I don’t want to be the contrarian, but that’s the role called for here. Over the last few days, no doubt you have read a few articles which spotted the importance of the Second Battle of Fort Fisher along the lines of “Federal victory closed the last Confederate port.” As if on January 15, 1865, suddenly a perfect seal isolated the Confederacy from the rest of the world. But, I am here to say that is not on whole a true statement.
In full perspective, Wilmington was indeed was among the last ports open to the Confederacy. The nature of Cape Fear and its inlets made blockading duty very difficult. That, and other factors (such as the capture of Morris Island), made Wilmington the most important Confederate port from the middle of the war on. But it was not the only Confederate port at any time in the war. Nor was it the last port open to blockade runners.
Andy Hall will be quick to remind us that Galveston was still open for business right up to the end of the war. But, of course, Texas was a long way off from the Eastern Theater where the war’s last critical phases were playing out in January 1865. And there were several minor ports in Florida open to small levels of commerce in January 1865. Likewise, those were so far separated from Virginia and the Carolinas as to make their use supplying the Confederate war effort impractical.
But in South Carolina at least two ports of call remained options for blockade-runners willing to attempt passage – Georgetown and Charleston. One blockade-runner, the Caroline, made passage in and out of Georgetown in January 1865. But as that port lacked railroad connections, Georgetown was not to be a popular port of entry. But Charleston, which had seen a resurgence of blockade-running activity through the summer and fall of 1864, still required constant Federal vigilance. In Lifeline of the Confederacy, Stephen R. Wise lists the following blockade-runner activities (arrivals and departures) at Charleston for January and February 1865:
- January 2 – Syren from Charleston to Nassau
- January 2 – Fox from Charleston to Nassau
- January ? – Little Hattie from Nassau to Charleston
- January ? – Chicora from Charleston to Nassau
- January 18 – Fox from Nassau to Charleston
- January ? – Coquette from Nassau to Charleston
- January 23 – Syren from Nassau to Charleston
- January 26 – Syren from Charleston to Nassau
- January 24 – G.T. Watson from Nassau to Charleston
- February 2 – Fox from Charleston to Nassau
- February ? – Coquette from Charleston to Nassau
- February 4 – Druid from Charleston to Nassau
- February 7 – Little Hattie from Charleston to Nassau
- February 13 – Chicora from Charleston to Nassau
- February 16 – Chicora from Nassau to Charleston
- February 16 – Syren from Nassau to Charleston
- February 18 – G.T. Watson from Charleston to Nassau
I chose to list only the successful runs here. The runner Celt, for instance, was destroyed while trying to make her way out of harbor before the surrender of Charleston. Sharp readers will also notice this list is far from complete. We are missing at least one passage in for the blockade-runner Chicora (formerly the Let Her Be… oh, they should have kept that name). So at least seventeen blockade runner transits (in and out) through Charleston from January 2 through February 18.
But this is not to say Charleston was an easy port of call for the runners. With the fall of Fort Fisher, the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron received reinforcements. So the blockade was a bit tighter in some respects. But working against the blockade was the foul weather experienced through those months. Even with that, blockade running was still a profession for those who would take on the high risk for hope of large reward.
In the middle weeks of January 1865, classifieds in the Charleston Courier advertized vessels for sale:
If you were an entrepreneur with the ability in January 1865, would you consider these investments?