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Old November 14th, 2012, 06:00 AM   #1
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The Blockade


I thought we could use a new Civil War thread!

I was wondering what people thought of the blockade. It is often touted as a reason for Union victory. I tend to disagree with this. First by proclaiming the blockade, Lincoln, basically recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent or at least gave foreign nations the right to do so. This alone gave the Confederacy tremendous help with blockade running and commerce raiding. It also raised the chances of recognition, which of course never came, but the chance was there. Also the blockade was not really that effective. It was effective enough to be recognized as legit by foriegn powers but that is about as far as it went, at least in my opinion. The only way a Confederate port was ever really closed was when it was captured by joint Army and Navy operations. The blockade might have slowed things down but it was hardly successful. I will let people post their thoughts. I was hoping some of our friends across the pond would weigh in on this subject. Anybody here live along the River Clyde in Scotland ?? Feel free to discuss commerce raiding and Confederate and Union agents abroad. I think this is a very underrated and interesting aspect of the Civil War that needs further exploration.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 06:27 AM   #2

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Lincoln's refusal to recognize the CSA as a nation or to declare the
rebellion as a war with a foreign power, made his blockade Constitutionally
illegal. The Constitution gives the president power to block a port only when
the US is at war with a foreign power. The president can close a US port, but
not blockade it. The blockade not only effected the
CSA's military, it directly impacted the innocent Southern civilians. I find it odd that
the Union recognized international law when dealing with blockade foreign
runners, such as the British seamen and ships, but closed one legal eye
when dealing with the CSA. It is like a policeman giving you a ticket for speeding
but ignoring you have no plates on your car.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 06:48 AM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
Lincoln's refusal to recognize the CSA as a nation or to declare the
rebellion as a war with a foreign power, made his blockade Constitutionally
illegal. The Constitution gives the president power to block a port only when
the US is at war with a foreign power. The president can close a US port, but
not blockade it. The blockade not only effected the
CSA's military, it directly impacted the innocent Southern civilians. I find it odd that
the Union recognized international law when dealing with blockade foreign
runners, such as the British seamen and ships, but closed one legal eye
when dealing with the CSA. It is like a policeman giving you a ticket for speeding
but ignoring you have no plates on your car.
The Supreme Court specifically found Lincoln's actions legal in Prize Cases actually.

As for the blockade itself, I think it was as militarily effective as possible under the circumstances. Remember that at the start of the war, Lincoln had perhaps 90 ships, and 3,500 miles of coastline to blockade. That's not a blockade, that's a pipedream. The Union also had a fair amount of success in waging combined-arms operations to shut down Confederate ports. While blockade runners continued getting through to the conclusion of the war, they had to be very lightly laden to evade the blockade. Every ship the Union caught was one shipment that didn't aid the Confederate war effort. As Unrevised noted, it was seen as a legitimate show of force by foreign powers, so it was a success on that front. It was certainly far, far from perfect, but I'm unsure what else the Navy was supposed to do. I certainly agree that it was not anywhere near as militarily effective as often portrayed; for instance, many of the defenders of Vicksburg were better armed than their Union counterparts with British Enfield rifles.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 07:05 AM   #4

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I have no doubt the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Lincoln during
or after the war. And yes, I agree Viper about your points on the
Union blockade.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 07:39 AM   #5

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I think the British officially recognized the legality of the blockade and prohibited RN involvement with either side. Most all of the blockade runners were British built, mainly by British private commercial interests for astounding profits. These interests are often mischaracterized as southern sympathizers.

The vast majority of the runners were crewed by British seamen and often officered by RN officers on leave. These guys were on their own as far as the British government was concerned by reason of their recognition of the US blockade. Well over a thousand blockade runners were captured or destroyed during the war and the British made no protests over the capture or loss of the crews. I'd say an argument of a speeding ticket to a car with no plates is a tad hinky. It's also important to note that the British government paid reparations to the US after the war in recognition of America's argument that the government did not act sufficiently to prevent the building of Confederate commerce raiders such as the Alabama, and also reign in the movement of contraband from Britain to runner bases by commercial shipping flying the British flag- most of which were ships owned by the interests that built the runners.

Perhaps someone well versed in British naval history can help out here.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 07:40 AM   #6
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If one wants to add that capturing ports was part of the blockade then I can see where one could add that to the effectiveness of the blockade but I've never considered capturing of ports and the blockade as "together".
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Old November 14th, 2012, 08:03 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spartacuss View Post
I think the British officially recognized the legality of the blockade and prohibited RN involvement with either side. Most all of the blockade runners were British built, mainly by British private commercial interests for astounding profits. These interests are often mischaracterized as southern sympathizers.

The vast majority of the runners were crewed by British seamen and often officered by RN officers on leave. These guys were on their own as far as the British government was concerned by reason of their recognition of the US blockade. Well over a thousand blockade runners were captured or destroyed during the war and the British made no protests over the capture or loss of the crews. I'd say an argument of a speeding ticket to a car with no plates is a tad hinky. It's also important to note that the British government paid reparations to the US after the war in recognition of America's argument that the government did not act sufficiently to prevent the building of Confederate commerce raiders such as the Alabama, and also reign in the movement of contraband from Britain to runner bases by commercial shipping flying the British flag- most of which were ships owned by the interests that built the runners.

Perhaps someone well versed in British naval history can help out here.
Good post but I'm not so sure that the British government made no protest over captures
I think i remember reading some. Also there is the Trent affair. Not a blockade runner but was treated like one.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 08:36 AM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unrevised View Post
Good post but I'm not so sure that the British government made no protest over captures
I think i remember reading some. Also there is the Trent affair. Not a blockade runner but was treated like one.
The Lincoln administration was very very cautious about dealing with
the British blockade runners. If and when stopped by the Union navy,
her crews were often hauled in, but quickly released and many would
later be stopped again, and always released. It was very dicey to
hold foreigners as POWS in US prisons, but by the end of the war, it
was all a moot point and all a legal mess.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 09:06 AM   #9
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Here is the incident with the Peterhoff. I believe this is what I had read before. There may be more...

Lincoln - David Herbert Donald - Google Books
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Old November 14th, 2012, 09:45 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unrevised View Post
I Also the blockade was not really that effective. It was effective enough to be recognized as legit by foreign powers .
To be legal in this period a blockade had to be 'effective' but Britain recognised the legality of the blockade when the USN had less than 100 warships to patrol the whole coastline. Britain was quick to recognise the blockade because until this time the US had been the most vocal of the opponents to this naval tactic, while Britain as a naval power was keen to have naval blockades fully accepted as a legal act in times of war.
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