The Civil War Blockade Organization

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The Civil War Blockade Organization

First Admiral of the Navy
Admiral David Farragut.jpg
Admiral David Glasgow Farragut

The Civil War Blockade Squadron Commanders

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (NABS):
Established from Coast Blockading Squadron 29 Oct 1861
  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 (SABS):
Established from Coast Blockading Squadron 29 Oct 1861
  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 (EGBS):
Established from Gulf Blockading Squadron 20 Feb 1862
  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 (WGBS):
Established from Gulf Blockading Squadron 20 Feb 1862
  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

The Civil War Blockade Organization

Blockading Squadrons and their Principal Bases
Civil War Blockade Map.gif
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.

Federal Blockade: Union Blockade Squadrons
Union Naval Blockade Map.gif
Courtesy Mark A. Moore

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.

Recommended Reading: Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Studies in Maritime History Series). From Library Journal: From the profusion of books about Confederate blockade running, this one will stand out for a long time as the most complete and exhaustively researched. …Wise sets out to provide a detailed study, giving particular attention to the blockade runners' effects on the Confederate war effort. It was, he finds, tapping hitherto unused sources, absolutely essential, affording the South a virtual lifeline of military necessities until the war's last days. This book covers it all: from cargoes to ship outfitting, from individuals and companies to financing at both ends. An indispensable addition to Civil War literature.

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Related Reading:

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and His Admirals (Hardcover). Description: Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "little about ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by prize-winning historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history. Continued below…

Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter--a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience--Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "little about ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age. A unique and riveting portrait of Lincoln and the admirals under his command, this book offers an illuminating account of Lincoln and the nation at war. In the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, it offers a memorable portrait of a side of his presidency often overlooked by historians.


Recommended Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart, Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's (quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy dictated by the White House. Continued below...

The naval blockade of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River.


Recommended Reading: Naval Campaigns of the Civil War. Description: This analysis of naval engagements during the War Between the States presents the action from the efforts at Fort Sumter during the secession of South Carolina in 1860, through the battles in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River, and along the eastern seaboard, to the final attack at Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina in January 1865. This work provides an understanding of the maritime problems facing both sides at the beginning of the war, their efforts to overcome these problems, and their attempts, both triumphant and tragic, to control the waterways of the South. The Union blockade, Confederate privateers and commerce raiders are discussed, as is the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Continued below…

An overview of the events in the early months preceding the outbreak of the war is presented. The chronological arrangement of the campaigns allows for ready reference regarding a single event or an entire series of campaigns. Maps and an index are also included. About the Author: Paul Calore, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, was the Operations Branch Chief with the Defense Logistics Agency of the Department of Defense before retiring. He is a supporting member of the U.S. Civil War Center and the Civil War Preservation Trust and has also written Land Campaigns of the Civil War (2000). He lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts.


Recommended Reading: Confederate Blockade Runner 1861-65 (New Vanguard). Description: The lifeblood of the Confederacy, the blockade runners of the Civil War usually began life as regular fast steam-powered merchant ships. They were adapted for the high-speed dashes through the Union blockade which closed off all the major Southern ports, and for much of the war they brought much-needed food, clothing and weaponry to the Confederacy. This book traces their operational history, including the development of purpose-built blockade running ships, and examines their engines, crews and tactics. It describes their wartime exploits, demonstrating their operational and mechanical performance, whilst examining what life was like on these vessels through accounts of conditions on board when they sailed into action.


Recommended Reading: Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History. Reader’s Review: In the thirty years since this book was published, one always hoped another would equal or surpass it. None has, or perhaps ever will. It is a marvelous history of the Forts along the American Seacoast, both Atlantic and Pacific, and even the Philippines. …Any Fort enthusiast must read this book. The author captures so much information, so many views, so much perspective in so few pages, the book is breathtaking. It is easily the finest book on its chosen subject, which is why it never goes out of print. “If forts interest you, read it, period.” Continued below...

The photographs from the author's collection, the army's files, the National Archives, etc., make it an invaluable edition. But the text, the clear delineation of the periods of fort building since 1794 in the US, and the differentiation of the periods, are so worth while. Ray manages to be both terse, and pithy. It is a great tribute to any author to say that. “This is a MUST read for anyone interested in the subject, even one only interested in their own local Fort, and how it relates to the defense plans of the United States when it was built.” “[T]here is NO better book to read on the subject.”

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