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Blockade Runners Hide Themselves from Union Pickets

During the first year of the war blockade runners were 90% assured of making it through the the Union blockade, in and out. The owners of the runners reaped large benefits and could pay for a boat in one or two trips. But as the war progressed it became harder and harder to get through. Runners disguised themselves with camouflage and other techniques.

Blockade runners were built long and narrow to increase the speed with a shallow draft to cross the protective barrier reafs near the port. Most were sidewheel steamers but some later vessels had single and double propellers. They preferred to run in or out on moonless nights. They burned anthracite coal during the run because it produced low smoke and more revolutions than the bituminous supplies that were readily available in the South. Supplies of anthracite coal were found and located to support the trade and some was brought in by other blackade runners. Anthracite coal was mined in England, Russia and in Pennsylvania during the Civil War and was frequently smuggled into the Confederacy for metallurgical demands. Standard grade coal was burned once they were passed the barrier to conserve the valuable fuel. Confederate commerce raiders often captured merchant ships containing bunkers loaded with anthracite and they made every effort to off load the valuable commodity before scuttling the unfortunate merchantman.

Funnels were collapsible and ships were painted dark grey or black or sometimes white. Lifeboats were mounted so as to hide the ships profile. Lights were masked for obvious reasons and only the binnacle was left uncovered but protected for navigation. Speed and deception were paramount in gaining success. Masts were disuised or collapsable, again to disguise the ships profile. Oh, what is a binnacle? It is the light that illuminates the compass in the front of the helmsman.

The first successful run out of the Confederacy in June 1861 is credited to the CSS Sumter running out of New Orleans. The steamer SS Syren made 33 successful runs and is considered the most successful. The CSS Robert E Lee was the first to pioneer the camouflage techniques described above.

The SS Fingal was the runner that brought in the largest supply of military weapons and equipment in the war. Arriving 11-12 Nov 1861, her carge included 14,000 Enfield rifles, 1,000,000 cartridges, 2,000,000 percussion caps, 3,000 cavalry sabers, 1,000 short rifles with cutlass bayonets, 1,000 rounds per rifle, cannon, 400 barrels of coarse cannon powder, medical supplies, military clothing, and cloth for sewing more uniforms.

1100 blackade runners were destroyed during their efforts and 355 were captured.


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