What Caused The American Blockade

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 4:56:33 PM

What Caused The American Blockade



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The inception of the blockade was somewhat irregular. Ordinarily a blockade may begin in one of two ways; either by a public announcement coupled with the presence of a force before the blockaded port; or by stationing the force without an announcement. The first is a blockade by notification; the second is a blockade in fact. As breach of blockade only becomes an offence when accompanied by knowledge, actual or constructive, of the existence of the blockade, it is a question of some importance when the blockade begins and how knowledge of it is to be acquired.

In a blockade by notification, knowledge is held to have been acquired when sufficient time has elapsed for the notice to have been generally received; and after this time a neutral vessel, by sailing for the blockaded port, has committed an offence and incurred a penalty. With a blockade that is purely de facto , on the other hand, knowledge must be obtained on the station, and neutrals have a right to sail for the port and to be warned off on their arrival.

Whether a blockade is initiated as a blockade by notification or as a blockade de facto, the indispensable condition of its establishment is the presence of a force at the blockaded port. Actual notice of the fact can never precede the existence of the fact. The President's two proclamations did not therefore constitute actual notice, because at the date of their issue there was not even a pretense that the blockade existed. Nor do they appear to have been so intended. The idea was rather to publish a manifesto declaring in a general way the intentions of the Government, and then to carry them out as promptly as circumstances would permit. The blockade therefore began as a blockade de facto, not as a blockade by notification. During the summer of vessels were stationed at different points, one after another, by which the blockade at those points was separately established.

Notices, of a more or less informal character, were given in some cases by the commanding officer of the blockading force; but no general practice was observed. When Captain Poor, in the Brooklyn , took his station off the Mississippi, he merely informed the officer commanding the forts that New Orleans was blockaded. Pendergrast, the commanding officer at Hampton Roads, issued a formal document on April 30, calling attention to the President's proclamation in relation to Virginia and North Carolina, and giving notice that he had a sufficient force there for the purpose of carrying out the proclamation.

He added that vessels coming from a distance, and ignorant of the proclamation, would be warned off. But Pendergrast's announcement, though intended as a notification, was marked by the same defects as the proclamation. The actual blockade and the notice of it must always be commensurate. At this time, there were several vessels in Hampton Roads, but absolutely no force on the coast of North Carolina; and the declaration was open to the charge of stating what was not an existing fact. The importance of these early formalities arises from the fact that the liability of neutral vessels depends on the actual existence of the blockade, and upon their knowledge of it.

Until the establishment of the blockade is known, actually or constructively, all vessels have a right to be warned off: When the fact has become notorious, the privilege of warning ceases. In the statement about warning, therefore, the President's proclamation said either too much or too little. If it was intended, as the language might seem to imply, that during the continuance of the blockade--which, as it turned out, was the same thing as during the continuance of the war--all neutral vessels might approach the coast and receive individual warning, and that only after such warning would they be liable to capture, it conceded far more than usage required. If it meant simply that the warning would be given at each point for such time after the force was posted as would enable neutrals generally to become aware of the fact, it conveyed its meaning imperfectly.

In practice, the second interpretation was adopted, in spite of the remonstrance's of neutrals; and the warnings given in the early days of the blockade were gradually discontinued, the concessions of the proclamation to the contrary notwithstanding. The time when warning should cease does not appear to have been fixed; and in one instance at least, on the coast of Texas, it was given as late as July, The fact of warning was commonly endorsed on the neutral's register. In some cases the warnings had the same fault as Pendergrast's proclamation, in being a little too comprehensive, and including ports where an adequate force had not yet been stationed. The boarding officers of the Niagara , when off Charleston, in May, warned vessels off the whole Southern coast, as being in a state of blockade, though no ship-of-war had as yet appeared off Savannah; and the Government paid a round sum to their owners in damages for the loss of a market, which was caused by the official warning.

The concession of warning to neutrals at the port, if it had continued through the war, would have rendered the blockade to a great extent inoperative. Vessels would have been able to approach the coast without risk of capture, and to have lain about the neighborhood until a good opportunity offered for running past the squadron. In other words, the first risk of the blockade-runner would have been a risk of warning, instead of a risk of capture; and the chances in his favor would have been materially increased.

The courts, as well as the cruisers, disregarded the proclamation as soon as the blockade was fairly established, and held, in accordance with English and American precedents, that warning was unnecessary where actual knowledge could be proved. It is probable that when the blockade was proclaimed it was thought that the measure could be adequately carried out by stationing a small squadron at the principal commercial ports, supplemented by a force of vessels cruising up and down the coast.

The number of points to be covered would thus be reduced to four or five on the Atlantic and as many more on the Gulf. Had this expectation been realized, the blockade would have been by no means the stupendous undertaking that it seemed to observers abroad. Acting upon such a belief, the Government entered upon its task with confidence and proceeded with dispatch. The Niagara , which had returned from Japan on April 24, was sent to cruise off Charleston. The Brooklyn and Powhatan moved westward along the Gulf. Before the 1st of May, seven steamers of considerable size had been chartered in New York and Philadelphia.

One of these, the Keystone State , chartered by Lieutenant Woodhull, and intended especially for use at Norfolk, was at her station in Hampton Roads in forty-eight hours after Woodhull had received his orders in Washington to secure a vessel. The screw-steamer South Carolina , of eleven hundred and sixty-five tons, purchased in Boston on May 3, arrived off Pensacola on June 4; and the Massachusetts , a similar vessel in all respects, and bought at the same time, was equally prompt in reaching Key West. Notwithstanding these efforts, the blockade can hardly be said to have been in existence until six weeks after it was declared, and then only at the principal points. When the Niagara arrived off Charleston on the 11th of May, she remained only four days; and except for the fact that the Harriet Lane was off the bar on the 19th, there was no blockade whatever at that point for a fortnight afterward.

The British Government called attention to this fact, and suggested that a new blockade required a new notification, with the usual allowance of time for the departure of vessels; but the State Department did not regard the blockade as having been interrupted. Savannah was blockaded on the 28th of May. At the principal points, therefore, there was no blockade at all during the first month, and after that time the chain of investment was far from being complete. Indeed it could hardly be called a chain at all, when so many links were wanting. Even Wilmington, which later became the most important point on the coast in the operations of the blockade-runners, was still open, and the intermediate points were not under any effective observation.

As liability for breach of blockade begins with the mere act of sailing for the blockaded port, the distance of this port from the point of departure becomes an important consideration to the blockade-runner. The longer the distance to be traversed the greater the risk; and some method of breaking the voyage must be devised, so that as much of it as possible may be technically innocent. The principal trade of the South during the war was with England; and it became an object to evade liability during the long transatlantic passage. For this purpose, all the available neutral ports in the neighborhood of the coast were made entrepots for covering the illegal traffic. There were four principal points which served as intermediaries for the neutral trade with the South; Bermuda, Nassau, Havana, and Matamoras.

Of these Nassau was the most prominent. Situated on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, it is only about one hundred and eighty miles in a straight line from the coast of Florida. Florida, however, was not the objective point of the leading blockade-runners. It had neither suitable harbors nor connections with the interior. The chief seats of commerce on the Eastern coast were Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington. The run to these points from Nassau was from five hundred to six hundred miles, or three days, allowing for the usual delays of the passage. For such trips, small quantities of coal were needed, which gave great room for stowage of cargo.

There was no great depth of water at Nassau, which was an advantage to the blockade-runners; and the cruisers generally took their station off Abaco Light, fifty miles away. New Providence was surrounded by numbers of small islands, over whose waters, within a league of the shore, the sovereignty of a great power threw a protection as complete and as effective as that of guns and fortifications. A vessel bound to Nassau from one of the blockaded ports must have been hard-pressed indeed if she could not find a refuge. The navigation among the islands was dangerous and difficult, the channels were intricate, and reefs and shoals abounded; but skilful pilots were always at the command of the blockade-runners.

Nassau was a place of no special importance before the war. Its inhabitants lived chiefly by fishing and wrecking. But with the demands of the moment, it suddenly became a commercial emporium. Its harbor was crowded with shipping. Its wharves were covered with cotton-bales awaiting transportation to Europe, and with merchandise ready to be shipped for the blockaded country.

Confederate agents were established here, and took charge of the interests of their Government in connection with the contraband trade. Money quickly earned was freely spent, and the war, at least while it lasted, enriched the community. Bermuda shared, though in a less degree, the profits of the blockade-running traffic. Its connection was closest with Wilmington, which was six hundred and seventy-four miles distant, and which was the favorite port of the block-sale-runners, especially in the last year of the war. In the Gulf, Havana had a similar importance.

The run to the coast of Florida was only a little over one hundred miles. But Key West was inconveniently near, the Gulf blockade was strict, and after New Orleans was captured, the trade offered no such inducements as that on the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless it is stated by Admiral Bailey, on the authority of intercepted correspondence of the enemy, that between April 1 and July 6, , fifty vessels left Havana to run the blockade. The situation of Matamoras was somewhat peculiar. It was the only town of any importance on the single foreign frontier of the Confederacy. Situated opposite the Texan town of Brownsville, on the Rio Grande, about forty miles from its mouth, and in neutral territory, it offered peculiar advantages for contraband trade.

The Rio Grande could not be blockaded. Cargoes shipped for Matamoras were transferred to lighters at the mouth of the river. On their arrival at Matamoras they were readily transported to the insurgent territory. Accordingly, in , the place became the seat of a flourishing trade. The sudden growth of the city was a notorious fact, as was also the cause that led to it.

Yet the Government was unable to put a stop to the traffic, unless evidence could be brought to show that the cargoes were really destined for the enemy. Several vessels bound for Matamoras were captured and sent in, but in most of the cases the prize court decreed restitution, on the ground that a neutral port could not be blockaded, and therefore there could be no breach of blockade in sailing for it.

Even in the case of the Peterhoff , which was captured near St. Thomas under suspicious circumstances, and whose papers showed Matamoras as her destination, only the contraband part of the cargo was condemned. When the advantage of a neutral destination was fully understood, it became the practice for all the blockade-runners out of European ports to clear for one or the other of these points, and upon their arrival to wait for a favorable opportunity to run over to their real destination. Nobody, could be deceived by this pretense of an innocent voyage; and the courts, looking only at the final destination, condemned the vessels when there was evidence of an ultimate intention to break the blockade.

This decision rested upon an old principle of the English prize-courts, known as the doctrine of continuous voyages, according to which the mere touching at an intermediate port of a vessel engaged in an illegal voyage could not break the continuity of the voyage or remove the taint of illegality. Hence, if a vessel cleared from Liverpool with the intention of merely touching at Nassau, and then proceeding to Charleston, and if this intention could be proved from the papers, the character of the cargo, and the examination of persons on board, the two voyages were held to be one, and condemnation followed. In order to meet the new difficulty, a new device was adopted.

Cargoes were sent out to Nassau, and were there transshipped, sometimes directly, from vessel to vessel, in the harbor, sometimes after being landed on the wharf; and thence were transported in a new conveyance to the blockaded port. Return cargoes were transshipped in the same way. This had a double advantage. It made the continuity of the transaction much more difficult of proof, and it enabled the capitalists engaged in the trade to employ two different classes of vessels, for the service for which each was specially adapted.

For the long voyages across the Atlantic heavy freighters could be used, of great capacity and stoutly built; and the light, swift, hardly visible steamers, with low hulls, and twin-screws or feathering paddles, the typical blockade-runners, could be employed exclusively for the three days' run on the other side of Nassau or Bermuda. But here again the courts stepped in, and held that though a transshipment was made, even after landing the cargo and going through a form of sale, the two voyages were parts of one and the same transaction, and the cargo from the outset was liable to condemnation, if the original intention had been to forward the goods to a blockaded port.

Nor did the decisions stop here. As all the property, both ship and cargo, is confiscated upon proof of breach of blockade, it was held that the ships carrying on this traffic to neutral ports were confiscable, provided the ultimate destination of the cargo to a blockaded port was known to the owner. In the words of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, "The ships are planks of the same bridge, all of the same kind, and necessary for the convenient passage of persons and property from one end to the other. The adoption of this rule by the highest courts in the United States raised a loud outcry on the part of those interested in the traffic, and was severely criticized by many abroad, especially by those who favored, in general, the continental view of the laws of war.

The United States were accused of sacrificing the rights of neutrals, which they had hitherto upheld, to the interests of belligerents, and of disregarding great principles for the sake of a momentary advantage. In truth, however, the principle adopted by the court was not a new one, though a novel application was made of it to meet a novel combination of circumstances. It had formerly been applied to cases where neutrals, engaged in illegal trade between two ports of a belligerent, had endeavored to screen the illegality of the voyage by the interposition of a neutral port, with or without the landing of goods and the employment of a new conveyance, in these eases Lord Stowell held that the continuity of the voyage was not broken, unless the cargo was really imported into the common stock of the neutral country.

That the principle had not been applied to blockades was due to the fact that circumstances had never called for it, as the practice of breaking a blockade had never before been carried out on such a scale, with such perfect appliances, and by the use of such ingenious devices. An academic study done in put the death toll at , Both the German Empire and the United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed their population and supply their war industry. Imports of foodstuffs and war material of all European belligerents came primarily from the Americas and had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, so Britain and Germany both aimed to blockade each other.

The British had the Royal Navy, which was superior in numbers and could operate throughout the British Empire, while the German Kaiserliche Marine surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere. The British—with their overwhelming sea power—established a naval blockade of Germany immediately on the outbreak of war in August , issuing a comprehensive list of contraband that all but prohibited American trade with the Central powers. In early November they declared the North Sea a war zone, with any ships entering at their own risk. The first official accounts of the blockade, written by Professor A. Edmonds, differed in their accounts of its effects upon German food supplies.

Edmonds, supported by Colonel Irwin L. Hunt who was in charge of civil affairs in the American occupied zone of the Rhineland , held that food shortages were a post-armistice phenomenon caused solely by the disruptions of the German Revolution of — German success against the Russians on the Eastern Front culminating in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave Germany access to the resources of Poland and other eastern territories, which did much to counter the effects of the blockade. The armistice on November 11 was forced by events on the Western Front rather than any actions of the civilian population. Apart from leading to shortages in vital raw materials such as coal and metals, the blockade also deprived Germany of supplies of fertilizer that were vital to agriculture.

The food shortages caused looting and riots not only in Germany, but also in Vienna and Budapest. Austria-Hungary even hijacked ships on the Danube that were meant to deliver food to Germany. The German government made strong attempts to counter the effects of the blockade; the Hindenburg Programme of German economic mobilization launched in August was designed to raise productivity by the compulsory employment of all men between the ages of 17 and All these schemes enjoyed only limited success, and the average daily diet of 1, calories was insufficient to maintain a good standard of health, resulting by in widespread disorders caused by malnutrition such as scurvy, tuberculosis, and dysentery.

The blockade also had a detrimental effect on the U. Under pressure especially from commercial interests wishing to profit from wartime trade with both sides, the U. Britain did not wish to antagonize the U.

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