Domestic Economy in the Confederacy
Blockade Running

From an 1886 Atlantic Monthly article by David Dodge

            We now came to regard the character of the North Carolina coast, so long deplored as a bar to her commercial prosperity, much in the nature of a divine blessing, foreordained from the beginning to be her salvation at this the supreme crisis of her fate. We felt that the sands and storms at the mouth of Cape Fear and the wild sea off Hatteras, rendering a thorough blockade impossible, were as powerful allies of the South as the one hundred and twenty odd thousand men the State sent to the field. Especial interest was taken in the state steamer, the Ad-Vance. Her safety was an object of scarcely less solicitude than that of a Southern army. In the poorest log cabin in the land, the minds of whose simple occupants had before traveled scarcely a dozen miles from home, the name of this steamer was a household word, inseparably associated with the priceless salt and cotton cards on which the very existence of the family depended. Prayers for her safety went up from every quarter,—from gray-headed deacons and from children who were babes in arms when Sumter was fired on. Not a few saw the hand of Providence in her long immunity from harm. Many a grudge was scored against the Richmond authorities, when in September, 1864, she was taken off Hatteras. Having had to surrender her anthracite to a Confederate cruiser, she had been obliged to put to sea with bituminous coal, which, lessening her speed and by its denser smoke betraying her whereabouts, led to her capture.

            But blockade running, like the divers other schemes of the times on which so many hopes were built, proved fruitful mostly in disappointment. We were ever on the eve of an era of plenty from this source, but foreign recognition itself was not more of a mirage. Although the Confederate Congress early in 1864 prohibited the importation of luxuries, among which were numbered the finer fabrics of cotton and wool, in order that all possible space might be devoted to bringing in the prime necessaries of life, and we were assured that swift steamers, painted a light blue to blend with the hues of sea and sky, stole in and out the Cape Fear at the rate of ten a month, less than one in eleven being taken, we at last awoke to the fact that these supplies were but as a drop of water to a wretch dying of thirst. Then there was always more or less of a scrimmage over the cargoes of the blockade runners, and it required the alertness and push of a person on the spot, as well as Confederate money ad libitum, to put one in possession of anything like a stock of merchandise. Noncombatants were chary of trips from home, in those unsettled times. If a man’s age did not clearly place him beyond the conscription limits, the main object of his life, from which not even the passion for speculation could for a moment seduce him, was to avoid the conscription officers, whose methods were usually as summary as their power was untrammeled. As a consequence, the modicum of foreign goods that came in was not distributed even to the extent of which the deranged state of transportation would have admitted, the bulk of them going to the larger places.


Dodge, David; “Domestic Economy in the Confederacy,” The Atlantic Monthly,  Volume 58, Issue 346; pp. 229-243; August 1886; Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co.

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