Union Blockade


Abraham Lincoln

Definition of Union Blockade
Definition: The Union Blockade was part of a military strategy, known as the Anaconda Plan, that the United States put into operation against the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). The
whole of the coast of the Southern states were subjected to a naval blockade (barrier) to prevent the South from importing essential war supplies and provisions or exporting of cotton, tobacco, and other cash crops to Europe. The Union blockade strategy played a significant role in the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the Civil War.

Union Blockade
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th American President who served in office from March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865. One of the key strategic military policies during his presidency was the Union Blockade of the coastal ports of the Confederacy.

Map of the Anaconda Plan and the Union Blockade
The Map of the Anaconda Plan provides a graphic representation of the Union Blockade, the military strategy adopted by the leaders of the United States that operated a naval blockade
around the whole coast of the Southern states of the Confederacy preventing any cargo goods entering or leaving the Confederate States of America.

The Purpose of the Union Blockade
Why did the union blockade southern ports? The purpose of the Union Blockade was to crush the life out of the Confederacy by preventing essential supplies and provisions reaching the army and the people of the South. The aim of the Union Blockade was to demoralize the South by slowly starving them out and forcing the Confederate States of America to surrender and return to the Union.

The Union Blockade Operation
The Union Blockade concentrated on closing the 12 major ports of the Confederacy, another 180 additional ports by patrolling approximately 3,000 miles of coastline along the Confederate States using over 500 ships that were commissioned by the Union government.

Map of the Anaconda Plan and the Union Blockade

Map of the Anaconda Plan
and the Union Blockade

Union Blockade: Abraham Lincoln
The Union Blockade started when
President Abraham Lincoln ordered this measure against the Confederate seaports on April 19, 1861, just six days after the fall of Fort Sumter. As the Civil War progressed the blockade became tighter, depriving the Southerners of many supplies and causing them great hardship. The Union Blockade prevented the Southern States from sending their raw products to Europe, and completely blocked their cash flow. The reactions of the British to the Union Blockade led to the incident known as the Trent Affair.

The Location of the Union Blockade
The Union Blockade operated in the Southern United States, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and major inland rivers, such as the Mississippi and in Northern Virginia. The Union Blockade ran from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and all the way up the waterways of the Mississippi as can be seen in the above map.

Union Blockade: The Union Ships
At the beginning of the American Civil War the Union had less than 40 ships in their navy. Intensive ship building projects began in the North, this was a major industry in the North and the ship building industry started to respond to the demand. Gunboats and warships were their main interest  but 100's of merchant vessels were also purchased to swell the navy. The merchant ships were then often equipped with guns and cannon.
The Union ships were stationed off the blockaded harbors from where they patrolled their stretch of the coast. The navy squadrons operating the Union blockade needed not only ships, but also bases on the Southern coast. Capturing ports in the south became an important element to creating the Union Blockade. The Southern ports of Wilmington, New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and Mobile became prime targets for the land forces of the Union and the sites of many important Military Battles of the Civil War. The importance of the Southern ports were recognized at the very start of the Civil War by both the North and the South. The first shot of the Civil War was made at the Battle of Fort Sumter, which guarded the harbor of Charleston. The military strategy of the Union Blockade proved to be highly successful and played a significant role in defeating the Confederacy.

Union Blockade: The Blockade Runners
The Confederacy responded to the Union Blockade by using Blockade Runners. The Confederacy had no navy at all, had limited resources to build ships and only had a handful of shipyards. The South were dependent on purchasing merchant ships and new steamships built in Britain that had no chance of matching the gun power of the large gunboats and warships of the North. The South relied on the speed and maneuverability of the small merchant ships and Steamships.  These small, faster ships, referred to as Blockade Runners were lightly armed and armored. The men who risked running the Union Blockade were also referred to as Blockade Runners.
The purpose of the Blockade Runners was to evade a naval blockade of a port or harbor, as opposed to confronting the blockaders to break the Union Blockade.

Union Blockade: The Ironclads of the Confederacy
Given that the Confederacy had
a minimal fleet of ships and fewer shipyards than the North, the Southerners decided to make the ships that they did have as effective and as formidable as possible. The Confederacy therefore decided to challenge the Union Blockade and the navy by the use of the latest technology, the ironclads. An ironclad was a naval vessel that had the parts above water covered and protected by large plates of iron that were thick and strong to resist heavy shot. In addition to the Ironclad Warships the Confederacy also constructed torpedo boats and Submarines to attack the Union fleet.

Union Blockade
The info about the Union Blockade provides interesting facts and important information about this important military strategy that occured during the presidency of the 16th President of the United States of America. For additional facts refer to
Civil War for Kids (FAQ's)


Presidential Seal


Union Blockade: The Blockade Runners - Heroes or Villains?
Many Blockade Runners were treated as heroes in the South. A Blockade Runner who brought much needed goods and supplies into were feted by the Southerners. Their exploits were detailed in the newspapers, providing valuable propaganda for the South.
However, goods and provisions supplied by the Blockade Runners could only be paid for in specie (gold and silver). Many of the Blockade Runners became wealthy men. So were the Blockade runners really heroes or villains? (At this point mention just has to be made of the novel 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell, which was famously made into a movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. This book and old movie provides excellent information for those studying the American Civil War. The hero of 'Gone with the Wind' is Rhett Butler, who plays a Blockade Runner and becomes extremely wealthy). The Union Blockade prevented the South from sending raw materials such as cotton and tobacco to Europe, which blocked their cash flow. Before long was no more gold and silver in the Confederacy, and paper money took its place.

Union Blockade: The British Blockade Runners
The majority of Blockade Runners were operated largely by the British who made good use of neutral ports in places such as Havana, Nassau, Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

The Union Blockade: The Confederacy, Great Britain and France
From the start of the Union Blockade the Confederate leaders believed that Great Britain and France would help them them. (They sent a diplomatic mission to Britain which resulted in the Trent Affair). The southerners believed that "Cotton is king" and that unless there were a regular supply of cotton from the Southern states of America that the mills of England and of France would grind to a halt. They believed that thousands of French and British mill workers would soon be starving. The South therefore believed that the British and French governments would raise the Union blockade and possibly force the United States to acknowledge the independence of the Confederate States of America.  There was a great deal of truth in these beliefs as the British and French governments were both becoming increasingly concerned over the growing power of the American republic and would gladly have seen the Union of the United States of America  smashed into pieces. However all of these calculations and hopes came to nothing. Before the supply of American cotton in Great Britain and France was used up, new supplies began to come in from India and from Egypt. The Union armies then stated to occupy portions of the cotton belt early in 1862, and American cotton was again exported to both the countries. In addition the British mill operatives, despite their hardships, would not ask their government to interfere with the Union Blockade as they believed that the North was fighting for the rights of free labor.  

Union Blockade: How did the Union Blockade affect the South
How did the union blockade affect the south? Supplies of manufactured goods, that were not produced in the South, soon ran out. The Southerners were unable to buy items such as clothes, shoes, blankets, food, meat, salt, paper, coffee, medicines, lead, arms or cannon.
The agrarian economy of the South was based on farming, unlike the North which was highly industrialized. The food started to run out towards the end of the Civil war and this situation was made even worse when the Anaconda Plan took an aggressive stance when General William T. Sherman employed the destructive "scorched earth policy" during his March to the Sea following the capture of Atlanta.

Union Blockade: What was the Significance of the Union Blockade?
What was the significance of the Union Blockade?

  • Unable to buy goods or sell cotton, the Confederacy experienced a massive economic collapse in 1862 and was never able to recover

  • Imports: The Union Blockade prevented goods reaching the South

  • Exports: It blocked exports with Europe preventing Southern raw materials such as cotton and tobacco leaving the South

  • The Union Blockade caused great suffering, hunger and hardship to the people of the South

  • The Union Blockade made a highly significant contribution to the victory of the North and the defeat of the South

  • Development in technology: The Ironclads, torpedo boats and submarines

Union Blockade - President Abraham Lincoln Video
The article on the Union Blockade provides an overview of one of the major military strategies in his presidential term in office. The following Abraham Lincoln video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 16th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865.




Union Blockade
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