The Organization of the Blockade


[Map]
The divisions of the blockading squadrons and their principal bases.

Much of the organization and the direction of operation of the blockade were determined early in the war by the Blockade Strategy Board, an ad hoc committee including Captain Samuel F. Du Pont, chairman; Professor Alexander D. Bache, superintendent of the Coast Survey; Major John G. Barnard, of the Army Corps of Engineers; and Commander Charles H. Davis, recording secretary. The board (which had no formal name and was often referred to simply as "the Strategy Board,") first met on 27 June 1861, and filled many of the roles that would in later wars be filled by a Joint Staff.

At the beginning of the blockade, it was correctly surmised that the character of the coast and the nature of the blockade would be different in different regions. So, the blockade was divided into the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, based at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and the Gulf Blockading Squadron, based at Key West, Florida. The dividing line between the two squadrons was roughly the southern tip of Florida.

Upon the resignation of Flag Officer Silas Stringham, the commander of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, the Atlantic Blockading Squadron was further divided into the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons (NABS and SABS), with the new commanders appointed on 18 September 1861. The NABS' main base continued to be Hampton Roads, while the SABS' main base was situated at Port Royal, South Carolina, after its capture on 7 November 1861. The dividing line between the two was at the North Carolina-South Carolina border, and the SABS area of responsibility continued south to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Gulf Blockading Squadron was similarly subdivided, initially to provide a way to place David G. Farragut in charge of a fleet for the attack of New Orleans. The East Gulf Blockading Squadron (EGBS) continued to be based at Key West, and was responsible for the Florida coast from Cape Canaveral to Pensacola, Florida. The West Gulf Blockading Squadron (WGBS) was based at Pensacola and Ship Island, Mississippi, and was responsible for the remainder of the coast to the Rio Grande.

Within each blockading squadron, the breakdown was again regional, with certain forces detailed to blockade each of the ports in the region. These forces generally reported to the most senior captain present at each location, who in turn reported to the flag officer (after 16 July 1862, admiral) commanding the entire blockading squadron. The squadron commanders reported directly to the Navy Department.

Variations existed within every squadron. In the NABS, the Potomac River Flotilla, the James River Flotilla, and the vessels operating in the Carolina sounds usually operated semi-independently, though still nominally reporting to the squadron commander. In the SABS, the mostly ironclad force operating in the Charleston area from April 1863 till nearly the end of the war was under the direct supervision of the commanding flag officer/admiral. While the WGBS was under Farragut, he tended to remain with his striking force of heavy sloops (especially while on the lower Mississippi River in 1862 and 1863) and leave the administration of the blockade to subordinates.

Blockade Squadron Commanders

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron:
Established from Coast Blockading Squadron 29 Oct 1861
Commanders:
  1. Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, 29 Oct 1861
  2. Acting Rear Admiral S. Phillips Lee, 4 Sep 1862
  3. Rear Admiral David D. Porter, 12 Oct 1864
  4. Acting Rear Admiral William Radford, 1 May 1865
Merged into Atlantic Squadron 25 Jul 1865
South Atlantic Blockading Squadron:
Established from Coast Blockading Squadron 29 Oct 1861
Commanders:
  1. Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, 29 Oct 1861
  2. Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, 6 Jul 1863
Merged into Atlantic Squadron 25 Jul 1865
East Gulf Blockading Squadron:
Established from Gulf Blockading Squadron 20 Feb 1862
Commanders:
  1. Flag Officer William W. McKean, 20 Feb 1862
  2. Flag Officer J.L. Lardner, 4 Jun 1862
  3. Acting Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey, 9 Dec 1862
  4. Captain Theodore P. Greene, 7 Aug 1864 (commander pro tem)
  5. Acting Rear Admiral Cornelius K. Stribling, 14 Oct 1864
Merged into Gulf Squadron 13 Jul 1865
West Gulf Blockading Squadron:
Established from Gulf Blockading Squadron 20 Feb 1862
Commanders:
  1. Flag Officer David G. Farragut, 20 Feb 1862
  2. Commodore James S. Palmer, 30 Nov 1864
  3. Acting Rear Admiral Henry K. Thatcher, 23 Feb 1865
Merged into Gulf Squadron 13 Jul 1865

Return to Ironclads and Blockade Runners