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care was taken at an early period in the war to blockade it effectively. The numerous inlets to Wilmington made it impossible to shut off much of its commerce until the third year of the war, when the Federal gov ernment was able to stretch a long line of ships in front of the entrances.' As many as forty-two vessels entered and cleared at Wilmington in the summer of 1861, and one hundred and fifty arrived at Charleston in the six months prior to December of that year. But the size, quantities, and qualities of the cargoes of all blockaderunners at different points were not such as either to disprove the efficiency of the blockade or to supply the needs of the Confederacy.
As the blockade grew in efficiency the value of articles imported into the Confederacy rose, while that of cotton and tobacco rapidly declined. Because the possibilities of greater profit, in case of a successful voyage, about balanced the increased risks, the contraband trade did not become less tempting. At first all sorts of sailing vessels and steamboats were used; but when the Federal government increased the number of the blockaders, some of which could make good speed, only those blockade-runners with steam and of light draft, and built so as to attract little attention, were likely to escape capture."
11 Wilson's Ironclads in Action, 186.
2 Soley, 89.
3 "The typical blockade-runner of 1863-64 was a long, low side-wheel steamer of from four to six hundred tons, with a slight frame, sharp and narrow, its length perhaps nine times its beam. The hull rose only a few feet out of the water, and was painted a dull gray or lead color, so that it could hardly be seen by daylight at two hundred yards."-Soley, 156. They could often steal past the blockaders without being noticed, and many of them were so swift that it was impossible to overtake them at sea. The R. E. Lee, which ran the blockade twenty-one times in ten months, showed what was possible. But the one thousand one hundred and forty-nine prizes, two hundred and ten of which were steamers, brought in during the war, and the three hundred and fifty-five vessels that were burned or destroyed (Soley, 44), told a more reliable story.
Capital and a venturesome spirit early became prerequisites of success. The Confederates lacked capital, but many of them possessed daring and knowledge of the coast and of the conditions at home, which made them invaluable as captains and pilots. The tastes and resources of Englishmen could supply the rest; and the proximity of Bermuda and the Bahamas gave them special advantages. Large numbers of blockade - runners were built on the Clyde, and were soon busily engaged in this contraband trade. From Bermuda to Wilmington is but six hundred and seventy - four miles; to Charleston, seven hundred and seventy-two, and to Savannah, eight hundred and thirty-four. From Nassau the distance to the same cities is five hundred and seventy, five hundred and fifteen, and five hundred miles respectively.' Havana, Cuba, was the port most used by the blockade-runners in the Gulf of Mexico. It is five hundred and ninety miles from Mobile, and five hundred and seventy from New Orleans; but after the first few months of the war the blockade of the Gulf ports as far as the mouth of the Mississippi was generally very strict. Galveston was accessible most of the time, and Matamoras, Mexico, on the Rio Grande, and opposite Brownsville, Texas, could not be closed because it belonged to a neutral power, although it was practically a Confederate port. These foreign ports suddenly became great emporiums for cotton and for all sorts of merchandise intended for. the Confederacy.
To a vessel sailing for a Confederate port the danger of capture was, as a general rule, proportionate to the distance to be traveled. Bona-fide commerce between neutral ports is, of course, not subject to interference. Hence merchants and speculators interested in running the blockade soon adopted the plan of pretending that
1 Soley, p. 36, map.
goods that were really for the Confederacy were to be shipped merely to Bermuda or Nassau or Matamoras ; there they were temporarily unloaded, or were transferred to steamers specially built to run the blockade, and then what was often practically the same voyage was continued. The United States government could not afford to be outwitted by this subterfuge. Where there was reasonable suspicion of a design ultimately to send the cargo to a Confederate port, the ship was captured, taken before a prize court, and then, if the evidence showed a hostile destination and a guilty knowledge on the part of the ship-owner, both the ship and the cargo were condemned.' This was done on the theory that there was but one continuous voyage from the port of departure to that of ulterior destination. Transshipment made no difference, for the court held that "the ships are planks of the same bridge, all of the same kind, and all necessary to the convenient passage of persons and property from one end to the other." "
The ingenuity of the persons engaged in this commerce was still unexhausted. They sent goods from Europe to a United States port, thence to the Bermudas or Nassau or Matamoras for the purpose of transshipment. It was believed that the United States would find it impracticable to check commerce between their own and neutral ports. The presumption was correct for a short time. As soon as this peculiar trade developed such proportions as to attract attention, Congress passed a law empowering the Secretary of the Treasury to refuse a clearance to any vessel laden with merchandise that he had satisfactory reason to believe was intended, whatever its ostensible destination, for any insurgent port. It also authorized the collector of any port to re
1 Bernard, 308 ff.
3 Dip. Cor., 1862, 300.
Quoted Bernard, 310.
quire a bond from the master or owner of any ship that the cargo would be delivered at the port for which it was cleared.
The diplomatic correspondence on these questions was almost wholly with Great Britain. Of course the views of Seward and of Russell disagreed, for each demanded what was most advantageous to his govern
In regard to the question of broken voyages, the British Secretary insisted that the intent to land merchandise at neutral ports protected it from seizure until it left that port. Seward's line of reasoning is shown in a communication he sent to Lord Lyons, May 12, 1862, about the trade with Matamoras:
"It is only very recently that this especially enlarged Matamoras trade has come to our notice. Suddenly and quictly as palaces, cities, states, and empires rise in the tales of the Arabian Nights under the waving of a wand or the utterance of a spell, that trade rose from a petty barter to a commerce that engaged the mercantile activity of Liverpool and London. Simultaneously roads across the interior of Texas were covered with caravans, the cotton of disloyal citizens in the insurrectionary region became, all at once, the property of the treasonable conspiracy against the Union, and it was hypothecated, by its agents, for a foreign loan to satisfy obligations contracted by them in the fitting out and equipping and clearing from British ports naval expeditions to destroy the commerce of the United States. The Peterhoff was about the first discovered of the vessels engaged in this expanded trade. Unusual arts and devices were alleged, with much probability, to have been used by her owners to secure for her immunity as a trader bound to Matamoras with a lawful cargo, when, in fact, she was designed not to reach, or even seek, that port at all, but to discharge her freight into rebel lighters, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the order of pretended consignees, who were her passengers, to be conveyed at once to the possession of the insurgents on American, not Mexican, soil. She was indicated, moreover, as a forerunner of other fraudulent craft of the same character, organized with regularity, so
as to constitute a contraband packet-line. She was searched, and upon probable grounds was seized and sent into the nearest available port for adjudication."1
This meant that the United States claimed the right to prevent trade between neutral ports whenever that trade appeared to be a device for getting goods into a blockaded port. The error lay in the fact that Seward was ready to assume, from mere probability, what international law required should be well substantiated by legal evidence.
The regulations to prevent the shipment of contraband merchandise of various kinds, especially coal, from the United States to neutral ports, where it might be sold or forwarded to the Confederates, opened a new line of discussion. Because these regulations were directed against the trade with the Bahamas and affected British interests almost solely, Russell alleged that they were an anti-British enactment, and were both an unfriendly act and a violation of commercial treaties.
"The false assumptions," he said, "which seem to pervade the views of the United States government with respect to Nassau are that it is a violation of neutrality for a British colony to carry on any active trade with the so-styled Confederate States during the existence of the blockade, and that, in aid of the inefficiency of the blockading force, an embargo may lawfully be placed on a particular trade of British commerce at New York.'
In Seward's formal reply to the British chargé d'affaires at Washington he regretted that, although it had been claimed that the action was in contravention of international law, the particular principles or maxims violated had not been named, and he continued:
By the law of nations every state is sovereign over its own citizens and strangers residing within its limits, its
11 Dip. Cor., 1863, 536.
2 Dip. Cor., 1862, 305.