Famous Blockade Runners
More than three hundred steamers made over 1,300 attempts to run the blockade during the Civil War. Many of these were normal merchant vessels, but an ever-increasing number were purpose-built, with low silhouettes, light draft, and high speed. A few of the most notable follow:
Clicking the [Images] links will lead to public-domain images of the vessel at the Naval Historical Center's website.
A.D. Vance or Advance [Images]: length 230', beam 26', draft 12', speed 12 knots. A schooner-rigged, sidewheel steamer built at Greenock, Scotland by Caird & Co., Advance was launched on 3 July 1862 as the Clyde packet Lord Clyde. She was jointly purchased by the state of North Carolina and the firm of Lord Power & Co. to serve as a blockade runner. After more than 20 highly successful voyages and 40 close calls with Union ships standing blockade watches, Advance was captured by the Santiago de Cuba on 10 September 1864 when she attempted to put to sea from Wilmington NC. Commanded by Tom Crossan of the North Carolina State Navy.
Atlantic: A wooden steamer seized for "public service" by order of Brig. Gen. Mansfield Lovell at New Orleans, 14 January 1862. Atlantic, under Captain Smith, turned up in Havana, 19 April, and again in May and September, with over 1,000 bales of cotton. The U.S. Consul in Havana mentions her again in June 1863 as leaving for Nassau. It is not altogether clear when her name was changed to Elizabeth, Capt. Thomas J. Lockwood, under British registry but owned by the Confederacy's secret office abroad, Fraser, Trenholm & Co., Liverpool. Her operations changed to Wilmington NC. Running in there 24 September 1863 she grounded and was burned to escape capture at Lockwood's Folly, 12 miles from Fort Caswell.
Banshee: length 220', beam 20'4", draft 10', speed 15 knots. One of the first purpose-built blockade runners, and one of the first steel ships ever constructed for the Atlantic trade. Captured on her ninth trip, but had generated a 700% return on her investment for her owners by that time. She was taken into Union service on the blockade. Commanded by Joseph W. Steele.
Bat [Images]: length 230', beam 26', draft 7'6", speed 16 knots. Bat and her sisters Owl, Stag, and Deer were side-wheelers with long, low, molded steel hulls, schooner-rigged fore and aft, with two funnels. They had twin, 180-nominal h.p., vertical, double-oscillating, Watt engines and capacity for 800 to 850 bales of cotton, plus enough anthracite to return from Nassau, Havana or Bermuda. Bat reached Halifax on her maiden voyage and ran down to the Cape Fear River, attempting entrance the night of 88 October 1864 with a cargo of shoe machinery and 200 tons of coal; she was turned back by blockaders. The morning of the 10th, Captain A. Hora, an "old blockade runner," tried again and was hit by USS Montgomery. The 30-pounder amputated the leg of seaman Match Madick, an Austrian, who had been captain of the forecastle in the Alabama during her battle with USS Kearsarge; Captain Hora surrendered and called Montgomery's surgeon but Madick died.
Britannia: length 189', beam 26', speed 12.5 knots. The Britannia was a side-wheel steamer, built in 1862 in Scotland. She was captured in the Bahama Islands 25 June 1863 and taken into the Union Navy as a gunboat on the blockade.
Chameleon (ex-Olustee, ex-Tallahassee, ex-Atlanta): length 220', beam 24', draft 14'. Speed about 17 knots. Beginning life as the English-built runner Atlanta, this ship was outfitted as a cruiser after several trips through the blockade and renamed Tallahassee and then Olustee, and then was refitted as a runner once again and renamed Chameleon. One of her captains was Lt. John Wilkinson.
Colonel Lamb [Images]: length 281', beam 36, draft 10'. Colonel Lamb, one of the most famous and successful of the Confederate Navy's own blockade runners was built in 1864 by Jones, Quiggin & Company, a near sister to Hope which preceded her that year, but with a much longer deckhouse, and lacking the customary turtleback foredeck which Hope had. She is identified with the dashing Captain Tom Lockwood and was christened by his wife. The shipbuilder, Wiliiam Quiggin, registered Colonel Lamb in his name then quietly transferred her to Confederate agent J. B. Lafitte in Nassau, where she fitted out. She survived the war intact and was sold through Fraser, Trenholm & Co. to the Brazilian Government; after loading at Liverpool a cargo of explosives for Brazil, she blew up at anchor in the Mersey the night before sailing.
Condor: length 270', beam 24', draft 7', crew 50. Chased on her maiden voyage by blockaders, she arrived safely 1 October 1864 under the guns of Fort Fisher, on Swash Channel Bar at the entrance to Wilmington NC, only to run aground, possibly while avoiding wreck of blockade runner Night Hawk nearby. More famous than the ship herself was one of her passengers, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, who died in the surf. Tradition maintains that she was weighed down with vital dispatches for President Davis and $2,000 in gold.
Coquette: length 220', beam 25', draft 10', speed 13.5 knots. Coquette was a 200-horsepower, twin-screw, iron steamer, with three masts, schooner rigged, built in Scotland at Renfrew, perhaps by Hoby & Son. She carried large cargoes of cotton out of the Confederacy, running back in with indispensable loads of munitions. Although successful for some months, her boiler tubes became clogged with scale from inadequate maintenance in this most exacting service. Coquette was laid up in Nassau at war's end, when a Southern agent of the owners went there to try to get possession of her before she was seized by the United States.
Cornubia: length 190', beam 24'6", draft 9', speed 18 knots. Cornubia was a fast, powerful, iron steamer of 230 h.p., long and low, painted white, with two funnels close together. She was built in Hayle, Cornwall, in 1858 for ferry service from there to nearby St. Ives under the house flag of the Hayle Steam Packet Co. The Confederacy bought her in the United Kingdom and she proved a very good investment, bringing 22 vital cargoes through the blockade in 1863. Her 23rd voyage was her last; the blockader USS Niphon gave chase as she sought to run in to Wilmington, forcing Lt. Richard H. Gayle, CSN, to beach his ship 11 miles north of New Inlet; the captain, carpenter and one seaman remained on board while the officers, crew and passengers escaped to shore.
Deer: length 238', beam 26'2", draft 7'6". Deer was the last ship of the first class of steel blockade runners procured for Secretary of the Navy Mallory by Cdr. James D. Bulloch, CSN, in United Kingdom shipyards. Deer carried a particularly sensitive Navy cargo on her maiden voyage out of Liverpool, early in November 1864: "goods *** almost exclusively for submarine defense," consigned to Cdr. Hunter Davidson, CSN, the torpedo (mine) specialist, and an "Ebonite machine" for Cdr. Matthew F. Maury. Deer was not so lucky her second trip. Running into Charleston with a valuable load of copper and arms on 18 February 1865, her lookout failed to spot a trio of monitors, USS Canonicus, Catskill and Monadnock, lying across the channel entrance; the fast Deer submitted to the ultimate humiliation of surrendering to slow "cheeseboxes on rafts."
Denbigh: length 182'7", beam 22'6", draft 7', crew 20, speed 10.5 to 13.7 knots. Denbigh was a civilian-owned iron-hulled blockade runner that made runs so regularly to Mobile and Galveston from Havana that she became known as "the Packet." She made seven successful runs to Mobile and six to Galveston; approaching Galveston a seventh time on the night of May 23-24, 1865, Denbigh ran hard aground on Bird Key, a sand shoal just off the Bolivar Peninsula shore, to the north and east of Galveston, whereupon she was destroyed by shellfire from Union blockaders.
Don: length 162', beam 23', draft 6', crew 43, speed 14 knots. Don was the iron, twin-screw, two-stacked running-mate of Hansa, both of which were operated and partly owned by the State of North Carolina. A Captain Cory commanded Don when, as a still-new $115,000 ship carrying a $200,000 cargo of Army uniforms, blankets and shoes in from Nassau, she fell prey to USS Pequot, 4 March 1864, on her third attempt that voyage to run into Wilmington NC.
Falcon: length 270', beam 24', draft 7', speed 14-18 knots, crew 45. Falcon belonged to the largest type of blockade runner ordered from British shipyards by Commander James D. Bulloch, CSN. Falcon was striking in appearance: long, low, with straight stem, hull painted white, three red funnels fore and aft, a single mast sloop rigged and straight stern. She was extremely fast, being said to have done 20 knots on her trials with her pair of oscillating sidewheel engines. She attracted considerable attention from August to October 1864 and then faded from the limelight, although she is said to have continued running into Wilmington NC from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Fingal: Speed 13 knots. Iron-hulled steamer, ran blockade into Savannah and couldn't get out again; converted into ironclad CSS Atlanta.
Flamingo: length 270', beam 24', draft 7', crew 45, speed 16 knots. Sailing from Glasgow under Captain T. Atkinson in July, she put in at Queenstown in nearby Northern Ireland and at Ponta Delgada in the Azores before beginning her runs into Wilmington NC with high priority cargoes. Flamingo suffered a serious setback for several weeks or longer in the autumn: she was at Bermuda in September, along with her sister, Ptarmigan, while their crews battled yellow fever. While two of her last runs in 1865 were into the Gulf, Flamingo must have attempted one more into Charleston, for a contemporary Coast Survey chart shows the wreck of a Flamingo off Battery Rutledge on the north side of Charleston harbor.
Greyhound: A “three-masted propeller", known also as "a fast sailer" and noticeable on account of the red streak along her light lead colored hull, Greyhound was built in Liverpool in 1863. She left Liverpool for the Confederacy 5 January 1864 on her maiden voyage, and ran between there and the British islands nearby. Commanded by Lt. George Henry Bier, CSN, on 9 May 1864 she ran out of Wilmington NC, with 820 bales of cotton, 35 tons of tobacco and 25 casks of turpentine. Captured next day by USS Connecticut, she became celebrated as the ship that carried a mysterious "Mrs. Lewis", soon recognized as "the famous rebel lady, Miss Belle Boyd.” The prize master, Acting Ensign Samuel Harding, Jr., USN, who took Greyhound to Boston was persuaded by his charming prisoner to let Captain Bier escape from Boston to Canada; for this Harding was dismissed from the Navy in disgrace but eventually married Belle Boyd in England.
Hansa: speed 12 knots. Hansa was operated by the State of North Carolina, running to Havana and Nassau for munitions out of Wilmington. She was commanded by Captains James E. Randle, T. Atkinson and Murray during the course of the war, which it may be assumed that she survived, in the absence of evidence to the contrary. She had two stacks and must have been a fast steamer when acquired by the Confederates, but she appears to have fouled her boilers by February 1864 and may have been retired to less hazardous service.
Hope: length 281'6", beam 35', draft 8' or 11', crew 66, speed 16 knots. Hope was a "very large" and "very strong" Wilmington, N. C., iron and steel paddlewheeler, called the "finest and fastest steamer in the trade" by one observer in Britain. She was procured there for the Confederate Government shortly before or after she left the Liverpool yard of Jones, Quiggin & Co. She was a sister to the noted Colonel Lamb, which she resembled except for the presence of the usual turtleback forward. She could carry over 1,800 cotton bales and possessed the safety factor of five watertight compartments. Two fore-and-aft engines of 350 nominal horsepower, supplied by 4 boilers, gave Hope power to outrun most of her contemporaries. Yet she was cornered on 22 October 1864 by USS Eolus, trying to enter Cape Fear River after a sixty-five mile chase off Wilmington The capture netted more than a thousand dollars in prize money for each member of the blockader's crew.
Juno: draft 4', crew 50. A fast, iron-framed paddle-wheeler, Juno operated as a mail steamer between London and Glasgow. She was purchased by Confederate agents, probably in May 1863. Successfully evading blockaders, she ran into Charleston where she served as a dispatch, picket, and flag-of-truce boat. In July 1863 she was armed with a howitzer and outfitted with a spar torpedo to permit attacks against Union monitors then threatening the defense works on Morris Island, Charleston Harbor. In August 1863 she rammed and sank a launch from USS Wabash, taking its crew captive. Juno returned to running the blockade in the fall of 1863, reportedly suffering capture by USS Connecticut on 22 September off Wilmington NC.
Lizzie: length 230', beam 20'. Speed reportedly over 20 knots. She made regular trips between Galveston, Texas, and Havana, Cuba.
Lynx was a long, very fast paddle-steamer with two stacks and two masts, all painted white. She met her end bound for Bermuda, running out of Wilmington NC, under Captain Reid, 25 September 1864, with 600 bales of cotton, passengers and special cargo, including $50,000 in gold. She was hit eight times, six below the waterline, by the 100-pounder and 30-pounder rifles of much slower USS Howquah, assisted by Niphon and Governor Buckingham; sinking, with one of her wheels damaged, Lynx had to be beached about six miles below Fort Fisher. The Confederates all escaped, along with the gold, although Federal sharpshooters got near enough to wound one crew member. The ship's remains were set afire.
Merrimac [Images]: length 230', beam 30', draft 8'6", speed 16-18 knots. Merrimac was one of the original group of government-owned runners operated by the Ordnance Department, CSA. She was an iron paddle-steamer with two stacks "hinged for lowering," a short foremast which could be bark-rigged, and was said to have done 18 knots on her trials. Her pair of 9-ft. stroke, oscillating sidewheel engines and 4 boilers were considered "very superior and valuable" until her flues became clogged by burning naval stores in emergencies, as so often happened in this dangerous service. It is said Merrimac was built for opium running on the China coast. By the time of her capture by USS Iroquois 24 July 1863 off Cape Fear she had lost her speed and been sold with her cargo to new owners for $2,200,000 Confederate. She was loaded deeper than prudence directed for running the blockade, with 642 bales of cotton plus turpentine and tobacco.
Thomas L. Wragg (ex-Nashville) [Images]: length 215' 6", beam 34' 6", crew 40, speed 16 knots. Originally a brig-rigged, passenger steamer, running between New York and Charleston SC, after the fall of Fort Sumter the Confederates seized her and fitted her out as a cruiser. Under the command of Lt. R. B. Pegram, CSN, she braved the blockade on 21 October 1861 and headed across the Atlantic to Southampton, England, the first ship of war to fly the Confederate flag in English waters. Nashville returned to Beaufort, N.C., on 28 February 1862, having captured two prizes worth $66,000 during the cruise. In this interval she was sold for use as a blockade runner and renamed Thomas L. Wragg. On 5 November 1862 she was commissioned as the privateer Rattlesnake. The monitor Montauk destroyed her near Fort McAllister in February 1863.
Nassau: One of the early runners, and the first command of John Newland Maffitt, later captain of the cruiser Florida.
Owl: length 230', beam 26', draft 7'6", speed 14-16 knots. Long, low and painted light-red, Owl succeeded in running into Wilmington NC, some time in September 1864. She escaped to sea from Wilmington 3 October; her masts were visible all the while she lay in port loading. The blockaders wounded her captain and several crewmen but 9 shots failed to stop Owl. She was at Bermuda with cotton, 24-29 October. On 5 December, Mallory instructed Captain John N. Maffitt to pick up Florida's men in Bermuda. This last trip, Owl was almost captured at Wilmington by a Federal cruiser, had to jettison valuable mail and sustained 12 casualties. Maffitt then tried Galveston but grounded on Bird Island Shoals at the entrance within range of 16 enemy cruisers. A tug got her off barely in time; she not only ran into port but ran out safely too. There is some evidence Owl's last two runs through the blockade were made under the name of Foam.
Phantom: length 190', beam 22', draft 8' 6", crew 33, speed 18 knots. Phantom is said to have been one of the original line of Confederate Government steamers operated between Wilmington NC and Bermuda by the CSA Ordnance Bureau. She was a "very handsome," steel-plated, screw steamer of 170 horsepower, constructed at Liverpool late in 1862 as "Hull No. 167" by a "G. Hillman"; drawings of her lines, captioned in German, do not specify the builder's yard. She seems to have left Liverpool early in April 1863. Chased ashore by USS Connecticut, she was lost on her third run into the Cape Fear, 23 September 1863, near Rich or New Topsail Inlet above Fort Fisher and fired by her crew, who made good their escape in the lifeboats. Boats from Connecticut could not get near her to put out the fires or get her off. One landsman in a boat making the attempt was killed by Confederate sharpshooters.
Ptarmigan: length 270', beam 24', draft 7', speed 15-18 knots, crew 50. Ptarmigan, later Evelyn, was probably the last of the Condor class of fast, triple-funneled, sloop-rigged paddle steamers delivered to the Confederate Navy through Cdr. James D. Bulloch, CSN, in the United Kingdom. She was ready about October 1864 and is conjectured to have reached the Confederacy via Halifax and Bermuda before December with invaluable munitions and "a large quantity of medicines." She is known to have made at least four runs into the Gulf in 1865, apparently from Havana or Nassau to Galveston. Her name change some time during this period has made her record elusive and was undoubtedly a part of a blockade runner's repertoire of disguises. In Halifax 27 October she was still Ptarmigan; in Bermuda, 16 November, she was Evelyn and had acquired a coat of white paint, the better to conceal her movements. Her crew had a siege with yellow fever at Bermuda along with the men of Flamingo during that autumn, but the ship seems to have gotten underway again and is believed to have survived the war.
Robert E. Lee [Images]: length 283', beam 20', draft 10', speed 13.5 knots. A schooner-rigged, iron-hulled, oscillating-engined paddle-steamer with two stacks originally known as Giraffe, built on the Clyde during the autumn of 1862 as a fast Glasgow-Belfast packet. Alexander Collie & Co., Manchester, acquired her for their blockade-running fleet but were persuaded by renowned blockade-runner Lt. John Wilkinson, CSN, to sell her to the Navy Department. Her first voyage, for the Confederate Navy, was into Old Inlet, Wilmington NC, in January 1863 with valuable munitions and 26 Scot lithographers, eagerly awaited by the Government bureau of engraving and printing. Running out again, Robert E. Lee began to establish a legendary reputation by outracing the blockader USS Iroquois. Lt. Richard H. Gayle, CSN, assumed command in May, relieving Lt. John Wilkinson. Robert E. Lee's luck ran out 9 November 1863, after 21 voyages in 10 months carrying out over 7,000 bales of cotton, returning with munitions invaluable to the Confederacy. She left Bermuda five hours after her consort, Cornubia, only to be run down a few hours later by the USS James Adger.
Stag: length 230', beam 26', draft 7'6", speed 16 knots. Stag was a fast, modern, steel paddle-steamer built for the Confederate Navy at Liverpool as Jones, Quiggin & Co.'s Hull No. 169 in 1864 to the order of Cdr. James D. Bulloch, CSN. A superior ship, she sailed from the Mersey on her maiden voyage in August, getting away from Nassau about 1 September. For the rest of the year, she was busily running out of Charleston and Wilmington to Nassau or Bermuda. She fell into Union hands when she attempted to run into Wilmington in January 1865; Fort Fisher having just fallen, she was trapped by the Union Navy along with the runner Charlotte.
Theodora: length: 175'; draft: 7'; speed. 16 knots.; crew: 50. Originally named Carolina, then Gordon, Theodora, and finally Nassau, intermixing privateering with blockade running and service to the Confederate States as a transport and armed picket ship. She was built at Greenpoint NY in 1852 for service as a coastal packet out of Charleston, occasionally crossing to Havana, Cuba. Upon outbreak of Civil War she was strengthened and refitted as the Gordon under Capt. T. J. Lockwood and placed in commission as a privateer at Charleston on 15 July 1861. Disarmed and operating as a blockade runner under the name of Theodora, she carried Mason and Slidell through the blockade. Theodora was under command of the famous blockade runner Captain Walker when captured on 28 May 1862. A prize crew of 24 officers and men from Victoria found her loaded with Enfield rifles, ammunition, clothing and medicines intended for the Confederate Army.
William C. Hewes [Images]: length 258', beam 34'. Occasionally known under a variety of names, she was built at Wilmington DE in 1860 for the Texas Line of Charles Morgan's Southern S.S. Co. Governor Moore of Louisiana seized her 28 April 1861 at New Orleans. She was "impressed for public service" 15 January 1862, with a view toward turning her into a cottonclad gunboat; however, she entered service as a blockade runner. A Captain Smith was commanding her in 1862. Few ships carrying cotton could match the 1,441-bale payload she transported to Havana in April 1862. Sometime in 1863, William C. Hewes was renamed Ella & Annie. On 9 November 1863 she was cornered by USS Niphon She tried to ram the blockader and did succeed in slicing off her bowsprit and most of her stem along with a kedge anchor and other incidentals, but in so doing exposed herself to a boarding party which foiled an attempt to blow up the ship. Thus Ella & Annie was taken with a valuable cargo of Austrian rifles, salt, beef, paper and saltpeter, plus dispatches invaluable to the Federal blockaders. She was commissioned as USS Malvern and became Rear Admiral Porter’s flagship.
Other blockade runner images available at the U.S. Naval Historical Center website:
Return to Ironclads and Blockade Runners