The Union Blockade Essay Research Paper THE

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The Union Blockade Essay, Research Paper THE HAPLESS ANACONDA: UNION BLOCKADE 1861-1865 With the fall of Fort Sumter on the 13th of April, 1861, America entered the most costly and grueling war it has ever experienced. The Union’s original military strategy was designed by the aging General Winfield Scott, who recognized that naval strategy could play a crucial role and that instead of being able to strike down the Confederacy with a quick lethal blow, it was more likely to be a long and grinding war. In his Anaconda plan, he proposed a naval blockade of the Confederate ports to isolate the Confederacy and choke its economy and supply lines. This plan was followed when Lincoln proclaimed the naval blockade on April 19, 1861. While some historians claim the blockade was one

of the major causes of the collapse of the Confederacy, others contend that it was hopelessly ineffective. Overall, in terms of closing off ports, capturing ships, and stopping supply lines, the blockade was ineffective. The very concept of closing off shipping on a 3,600 mile coast studded with inlets and inner channels with a numerically insignificant navy was a highly unrealistic goal and the Union could not accomplish it. For the first few years, there was virtually no blockade, and the blockade runners entered and cleared Southern ports with minimal risks. Only very late in the war was it actually more effectively enforced, but by that time the war had basically been decided. Blockade-running was an extremely profitable trade and lured many enterprising businessmen and ship

captains. The Confederacy got most of its military supplies through the blockade. The failure of the Confederacy to supply its armies should not be credited to the Union blockade, but to other factors that did not allow the Confederacy to take full advantage of its blockade-runners. When the blockade was proclaimed, the U.S. Navy was virtually nonexistent. The Navy had a grand total of 90 vessels, 42 of them commissioned for active service, and only 24 of them steamers. By the end of 1861, 79 steamers had been purchased along with 58 sailing boats (which were worthless unless the blockade-runners were also sailing ships). The blockading force, although it had grown quickly, was still grossly inadequate. Only 160 vessels patrolled the blockade and only a small proportion of them

were capable naval vessels.[1] According to Professor Frank Owsley, author of King Cotton Diplomacy, this fleet was so poor that “Had the ‘Merrimac’ got loose among these boats, it could have sunk every one ad libitum [sic].”[2] Northeastern newspapers of the time harshly criticized the blockade: the New York Herald called Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, a moron, the New York Tribune published its view that the blockade was a “laughing stock,” and the Philadelphia Enquirer stated that there was “no blockade at all.”[3] Most Northern papers can be trusted on this subject because they had special correspondents at blockade-running bases. The effectiveness of the blockade was actually more than just a military and economic matter; it had legal and

political implications as well. In the Declaration of Paris in 1856, international law stated that a blockade had to be: formally proclaimed, promptly established, enforced, and, most importantly, effective, to be legal and thus be respected abroad. On August 20, 1861, Confederate agents John Slidell and James Mason, after the Trent affair, tried to convince Europe that it was a paper blockade by showing figures that up to then more than 400 vessels had run the blockade. At the end of the year, James Mason tried again, and together with William Lindsay, a prominent British shipbuilder and Member of Parliament, presented figures that in 1861, 500 to 700 vessels had run the blockade.[4] However, Lord John Russell, the British foreign secretary, recognized the blockade as legal in