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.



“This is rather an onerous position in the company”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 30, 2010

William Watson (b. 1826) was a Scotsman, a Clydesider, who emigrated to the West Indies in 1845 and worked there as an engineer and sometimes-ship-captain. About 1850 he emigrated again to Louisiana, where he worked as an engineer and eventually became part-owner in a sawmill and wood business, with additional business interests in selling coal and steamboat operations. Watson was opposed to the secession of the Southern states, but as a member of the local militia unit in Baton Rouge, he enlisted in the Confederate Army for a one-year term with his company, the Pelican Rifles, which eventually became Company K, 3rd Louisiana Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. At the end of his one-year enlistment, he had the opportunity to accept a commission as an officer, but declined as it would require him to renounce his British citizenship. He was discharged in July 1862 but, upon discovering he had lost all his property with the Union occupation of Baton Rouge, he went back to revisit his regiment in the field and got caught up in the  Battle of Corinth. In that action he was hit in the leg by a spent round, a wound that, he later said, “although painful, was not dangerous, if I could get timely relief.” After the Confederates fell back, he was picked up on the field by Federal medical personnel, treated at a field hospital, and soon paroled through the efforts of a fellow Scot on General Rosecrans’ staff.

More than twenty years later, Watson wrote two extensive, detailed first-person accounts of his wartime activities, Life in the Confederate Army; Being the Observations and Experiences of an Alien in the South During the American Civil War, and The Civil War Adventures of a Blockade Runner. Here, in the first book, Watson describes his appointment as orderly sergeant of the Pelican Rifles, and the duties that went with the post.

The standard complement of officers and non-commissioned officers for a company of infantry was: one captain, two lieutenants, one orderly-sergeant, four duty-sergeants, and four corporals. It had always been the rule among volunteer companies for the members of the company to elect their officers, but now by the” army regulations” it was pointed out, that although the members of the company might still elect their officers, yet no appointment would be continued unless the candidate passed an examination, and was found duly qualified and approved of by the brigade commander. This, however, did not apply to officers who held their appointments before the company was mustered into service.

It so happened that our orderly sergeant was the son of the captain, and as the latter carried on an extensive business, it was necessary that he should remain at home to attend to the business; he therefore had not volunteered, but he had continued to act, and had accompanied the company thus far, but as now about to take his leave and return home. The office of orderly-sergeant was therefore vacant. In the American service this is rather an onerous position in the company, and I who was then third-duty-sergeant was selected for the post, and was examined for competency before a board of officers. I passed satisfactorily, but in the course of the examination it came out that I was an alien, and not a citizen. This was against me, but after some consultation it was considered that as the office was not commissioned I might pass, and the appointment was approved. I was, however, given to understand, that I could attain no higher position, and could not hold a commission until I became a citizen; and they advised me to get the preliminaries done at once, as it would take some time to consummate it, unless a special dispensation of the rules was granted.

They then handed me a copy of the “army regulations” for my guidance as orderly-sergeant, and specially directed my attention to a clause which read thus: “No foreigner shall hold any office under the United States Government, either by commission or otherwise, unless he be a citizen of the United States;” the same regulations being adapted for the Confederate States, with the simple alteration of the word “United” being obliterated, and the word “Confederate” substituted.

I had already determined that I would never forswear or renounce my allegiance to Queen Victoria, to become a citizen or subject of any foreign power, nor would a commission in the Confederate service now tempt me. I had volunteered my services for one year, and that I would fulfill as far as lay in my power. I will now give a slight description of the duties of an orderly-sergeant as it was in the United States service at that time.

He held the rank of sergeant-major,* his pay was equal to one-and-a-half that of the first duty-sergeant. He was the general executive officer of the company. He was secretary of the company, and was allowed a clerk. He went on no special detachments, or guard duty, except in cases of emergency. He kept the roll-book, and all other books, papers or accounts of the company. He was accountable for the men present or absent. He returned every morning to the adjutant a report of the state and effective force of his company.

He made out all requisitions for rations, ammunition, arms, or camp equipage, and all other requirements. He had charge of all the company property, and reported on its condition. He inspected the tents and company camp ground, and saw that it was properly formed and ditched, and inspected the sanitary arrangements. His signature must be the first, and followed by that of the captain, on all company requisitions and reports. He called the roll at reveille, and noted absentees and delinquents, punished for slight offences, and reported more serious offences. He gave certificates to men who wished to apply for leave of absence. He detailed all men for guard, and detachments for special service, and appointed police guards for the day. He reported the sick to the surgeon, and saw them attended to. He marched up to the colour line, and handed over to the adjutant all details for special service and guard duty. He drilled all squads, and the company in absence of the commissioned officers. He took his place on the right of the company, and acted as guide. He went to the front and centre at parade and heard the orders read. When in front of the enemy, he was generally informed privately of the programme, and of the movements to be made. While the duty sergeants were designated by their respective names as Sergeant T. or Sergeant H., he was designated as the Sergeant, and was regarded as the ruling power of the company when on active service. With all these duties to perform, it may be imagined that I had sufficient to keep me from repining.


* Watson’s service record confirms that his rank was first sergeant, and his pay as $20 per month.

At the Seige of Vicksburg, They Were Forced to Eat Haggis

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 27, 2010

As a Southerner of Scots descent, and a descendant of Confederate veterans, and the descendant of a Confederate veteran of Scots descent, I speak from authority in saying that this is the most ridiculous development in celebrating Confederate heritage since, maybe, forever. This is definitive proof that nothing, nothing, is so ill-conceived that it cannot be successfully marketed as a means of “honoring” the Confederacy.

Does it come in butternut?

The whole point of a kilt is to identify with one’s clan — that’s clan with a C, for my League of the South visitors — and if you can’t trace your lineage back to a specific clan, you don’t effing wear a tartan. You don’t show respect for your ethnic heritage by faking it. Or at least, have the initiative to create your own from scratch. The latter option doesn’t carry any historical authority, but at least it’s yours.

It is true that at least one Civil War regiment marched off to war in tartan, the 79th New York Highlanders, a prewar militia unit composed mainly of Scots immigrants. But even they dropped the fancy duds after a few months. My intent here isn’t to mock anyone’s heritage — to restate, this is a dual heritage I happen to share — but dropping a bunch of money on a “Confederate Memorial Tartan” does credit to neither one’s Confederate nor Scots forebears. It’s not based on any actual historical example I can see; it’s playing dress-up, and so has more in common with those green, plastic bowler hats that street vendors sell on St. Patrick’s Day than it does with anything that happened in the 1860s.

Celebrate your Scottish heritage, people. Celebrate your Confederate relatives, if you feel you need to. But for the love of all things Caledonian, don’t just make stuff up and pretend it’s historical.

Update: Corey already covered this, last summer. As Harry Truman said, “the only thing new in the world is the blogs you haven’t read.”