Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14, 1863: "The blockade trade"

Pork belly, the cut of meat used to make bacon--once pork salted and cured, it would keep without refrigeration.
A surprisingly large amount of the supplies that ran the blockade into the Confederacy came from the North, and not from overseas. Even after the outbreak of war, a considerable amount of illicit and licit trade continued across the new border. Many so-called "blockade runners" were simply people with a wagon who knew the back roads well enough to slip across the lines undetected, carrying gold and cotton north and return with small but valuable cargos of medicine, salt, foodstuffs, and even some arms. In the Chesapeake Bay, the trade was carried on with small boats that slipped between Virginia and Maryland, which stayed in the Union but had many Southern sympathizers.

Another way that northern supplies found their way into the Confederacy was through the blockade running ports of Bermuda and Nassau. Speculators could afford to outbid U.S. Commissaries and buy up large quantities of bacon in the North. This bacon would then be shipped perfectly legally to Bermuda or Nassau where the speculators could then sell it to Confederate commissaries for four or more times what they had paid for it. By the end of the war, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was subsisting on shipments of "Bermuda Bacon"--which often became rancid during transport--run through the Blockade at Wilmington, North Carolina. Thus the South paid four times what the Union paid for bacon, a critical part of the Civil War soldier's daily ration.

On this day 150 years ago, the Daily Dispatch complained about how blockade running drained gold out of the Confederate economy.
The blockade trade.

The Sentinel, of yesterday, while congratulating itself upon the prohibition of the introduction of goods from the enemy's country within our military lines, states that "the powers of the Executive are not adequate to the correction of the evil of blockade running where it exists in its chief strength," viz.: by the sea going vessels arriving at our ports. It further says that "Congress has authorized trade with neutral countries, and it is not for the President to forbid it."

That the trade carried on directly through the border with the enemy, has been very demoralizing in its effects, and that it has been the means of transmission of much information detrimental to the South, there can be no doubt. The drain of gold to the enemy's country by that way has been considerable, and has been disadvantageous to us and beneficial to him. To stop this trade is a desideratum, and it is to be hoped that the Government will be successful in its effort for that purpose. It has a strong cooperation in the increased perils of the enterprise; for as the trade was lawless, and those who pursued it sought hidden routes and did much of their business in the obscurity of night, they have become the game of another class, whose calling is favored by like circumstances. One of the blockade runners is known to have been murdered and robbed, and the route has become infested with the land sharks, who think they have immunity in preying upon the contraband fish who pursue it.

It is true, indeed, that the main trade from without is through the blockade-running ships. Nevertheless, a smart traffic was carried on through our frontier lines. The checking of the latter will only stimulate to some extent the former; and little can be accomplished in the effort to exclude Yankee goods from the Confederacy until the laws are so amended as to take effect upon the contraband commerce of the ocean.

It is well known that the great bulk of the goods entered at Charleston and elsewhere are from Yankee land. There is no mistaking them. Everybody knows them. As cotton or gold has been paid for these goods, a large drain has been kept up upon our resources for the benefit of Yankee industry and capital.--The enemy has been strengthened and we weakened by it.

The question will be whether the introduction of the fabrics of the enemy, whom we hate and with whom we desire to have nothing to do, can be excluded as long as we have any foreign trade whatever? Is there any mode by which they are certainly to be known and effectually interdicted? It is hard to say. They will resort to every expedient of change and imitation necessary to evade law and elude vigilance. If they cannot be shut out without shutting out all commerce, or at least confining the foreign trade to Government vessels, the next question is can either or both these latter expedients be put in operation? They are questions of difficulty, and will exercise the wisdom of Congress not a little.

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