tv Book Discussion on Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast CSPAN August 28, 2015 6:51pm-7:06pm EDT
of people who died in the hurricane were prepared from anecdotal sources word of mouth. then there were several thousand more casualties up around galveston bay, up towards houston. this was a storm that was rapidly evolving, rapidly acting, but did a heck of a lot of damage and destruction in its wake. the recovery was a homegrown effort. of course, there were physical or i should say technological changes that happened as a consequence of the 1900 storm. but thousands upon thousands of workers came to galveston to remove the debris, to burn the bodies, for the bodies posed the threat of pestilence disease. at the same time, they provided housing for the survivors.
the people couldn't take refuge in their homes. then they also had to secure food water communications. literally the city had to resurrect itself from the bottom up. every year, about september especially september 8 the houston television stations will show footage taken from the aftermath of the 1900 storm. then they show photos. the newspapers may do interviews. but certainly the potential for destruction from future storms is always kept in mind. certainly the 1900 storm was one of the gateways that led galveston from the 19th century to the new century. but more than that, it's a point. it's sort of a marker that we can always turn to and say that it happened here, and the
potential, however slight, is that it could happen again. >> during the civil war, the union army set up blockades along southern ports. we'll take a look at one of those blockades in our tour of the literary life of galveston. up next, andrew hall, offer of the book, "civil war blockade running on the texas coast," about how civilian ships were able to maneuver around the blockades and the consequences if they were caught. >> people don't think of texas as being -- playing much of a role in the civil war because they're more familiar with a lot of the battles and struggles that took part in the eastern united states, gettysburg, of course sharpsburg or an ann... they think of the march in 1864,
up through the carolinas in 1865. sometimes, though, they'll think about the campaigns that took place in tennessee and memberships. mississippi. there weren't a lot of major military actions that took place in texas so texas sometimes doesn't get the attention that it probably should. galveston at the time in 1860 was the largest city in texas. it had the largest population. it was one of the two commercial centers of texas. and it was the primary seaport of texas. there were no rail connections between texas and the rest of the united states in 1860. you could not get on a train in texas and travel to the other parts of the country. and so texas was -- texas's primary link to the rest of the confederacy was by sea.
galveston was the best natural harbor on the texas coast and galveston was the largest city. and so a lot of -- everything that involved trade and later blockade running went through galveston, for the most part, and other small ports along the texas coast. but galveston was the primary one. even before the confederates fired on fort sumter, in april of 1861, in charleston, the union was preparing and thinking about what happens if this becomes -- if secession becomes a shooting war. one of the things they considered was establishing a blockade of southern ports. the idea of a blockade is it's an old traditional technique used in warfare to blockade an enemy's port, to keep ships and vessels from coming in and out, to prevent the enemy from getting support from outside.
the union forces declared a blockade in 1961, just two days after jefferson davis had declared the confederates would authorize privateers to go after union shipping, which is itself an act of war. the union blockade was declared april 19 of 1861. the idea was that the federals would position warships around the confederate coast, around southern ports and prevent vessels from coming in and out. running the blockade, was it legal? it wasn't legal in the eyes of union forces. it was legal in the eyes of the confederacy, because they didn't recognize federal authority in the seceded states. blockade running was mostly done as a private venture. anyone could become a blockade runner. if you had the capital or a
vessel or the business interest and lots of people did. lots of folks, who were involved in other aspects of business, became involved in blockade running during the war because that was a way to maintain their businesses. how seriously did the federal government the union take blockade running? they took it very seriously. they realized from the beginningsbeginningof the war that they would need to devote a lot of resources to the mock blockade. the union navy was 40, 50 vessels at most in active service. very small. it had to expand tremendously. and so for the first few months through the middle of 1861 through early 1862, the federal navy, the union navy was buying up every ship it could find, not just building lots of new warships but purchasing every civilian ship that they could put a gun on and using it on the blockade. the thinking was, well we don't
need to blockade the coast. we just need lots of ships. we don't need lots of warships, because they're not going to be going into combat a lot. and that's probably right. so the navy -- the union navy expanded during the course of the war from maybe 40 or 50 ships on active service to, i think, over 600. and the vast majority of those were on the blockade, around southern ports. the blockade became much more effective as the war went on, because -- simply because the navy, the union navy, expanded so much. at the very beginning of the war, the first ship appeared on the blockade off of galveston the u.s.s. south carolina, appeared off galveston in july of 1861. it was just one ship to blockade not just galveston but the entire texas coast. of course, more came after that and it expanded. by 1864, there were typically a dozen union warships just off
galveston. and so they took it very seriously. they devoted a tremendous amount of resources into enforcing the blockade. for the fast blockade runners the odds were still in their favor, even by the end of the war. they were getting through most of the time. the odds got a lot longer as the war went on. the blockade running could be hazardous. they were almost all privately owned vessels. most of them were privately owned civilian merchant ships. they were unarmed and generally they would not put up a fight if they were caught. they would run like crazy. they would throw the cotton overboard. they would throw cargo overboard. they would put everything that would burn into the furnaces to keep going and try to outrun a blockade vessel that was after
them. but once they were cornered, they would usually surrender. so it was not physically dangerous in the same way that it would be serving on a confederate warship. but there were dangers nonetheless. there were lots of blockade runners that were wrecked because they traveled at night. they traveled in poor weather conditions. they traveled, trying to get in and out of harbors, where all the aids to navigation has been removed, so it was very common for blockade runners to be wrecked, especially coming into a confederate port. there were sometimes casualties when that happened. sailors and crew members were drowned or lost. so it was -- there were dangers involved with it in that regard. the federals, they were in a little bit of a tight spot, because they were out to stop the blockade runners, to capture
them. but most of the crews of blockade runners either were citizens of neutral countries british typically. they were either citizens of neutral countries or at least they had papers saying they were citizens of neutral countries. and there wasn't very much that the union could do to hold them for very long. what they would do with the ships, is the captured blockade runner would have the crew put aboard. they would take the vessel to the nearest federal prize court which in this case would be new orleans or maybe key west. and the navy would file papers to have the prize, the captured vessel, condemned, as it was called. and then they would present the evidence that they had, that this ship was in fact running the blockade in contravention of u.s. law and they would prevent that evidence to the court. tb the owners -- if the owners of the ship had a
representative which they generally didn't, that person could go to court as well and present evidence that they were not in fact running the blockade because they never admitted that they were actually doing that. but more often -- almost always, the ship was found to have been running the blockade would be condemned by the court. then the ship and all its cargo would be sold at public auction. there are a number of cases of blockade running vessels that were caught, condemned, sold at auction, sold again and sold to someone who sput put it right back into blockade running and within a few months, that same vessel would be running under new name but it's the same ship. right up to the end of the war the last blockade runner entered a confederate port, the port of galveston here. it was the blockade runner lark. it came into galveston on the
night of may 23, 24, 1865. that's more than a month after lincoln had been assassinated. texas, in the transmississippi department, still had not surrendered. the confederacy was still officially part of the war. and the blockade was still active here. and so as late as the last week of may of 1865, we still had blockade runners trying to get into the port and leaving. the lark was actually the last blockade runner to enter and clear a confederate port. i talk about in the book, it's sort of a rough ending to blockade running, because the lark, on the motor vehicle of the 24th -- on the morning of the 24th, tied up in central wharf, which is where we are
now. tied up at central wharf. and they were doing all the things they normally did to get the ship ready to be unloaded, tying up the wharf putting planks down, stuff like that. and a confederate courier on horseback came pounding out along the pier, yelling cast off, cast off, get your ship out into the harbor, away from the dock. and before they could do that, a gang of about 200 soldiers, confederate soldiers, who were away from their garrison, away from their post, they were fed up. they swarmed the ship. and they began breaking open the cargo holds, looking for liquor, looking for alcohol. and when they found that they started drinking. by this time a large group of citizens had arrived and were watching all this. and pretty soon, the looting became general. and you had women and children
and civilians and soldiers all going through the cargo of this blockade runner that had just arrived, and taking anything they could use anything they thought they might be able to sell, just taking everything they could get their hands on. and finally the captain of the lark managed to get enough people off of his ship that he could cast off. he got going again and picked up the crew of another blockade runner which had been wrecked the night before, over on balder peninsula. he picked up that crew. on the night of may 24, he headed back out into the gulf of mexico and back toward havana. that was the last blockade runner to clear a confederate port. and it happened right here. this is not a part of civil war history that people are familiar with, and i think they should be. it's very easy to focus on the grand battles of the