“It is impossible to calcuate the good… from the successful blockade-running vessels”: Instructions to Hardee

Lieutenant-General William Hardee arrived in Charleston during the first half of October to assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  His arrival meant a demotion for Major-General Samuel Jones.  But Jones did not go far, as he assumed command of the District of South Carolina from a new headquarters across the bay at Mount Pleasant.

For Hardee, the new post was a change of pace from his previous field commands, presenting unfamiliar subjects for his attention.  Among the first pieces of correspondence to cross Hardee’s new desk was a letter from Secretary of War James Seddon addressing one of those subjects –   blockade-running.   The secretary took the time to impress the importance of the runners, as a way of introducing some new policies from Richmond:

General: As the port of Charleston, through which a good deal of blockade-running has lately been done, is within the limits of the department to which you have been assigned, I inclose for your information a copy of the act of Congress imposing regulations upon the foreign commerce of the Confederate States, and annexed thereto a copy of the regulations established by the President under the said act.

The regulations put in place in February 1864 aimed to closely regulate the cotton trade and also ensure the war effort had the highest priority for cargo space.  No cotton left port without government approval.  Any vessel owned by a citizen of the Confederacy gave the government half its cargo space for transits (in or out) of the blockade.  And the government placed restrictions on non-essential items imported for civilian use.   By introducing these practices, even late in the war, the Confederacy gained considerable materials just at a time when Federal advances hit hardest upon domestic industries.

Having mentioned the regulations, Seddon introduced the agent in charge of administering the blockade-running activities and pressed the importance of optimizing the operations:

The administration of the regulations is in the hands of the collector of the port, jointly with Mr. J. D. Aiken, agent of the Department, and you will please afford them every facility in your power in the discharge of their functions. If they, or either of them, should at any time invoke your assistance to detain a vessel that may not in their or his estimation have complied with the requirements of these regulations, you will please give promptly such assistance. Nor will you ever detain a vessel except upon their request, unless, in your judgment, there be good military reasons therefor. Of this you alone must of course be the judge. It is impossible to calculate the good that has resulted to the armies of the Confederacy from the successful blockade-running vessels. The importations of blankets, shoes, arms, and supplies of every description, have been of the utmost service, and it is difficult to say how we should have done without the material aid thus rendered. The restriction of details and exemptions to a minimum must necessarily reduce the aggregate of domestic manufactured products; especially will the reduction be felt in the ordnance and quartermaster’s department of the army, and this new state of things must be met, if possible, by increased importations through the blockade. You will see how important, therefore, it is to encourage in every way under the law this trade of blockade-running.

Seddon continued with a suggestion for Hardee aimed to counteract the expected blow to fall at Wilmington:

It is sufficient, I feel assured, to thus call your earnest attention to the matter to secure your entire co-operation with me in supplying, as largely as possible, from abroad the wants of our armies. Charleston is at present the only port in your department through which any blockade-running is being done, but I have had my attention directed to Savannah, through Wassaw Inlet, and I would be glad to have you investigate the subject, as adverse reports were made by your predecessors; but the Messrs. Lamar, of Savannah, reiterate the practicability of that entrance, and it is so important in view of a possible early attack on Wilmington to open some other channel of communication with the islands adjacent to our Atlantic coast, that I would be glad to have you report on the soundness of the suggestion of the Messrs. Lamar. To a very limited extent, the ports of the Florida coast have been used.

Of course, we know that within a couple of months Savannah would not be a Confederate port.  Charleston, though not far behind, would remain an active port for the blockade-runners for a few months longer.  The objective set for the blockading fleet was slowly realized – not so much by the gunboats at the harbor entrance, but rather by the advance of Federal troops.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 638-9.)

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