Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Blockade Runners at the Houston Maritime Museum

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 11, 2015

On Tuesday evening I had the real privilege of speaking again at the Houston Maritime Museum. The museum is a small place, tucked away in the shadow of the Texas Medical Center — though actively working toward moving into new digs on the Ship Channel — but what they lack in size now they more than make up for in energy, spirit and dedication. They have one of the best model collections in the region, ranging from the earliest oared craft to modern offshore work vessels and container ships. It’s a real gem.

The museum generously included me on their 2015 lecture schedule, to speak on the subject of blockade running in Texas. The timing was about perfect, as February 1865 was one of the most eventful periods in that entire story. Lots of folks came out, and I got to meet some interesting people before and after the presentation. I even got to sign some books at the end. It was a long evening, but a memorable one.

My friend Mark Lardas was there, as well. Mark is an active supporter of the museum and an avid modeler, although I don’t know how he finds the time for those activities. Mark made one correction to my presentation, which was both appreciated and needed. In discussing an incident during the war in which both sides expended a lot of powder and shot to no observable effect, I said that in this corner of the conflict, both Union and Confederate gunnery was “uniformly lousy.” Mark pointed out that there was one important exception to that rule, that was Dick Dowling’s battery at Sabine Pass in September 1863. They were very effective artillerists indeed. How could I forget that example? Do’oh!

Anyway, my talk is in the video above. Have a good evening, y’all!






5 Responses

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  1. Bob Nelson said, on February 12, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Great presentation. Enjoyed it very much. Good humor, too. Like the fact that you simply talk to us instead of reading. You mentioned that the “Will O’ the Wisp” was originally thought to have been found off 70th Street in the 1980s. Any idea what that ship off 70th Street actually was? I’ve always pronounced Sabine Pass as “Say-b-eyene” (long I). You pronounce it “Sah-bean.” You’re from Texas, you should know. Doing a little reading on blockade runners (hardly my strong suit) I find there were only about 300 and they only made some 1,300 attempts to run the blockade. Although certainly a small group, it’s rather surprising more has not been written on them and their role in the CW.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm


      Thanks for taking time to comment, and the time to watch the video. I almost fell over when I finished and noticed a clock I hadn’t seen before that read 9:10. I figured I’d probably gone over my allotted time, but not by a full hour!

      We don’t know what the wreck off 70th street was. It was a private group that did most of the diving on it (under permit from the Historical Commission), but they never filed a site plan, detailed notes or a final report. There was press coverage at the time where they said, “we found so-and-so” or “we located that,” but there’s not much documentation of it. The site discovered after Hurricane Ike in 2008, though, is a very good match for what we know of Wisp, including matching the length of the main engine space. Feel very good about that revised ID.

      I have thought that that wreck off 70th Street might be Caroline/Carolina, which caught fire and burned while being chased running out of Galveston in 1864, but a friend of mine who’s done more research with the charts says that can’t be, it doesn’t match contemporary accounts. The mystery endures.

      Yes, we down here call it “suh-BEEN” Pass. I have no idea what the proper pronunciation is, but there are a lot of places like that that we mangle, like the towns of Palacios (“puh-LASH-us”) and Palestine (“PAL-us-steen”).

    • Andy Hall said, on February 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Oh, as for not a lot being written, there’s a ton of material available on blockade-running between Bermuda, Nassau, and places like Charleston and Wilmington. Much less in the Gulf of Mexico. But a lot of what’s out there is based heavily on memoirs and lore that’s not corroborated very well. I used lots of memoirs, too, but tried in my book to find corroboration and pin down dates as much as possible, to make something that’s useful as a reference as well as a bunch of exciting yarns.

  2. Bob Nelson said, on February 12, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Reading a bit more, I find that the “Syren” was the most successful blockade-runner having eluded the Federal blockade 30+ times. Second was the “Advance” with 20+ successful missions. Many only had one or two and a surprising number didn’t have a successful trip at all. The profits must have been astronomical else Trenholm would not have gotten the “Wren” so late in the war (1864).

    • Andy Hall said, on February 12, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      “with 20+ successful missions.”

      Remember those are one-way passes through the blockade, so two per successful round voyage. Denbigh (below) is sometimes listed as second-most successful, with 11 round voyages (in and out) during the war. I didn’t even talk about her (much) Tuesday night, even though that’s the runner I know most intimately.

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