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.



U.S.S. Monitor Turret Revealed

Posted in Education, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on August 12, 2011

Via Michael Lynch at Past in the Present, there are about three weeks left to see the 120-ton turret of the Union ironclad Monitor, currently undergoing restoration at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.The turret, recovered from the sea floor off Cape Hatteras in 2002, has been kept in a flooded tank of fresh water almost the entire time since then, allowing the salts that have penetrated the iron to gradually leach out. After a thorough cleaning, the turret will be flooded again, to to continue desalinization, a lengthy process that may take up to 15 more years. Even with the tank drained, it’s slow, painstaking work:

[Gary] Paden is an objects handler working in the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum. He was gently nudging, hour after painstaking hour, a wrought-iron stanchion from the 9-foot-tall revolving gun turret that once sat atop the Civil War ironclad.

The stanchions rimmed the roof of the Monitor and held up a canvas awning to shelter the crew from the broiling sun. The stanchions needed to be removed so they could be separately treated for conservation.

Last week Paden strived to remove one of those stanchions from its bracket using a hydraulic jack. “I spent seven hours on it yesterday,” Paden said. “So far it’s been the most difficult one.”

Several other workers came in closer to watch, including Dave Krop, manager of the Monitor conservation project.

Paden said most of the tools used in restoring the various components of the Monitor brought up from the ocean’s floor were improvised. The hydraulic jack is an auto body tool used to fix dents.

He pressed the jack into the point where the stanchion met the bracket. A moment later, the stanchion fell from its 149-year-old position.

“Wow,” Krop said. “You got it off. Pretty awesome! That’s pretty awesome!”

Several handlers nearby paused from their snail’s-pace labors to savor the moment, beaming in Paden’s direction.

A few years ago I visited Mariners while doing research on another vessel and, after talking to one of the conservators there about my own project, was offered the chance to take a brief tour of the lab where they were working on Monitor artifacts. (That says less about me than it does about how much they wanted to show off the work they were doing there, and rightly so.) I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but they showed me a first a life-sized color photograph of an encrusted dial from the engine room — a steam gauge, I think — and then, with a well-practiced flourish, pulled back a cloth covering the same artifact, now almost pristine, looking as new as the day the ship sailed over 140 years before. Folks like Gary Paden and Dave Krop don’t get a lot of attention, because their work is all behind-the-scenes, but it’s important to recognize what they do, that benefits every history buff and museum-goer.

Moment of nerd: the dents made to the exterior of Monitor‘s turret by the guns of C.S.S. Virginia are still visible, 149 years later, on the interior of the upside-down turret. Additional damage to the deck edge is visible at lower right.

More video via the New York Times here. The tank containing Monitor‘s turret will be drained during the week during the rest of August. I hope some of y’all can make the trip. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed. For the rest of us, there’s always the webcam.

Added: Three additional images showing the interior of the turret, all from Miller’s book (top to bottom): Contemporary illustration from Harper’s Weekly; original drawing from Ericsson’s plan; and a modern cutaway illustration by the great Alan B. Chesley.

Top color photo: “Dave Krop, who manages the Monitor conservation project, works inside the inverted turret at the Mariner’s Museum. Visitors can watch the work from viewing platforms or online.” Credit: Steve Earley, the Virginian-Pilot. Archival photo: Library of Congress. Bottom photo: Diorama of interior of Monitor‘s turret in action by Sheperd Paine, from U.S.S. Monitor: The Ship that Launched a Modern Navy by Lt. Edward M. Miller, USN.