Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Blockade Running “Headquarters” Discovered in Scotland

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 25, 2014
An Appledore Sub Aqua Club diver over the forward boilers of the blockade runner Iona 2. Photo by James Wright, via The Independent.


Via Civil War Talk user Daywalker, researchers in Scotland have identified what they view as the central “headquarters” of Civil War blockade running:


Investigations by a leading Scottish maritime historian have succeeded, for the first time, in locating the main secret British headquarters of the American Civil War Confederate government’s transatlantic gun-running operation.
Other research, carried out over the past decade, has revealed the extraordinary extent to which substantial sections of Britain’s business elite were working with impunity to help the slave-owning southern states win the Civil War – despite the fact that Britain was officially neutral  and had outlawed slavery almost 30 years earlier. . . .
In total some 200 vessels were purpose-built or upgraded on Clydeside, in Liverpool or in London for the Confederate states – and hundreds of thousands of guns (including heavy artillery) were manufactured in Birmingham, Newcastle and near London for the Confederate Army.
The entirely illegal, but tacitly British-Government-approved pro-Confederate gun-running operation is thought to have lengthened the American Civil War by up to two years – and to have therefore cost as many as 400,000 American lives.
“The identification of the Confederacy’s main secret gun-running headquarters should serve to highlight the role played by key elements of the British business elite in helping the slave-owning states in the American Civil War,” said maritime historian Dr Eric Graham of Edinburgh University.
“The clandestine headquarters was established just 32 miles by railway from Clydeside because it was the big shipbuilding magnates there who were being contracted to build or upgrade more than half of the two hundred vessels supplied to the Confederacy by UK shipyards.”
“It demonstrates that Britain’s neutrality was, in reality, a complete sham,” said Dr Graham, the author of a major book on the Civil War gun-runners, Clyde Built: The Blockade Runners of the American Civil War.


My own view is that Graham — whose book Clyde Built is outstanding — is overstating a bit both the role of the site in Bridge of Allan and the effect of blockade running on the prolongation of the war itself. The researchers do seem to have zeroed in on the center of blockade-running interests’ ship acquisition activities, but once selected vessels left the Clyde the site’s role must have been largely done. Blockade running was necessarily a decentralized business with lots of different players competing against each other, with the capital concentrated in and around Liverpool and (to a lesser degree) London. It was not a military operation with a central command; merchants operated through their agents and representatives in Halifax, Bermuda, Nassau and Havana. The story also focuses solely on the importation of munitions (“gun-running,” ugh), when a probably half or more of the cargoes carried by runners into the Confederacy were civilian goods, destined for private sale to the highest bidder.

Still, Graham and his colleagues are helping to fill in the blanks of the blockade-running story, and that’s all to the good. Be sure to click through and check out the images of the wreck of Iona 2 — quite spectacular, and very representative of runners like those that operated in the Gulf of Mexico, including Will o’ the Wisp, Banshee (II) and Owl.




11 Responses

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  1. Mac Whatley said, on June 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Clyde-Built is indeed the best resource for the history of blockade runner construction in Scotland, mainly because Graham made use of local primary source records which had never before been adequately examined. Unfortunately, the citations back to these primary source materials lack A LOT. It’s as if Graham intended this to be nothing more than a very readable popular work, and glossed over all those pesky references. Some of the information he found is available in no other published form, but it is impossible to trace it back to the actual document in whichever archive housed the information provided in the footnotes. It is maddening to try to track down facts and correspondence he cites- so hard it’s like having to go back and do all the research over again. A scholarly work of history is not supposed to be so reluctant to share its sources.

  2. H. E. Parmer said, on June 25, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Doesn‘t look like Iona was a very lucky name for a blockade runner. Maybe the third time would have been the charm.

    But many Tories and much of the business sector were actively pro-Confederate, as there were considerable fortunes to be made from supplying guns, uniforms, medicines, textiles and even food to the South.

    Some things never change. Not when there`s major bucks to be made from an unsavory customer. “Perfidious Albion” indeed.

    • Andy Hall said, on June 25, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      A friend in the UK who specializes in this period told me that more Confederate flags flew from building in Liverpool than any city except Richmond. I can believe it.

  3. Tim Collins said, on June 26, 2014 at 3:04 am

    BBC Scotland produced a four-part series entitled ‘Clydebuilt: the ship that built the Empire’, which has just been broadcast on BBC4. Programme three was devoted to blockade runners, specifically the Robert E. Lee, and gives a succinct, highly visual, overview of the subject. Worth looking at, if one has access to BBC Player.

  4. Colin MacDonald said, on June 26, 2014 at 3:44 am

    The Iona 1 sank just off the coast of my town here in the West of Scotland. The hull still exists under the water. The rough location is here:

  5. Foxessa said, on June 26, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Yes, indeed. As looked at here, and here, in part 2.

    Love, C.

  6. Woodrowfan said, on June 26, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    thanks Andy, I am such a sucker for photos of underwater wrecks!

  7. Christopher Coleman said, on June 27, 2014 at 11:28 am

    The book sounds interesting and while the author may have overstated the role of the Clyde, the pro-Southern bias of the British Establishment of the time certainly is not. In the nineteenth century, as in the eighteenth, English covert operations were a decentralized affair and often conducted through private entities. After the end of the Revolution, for example, British agents operating out of Canada and Florida continued to undermine the early Republic for a number of years. Then, as during the Civil War, His Majesty’s government was always careful to maintain “plausible deniability.”

    About the only pro-Union, pro-Lincoln voice in England during the Civil War was an earnest émigré journalist who was fond of pointing out the English political establishment’s lies and hypocrisy–correspondent for the NY Tribune, Karl Marx.

    • Andy Hall said, on June 27, 2014 at 11:34 am

      The supposed Lincoln-Marx connection gets a lot of attention from the True Southron crowd. It’s true enough that Marx was pro-Lincoln, but I have yet to see any real evidence that Lincoln was pro-Marx, or had more than a vague awareness of who he was.

  8. macwhatley said, on June 30, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Interesting art inspired by Iona II archeology-

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