The Blockade--- April 19, 1861 - June 23, 1965
A major part of Union Gen. Winfield Scott's war strategy was to blockade the Southern coast and prevent any trade from entering or leaving Southern ports. The South had very few manufacturing and industrial facilities and depended on its cotton trade to secure man-made products. A successful blockade would severely hamper the South's ability to wage war.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the blockade of Southern ports on April 19, 1861, there was, in fact, very little that the North could do to prevent Southern trade. The U.S. Navy had only 42 operational warships, and most of these were sailing vessels, obsolete in a time that had seen the superiority of steam-powered ships. The North actually had only three suitable warships available for blockading duty, because most of its ships were patrolling distant seas. The South's 3,549 miles of coast, with 180 possible places for ships to enter, made the Union blockade the largest such effort ever attempted by any nation.
At first the South, and even Britain, ridiculed the blockade because it seemed impossible to turn the proclamation into reality. But the North possessed the resources, manpower, and will to gradually construct an effective blockade. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles brought home his far-flung fleet and began a massive shipbuilding program. He also bought appropriate vessels from the North's large merchant fleet and converted them for blockade duty. By the end of the year, Welles reported to Congress that the navy had purchased 136 ships and had 52 under construction.
Even without the initial power to back up the proclamation, the mere declaration of the blockade kept away many foreign ships that would otherwise have taken advantage of the South's need for war materials.
In 1861, the blockade was effective in capturing only one out of nine vessels entering or leaving Southern ports. In 1862, the success rate of the blockade increased to one out of seven.
The blockade of Southern ports as first established in the summer of 1861 was full of holes and largely ineffectual. As the Union navy committed more and more ships to blockade service and set up coaling and supply stations on the Southern coast, they were able to improve their strategy and tactics and capture more of the ships trying to enter or leave Southern ports. Blockade runners countered Northern improvements with innovations of their own, most notably in utilizing specially designed sleek, fast ships that could slip past and outrun the blockaders.
The North organized the blockading fleet into four squadrons, each assigned to patrol a designated section of the Southern coast. Experience proved that the main key to an effective blockade was having an adequate number of ships on duty at the same time. The blockaders stationed off a certain port would be arrayed in two lines, one close in to the shore and the other several miles out to sea. When a blockader spotted a ship trying to slip in or out of port, it would send up a signal rocket in the direction of the runner. The other blockaders would then converge at all speed in the same direction. If the runner made it past one of the lines of blockaders, the other line would already be warned and on the lookout. The runners learned to counter the Northern signal rockets by themselves carrying the same type of rockets. Then, by sending the rockets up at right angles to their ships' direction of travel. they would throw off many of the pursuing vessels.
As more of the vital Southern ports were captured by land forces during the war, the blockaders were able to concentrate their efforts on the remaining open ports. Very few runners were captured in 1861, but by 1865 the blockaders were able to capture about half of the runners trying to slip past them. Over the entire war, out of 1,300 attempts there were about 1,00 successful runs by ships bound to or from foreign ports.
Very few Union warships had the speed necessary to chase and capture one of the sleek steam-driven blockade runners.
.......... SLOOPS Gunboats and sloops were the mainstay of the blockading fleet. They were expected to cope with ships of their own group, while the raiders and privateers preyed on the enemy's merchant marine.
Adolph Hugel (mortar)
Queen of the West (side-wheel towboat)
General Bragg (side-wheel) *(captured)
General Lyon (side-wheel river)
General Price (side-wheel river)
Maria Denning (side-wheel)
Michigan (ironclad side-wheel)
Red Rover (side-wheel)
W.H. Brown (side-wheel)
William H. Brown
.......... TINCLAD Abeona
Silver Cloud Undine *(captured)
.......... MONITER COASTAL MONITERS All the US coastal monitors of the Civil War presented generally the same appearance: a low iron "raft" with one or more turrets on deck, and little, if any, superstructure. These ships were intended solely for operations in sheltered coastal waters; two were sunk when open ocean passages were attempted.
Most of the Civil War monitors were designed by John Ericsson, and used a turret of his own design. Ericsson's monitors were built with a shoal iron hull supporting an ironclad "raft", the raft being the only portion visible above water. The raft was of very low freeboard, and generally featured a large overhang all around, particularly at the bow and stern. The joining of the iron hull to the overhanging raft was a weak point in most designs.
SHALLOW-DRAFT COASTAL The shallow-draft coastal monitors were essentially shallow-hulled and lightweight versions of the other coastal classes. The Milwaukees were designed for river service, but were employed to good effect in the Gulf of Mexico. In general the notes for coastal monitors apply to these ships as well. Milwaukee
LARGE-COASTAL/SEAGOING Although intended for seagoing service, the extent to which these large monitors were truly capable of that service is debatable. They certainly were not capable of fighting battles on the open ocean in severe or even moderate sea conditions, but they could undertake ocean voyages and survive rough seas, in sharp contrast to many of the smaller ships. The principal advantage offered by these ships would have been the ability to meet the enemy at a greater distance off the coast, rather than right at the shoreline. In design terms, these craft (except the converted Roanoke) were generally similar to the smaller coastal monitors, but were greatly enlarged and refined in the details to improve open-ocean performance. They were also significantly faster than most of the smaller ships. However, they never had a chance to prove themselves, as only 2 ships were completed, and neither saw combat.