Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Blockade Running “Headquarters” Discovered in Scotland

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 25, 2014
IOna2
An Appledore Sub Aqua Club diver over the forward boilers of the blockade runner Iona 2. Photo by James Wright, via The Independent.

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

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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.

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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.

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