Color Plate Commentary

Blockade Runner Advance

This unidentified British blockade runner was captured off Wilmington in December 1864. She is still flying the British mercantile "red ensign" from her stern and an unidentified flag from her mainmast. Note the traces of collision damage to her starboard side. (Clyde Hensley Collection, Fernandina, FL)

A: CONVERTED BLOCKADE RUNNERS A1: Advance

Built at Greenock in Scotland by Caird & Co., this sleek blockade runner began life as the schooner-rigged sidewheel steam packet Lord Clyde. Launched in July 1862, she measured 230ft long, had a 26-ft beam, and a draft of 12ft. She was capable of speeds of up to 12 knots. She was purchased by the shipping firm of Power, Low & Company, which operated her in partnership with the state of North Carolina.

She is sometimes erroneously referred to as the AD. Vance, a name which was never used in contemporary documents, and which confuses the ship name with that of the State Governor who supported her operation. Commanded by Lieutenant Tom Crossan of the Confederate Navy, she made 17 successful round-trip voyages from Wilmington to either Nassau or Bermuda before she was captured off the mouth of the Cape Fear River by the USS Santiago de Cuba on September 10, 1864. She was subsequently taken into Union service as the gunboat USS Advance.

A2: Margaret & Jessie

The steel sidewheel steamer Douglas was built at Robert Napier & Sons' yard on Clydeside in Scotland in early 1858, for use as a packet steamer running between Liverpool and the Isle of Man. She was 211ft long, with a 26-ft beam and a draft of 10ft. Her sidewheel engines gave her a very respectable maximum speed of 15 knots, and when she was first built she was lauded as the fastest steamer in the world. In November 1862, she was purchased for use as a blockade runner, and made her first voyage to Charleston, slipping through the Union blockade to enter the port in late January 1863. She was then renamed the Margaret & Jessie, and made 18 more voyages between the Confederate seaboard and Nassau, five from Charleston and three from Wilmington. She was finally captured on her 20th return voyage on November 5, 1863, by the USS Nansemond while trying to slip into Wilmington. Taken into Union service as the USS Gettysburg, she ended the war as part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, stationed as a "chaser" off Wilmington.

This unidentified British blockade runner was captured off Wilmington in December 1864. She is still flying the British mercantile "red ensign" from her stern and an unidentified flag from her mainmast. Note the traces of collision damage to her starboard side. (Clyde Hensley Collection, Fernandina, FL)

B: RUNNING THE BLOCKADE OFF WILMINGTON, 1864

The location of Wilmington near the mouth of the Cape Fear River made it an ideal blockade-running port. Its rail links and proximity to the armies in Tennessee and Virginia made it ideal for the supply of the Confederate Army, while its location also allowed the easy trans-shipment of cotton from the Deep South to the Carolina coast. Even more important, the port was protected by Fort Fisher and other works such as Fort Caswell, and the garrisons did what they could to support blockade-running operations.

This close support is evident in this scene, which shows the government-owned blockade runner Owl attempting to slip out of Wilmington on the night of October 3/4,1864. The British-built sidewheel steamer had entered the port on her maiden voyage the previous month, and was then turned over to Captain John Newland Maffitt of the Confederate Navy. Therefore, when she made the attempt shown here, she was commanded by one of the most experienced officers available.

When the Owl reached the mouth of the Cape Fear River she headed south, but was spotted by the tug Berberry, which maneuvered to block the blockade runner's route back into the river and fired signal rockets to alert the rest of the fleet. Both the Berberry and the gunboat USS Niphon opened fire, hitting the Owl and wounding Maffit and several of his crew. The damage was insufficient to stop the blockade runner, and she managed to pull away from her pursuers in the darkness. During the action the Niphon fired 20 shots from her starboard battery, while the Owl fired a white flare, alerting the garrison of Fort Fisher, who opened up with covering fire.

Reports of the time mention that the sea was smooth, the weather was mild and visibility was good. Ensign Griffith, commanding the tug, reported that the Confederate blockade runner was long and low, with two stacks and no masts. Incidentally, observers also recorded that, unlike other blockade runners, the Owl's hull was light red.

C: THE BANSHEES C1: Banshee (I)

The Banshee was a purpose-built blockade runner, built by Jones, Quiggin & Co. of Liverpool in the summer of 1863. She was 214ft long, with a 20-ft beam and an 8-ft draft, and her hull was built from steel, making her one of the first ever steel-hulled merchantmen. On her maiden voyage, in January 1863, damage incurred to her light decking meant that she had to be strengthened, but she was soon ready for service as a fast-steaming blockade runner. With a top speed of up to 15 knots, she could outpace most of the Union fleet. She operated on the Nassau to Wilmington run, and under the command of Captain Joseph W. Steele she made 14 voyages in and out of Wilmington before her luck ran out. She was captured by the USS James Adger on her 15th voyage as she tried to run into Wilmington on November 21, 1863. She subsequently served in the Union blockading squadron as a "chaser."

According to Thomas Taylor, a supercargo for the Liverpool-based Edward Laurence & Co., the Banshee (II) was the best blockade runner ever designed. Built under order by the Glasgow yard of William Denny & Brothers, the Banshee (II) was 252ft long, with a 31-ft beam, an 11-ft draft and a top speed of just under 16 knots. At 439 registered tons (627 gross tons) she was also larger than her earlier namesake.

She also ran between Nassau and Wilmington, but her cargo did not only include war supplies and luxury provisions, as she once carried an Arabian horse from Nassau for President Jefferson Davis. By late 1864 she had transferred to the Galveston to Havana route, and continued her operations until the end of the war, when she was taken to Liverpool and sold.

D: COLONEL LAMB

One of the most stylish blockade runners of the war, the Colonel Lamb was owned and operated by the Confederate Navy. She was ordered by James Bulloch, the Confederate Navy's representative in Britain, and designed to incorporate all the features considered important in a blockade runner. She was built by Jones, Quiggin & Company of Liverpool during 1864, immediately after the construction of her near-sister, the government blockade runner Hope.

The two ships differed slightly in that the Hope had a "turtleback" foredeck to improve her seakeeping qualities and had a slightly narrower beam and shallower draft. Both were steel-hulled, and the slight difference in size meant that the Colonel Lamb was the largest steel-hulled vessel of her day. She was named after the garrison commander of Fort Fisher, Colonel William Lamb, who worked closely with the Wilmington-based blockade runner captains. The Colonel Lamb was christened by the wife of the new vessel's first commander, the experienced blockade runner Captain Tom Lockwood.

Designed to operate on the run between Nassau in the Bahamas and Wilmington, SC, she made just one successful voyage before the Confederate port fell in late February 1865. She survived the war, and was sold to a Liverpool company in 1865, only to be destroyed in an accidental explosion while at anchor off the port 11 years later.

E: MID-WAR BLOCKADE RUNNERS E1: Lizzie (II)

The Lizzie was a purpose-built steel-hulled blockade runner, constructed on Glasgow's Clydeside for Henderson, Coulborn & Co., who operated a number of blockade runners. Her reported length was 230ft, but with just a 20-ft beam she was extremely streamlined, making her capable of

The British-built sidewheel steamer Banshee (I) was probably the first purpose-built blockade runner. During the war she made 14 successful blockade-running voyages. (North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, NC)

The British-built sidewheel steamer Banshee (I) was probably the first purpose-built blockade runner. During the war she made 14 successful blockade-running voyages. (North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, NC)

What Blockade RunnersBlockade Runner Bendigo

The wreck of the British-built blockade runner Bendigo, which was run aground off the coast of North Carolina during a failed attempt to enter Wilmington. Her lower hull has been protected by sand, but her exposed upper works have decayed. (North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, NC)

speeds of up to 20 knots. She was also shallow-drafted, drawing less than 7ft, which allowed her to pass over the bars outside Galveston and Wilmington.

She arrived in Havana in October 1864, and it was planned to operate her between the Cuban port and Galveston, Texas. There is no evidence to suggest that she successfully ran the blockade before the war ended. Despite this she was considered a perfect example of her genre. The original blockade runner Lizzie was a diminutive 89-ft vessel which made two trips between Wilmington and Nassau before being caught. On July 15,1863, the original Lizzie was captured off the eastern coast of Florida by the USS Santiago de Cuba, which was busy hunting for Confederate raiders in the Bahama Straits. She was sent into Key West as a prize, where her cargo was found to contain brandy, sugar and general provisions.

E2: William G. Hewes

Built in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1860 by the Harland & Hollingsworth Yard for the Southern Steamship Company, the William G. Hewes was seized in New Orleans when Louisiana seceded from the Union. She was 240ft long, had a 33-ft beam and a draft of 9ft. It is estimated that her top speed was around 12 knots. It was originally planned that she would become a Mississippi "cottonclad" gunboat, but in early 1862 she was handed over to Captain Smith of Louisiana and became a blockade runner. She transported 1,400 bales of cotton to Havana shortly before the fall of New Orleans, and then she eventually continued to operate between Havana and Galveston. She was re-named the Ella & Annie in the summer of 1863, by which time she had been switched to the Nassau to Wilmington run. She was eventually captured off New Inlet, NC, by the USS Niphon on November 9, 1863. She subsequently became the USS Malvern, and was the flagship of Admiral Porter during his attack on Fort Fisher in December 1864.

F: ARIES AND THE USS STETTIN, MARCH 1863

The iron-hulled screw steamer Aries was built in Sir James Laing's Shipyard at Sunderland in north-east England during 1861-62, and was launched in February 1862. Although not designed as a blockade runner, she was reasonably well suited to the role, although with a draft of 16ft she was too large to cross the Wilmington bar. She was sold to a London shipowner, Frederick Obicino, who elected to use her to run the blockade. She made her first run from Nassau to Charleston in November 1862, and managed to slip into the port undetected. Just over a month later, in late December,

The wreck of the British-built blockade runner Bendigo, which was run aground off the coast of North Carolina during a failed attempt to enter Wilmington. Her lower hull has been protected by sand, but her exposed upper works have decayed. (North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort, NC)

she passed through the Charleston blockade again, and made for Havana with 740 tons of cotton on board. There Obicino sold her to the Cuban shipping company of Vincente Malga, who retained her crew and continued to use her as a blockade runner. Her next run was made in March 1863, and she was loaded with a cargo of Cuban rum. This time everything went wrong.

Shortly after midnight on March 28, the gunboat USS Stettin, commanded by Acting Master Devens, was at anchor off Bull's Bay, some 30 miles north of Charleston Harbor. At 12.45hrs lookouts spotted a steamer to westward, trying to slip southward by hugging the shore. Devens got his ship under way and moved inshore to intercept the blockade runner, firing on her as he approached. He lost sight of her in the darkness and, finding the water was shoaling fast, he anchored in three fathoms (18ft/5.5m), blocking the entrance of the bay.

Dawn revealed that the blockade runner had gone aground by the stern off Petrel Bank (White Bank), a marshy area on the north side of Bull's Bay Devens lowered two boats and led a boarding party to take control of the stranded blockade runner. He managed to free her from the bank and take her into the Union naval anchorage at Port Royal, SC, where Admiral Dupont described the Aries as, "the most perfect example of a blockade runner we have yet seen ... her masts lower in a peculiar way, invented for this very purpose." She was subsequently bought into US Navy service, becoming the gunboat USS Aries.

The plate shows Devens and his men approaching the stranded blockade runner, while the crew of the Aries pull for the shore.

G: GOVERNMENT-RUN BLOCKADE RUNNERS G1: Robert E. Lee

Originally known as the Giraffe, this lean, fast vessel was built on Clydeside by the John Brown shipyard as a Glasgow to Belfast steam packet. She was 268ft long, with a 26-ft beam and a 12-ft draft, and her engines could achieve speeds of 13V2 knots. She was bought by Alexander Collie & Co. of Manchester, then fitted out as a blockade runner. Before she

Aries Blockade Runner

entered service the company sold her to the Confederate Navy, which renamed her, and used her as a government blockade runner. Her first voyage to Wilmington in January 1863 was followed by 20 more successful voyages. She was finally caught off Beaufort, North Carolina, on November 9, 1863, by the gunboat USS James Adger.

G2: Bat

One of a class of four blockade runners designed for the Confederate government and operated by the Navy, the Bat was built by Jones, Quiggin & Company of Liverpool in the summer of 1864. Her sister ships were the Stag, Owl, and Deer. She was 230ft long, with a 26-ft beam and a draft of just 7ft 6in. Her sidewheel engines were capable of speeds of just under 16 knots, making the Bat speedy enough to outdistance most of her pursuers, and her coal (actually anthracite) bunkers were large enough to carry enough fuel for a return voyage from Bermuda to the Confederate seaboard.

Unfortunately she only made one trip, being captured off Wilmington on her maiden voyage during the closing stages of a run south from Halifax, Nova Scotia. After failing to break through the blockade on the night of October 8-9, Captain Hora made a second attempt two nights later. This time she was intercepted and captured by the USS Montgomery. She was subsequently commissioned into the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as a "chaser."

ABOVE The Confederate blockade runner Robert E. Lee, commanded by senior Lieutenant John Wilkinson of the Confederate Navy, was a government-run vessel, and became one of the most successful blockade runners of the war. She was finally captured by the USS James Adger off Beaufort, North Carolina, on November 9, 1863. (Stratford Archive, London)

BELOW The British-built blockade runner Mary Celestia sinking off Gibbs Hill Light, Bermuda, in 1864, after striking a coral reef. The wreck was discovered and surveyed by an archeological team in the 1980s. (Bermuda Maritime Museum)

BELOW The British-built blockade runner Mary Celestia sinking off Gibbs Hill Light, Bermuda, in 1864, after striking a coral reef. The wreck was discovered and surveyed by an archeological team in the 1980s. (Bermuda Maritime Museum)

Picture Blockade Running

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  • Hilda Burrows
    What blockcade runner sank off bamuda?
    7 years ago
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    What color was the hull of the blockade runner advance?
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