the Southern Confederacy, 1861-1865," Smithsonian Journal of History 2 (Winter 1967-68): 38, seems to imply that "some romantic stories of blockade running" which described it as decidedly not "a prosaic business devoid of risk, skill, and sport" are a corrective to Owsley's view. Robert Erwin Johnson, "Investment by Sea: The Civil War Blockade," American Neptune 32 (1972): 55, mentions the "exploits" of "those daring individuals who ran the blockade." James Russell Soley, a professor at the United States Naval Academy, wrote the earliest and most pro-Union, pro-navy history, The Blockade and the Cruisers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883). He alone said, "blockade-running was not an occupation involving much personal danger" (165).

5. Jim Dan Hill, Sea Dogs of the Sixties: Farragut and Seven Contemporaries (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1935), viii; Daniel O'Flaherty, "The Blockade That Failed," American Heritage 6 (Aug. 1955): 105. Robert Carse, Blockade: The Civil War at Sea (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1935), viii, stressed the "gallantry, greed and daring" of the blockade-runners. Hamilton Cochran, Blockade Runners of the Confederacy (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 332, told "tales of courage" about "the gallant little ships that risked death and destruction." The Civil War: The Blockade, Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1983), 91, claims that "blockade-runners took their chances not just for money . . . but also for adventure and fame." Dave Horner, The Blockade Runners: True Tales...