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American Civil War

Union Blockade

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During the Civil War, the Union attempted to blockade the southern states. A blockade meant that they tried to prevent any goods, troops, and weapons from entering the southern states. By doing this, the Union thought they could cause the economy of the Confederate States to collapse.

When did the blockade run?

The Union blockade began just a few weeks after the start of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln announced it on April 19, 1861. The Union continued to blockade the South throughout the Civil War until the war ended in 1865.

The Anaconda Plan

The Union blockade was part of a larger strategy called the Anaconda Plan. The Anaconda Plan was the brainchild of Union General Winfield Scott. General Scott felt that the war could take a long time and that the best supplied armies would win. He wanted to keep foreign countries from shipping supplies to the Confederates.



The plan was called the Anaconda Plan because, like a snake, the Union meant to constrict the South. They would surround the southern borders, keeping out supplies. Then the army would split the South in two, taking control of the Mississippi River.

Cotton for Weapons

The South did not have a lot of industry at the time. This meant they could not make enough weapons to supply its armies. However, the South did have cotton which many foreign countries such as Great Britain relied on. If they could keep their ports open, they could trade cotton for weapons. The Anaconda Plan was a long term approach to winning the war.

How did the Union blockade the South?

The Union Navy used as many as 500 ships to patrol the East Coast all the way from Virginia south to Florida and the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. They focused their efforts on major ports and on keeping larger shipments of goods from making it through.

Did any ships get through?

A number of ships did make it through. One estimate shows that nearly 80 percent of the attempts to get though the blockade made it safely. However, these were mostly small, fast ships called blockade runners. They were small and fast which helped them to elude the Union Navy, but they also had small cargos, so not a lot of supplies were able to get through.


A blockade runner

A number of the ships that made it through were operated by British sympathizers. These ships were commanded by British officers from the Royal Navy who were allowed to take a leave from the British Navy in order to help the Confederate States.

Results

At the start of the Civil War, many people thought that the blockade was a waist of time. They felt that the war would be over quickly and that the blockade would have little impact on the outcome of the war. However, by the end of the war, the blockade had a significant impact on the South. People across the South were suffering from a lack of supplies and the overall economy ground to a halt. This included the army, where many of the men were nearing starvation by the end of the war.

Interesting Facts About the Union Blockade
  • The exports of cotton from the South fell by nearly 95 percent by the end of war due to the Union Blockade.
  • Blockade runners could make a lot of money if their ships and cargo successfully passed the blockade.
  • The Union Navy captured or destroyed around 1,500 blockade runner ships during the course of the Civil War.
  • The blockade covered around 3,500 miles of coastline and 180 ports.
Take a ten question quiz at Union Blockade questions page.

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