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British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War

By Joseph McKenna

Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019

7” x 10”, softcover, vii + 209 pages

Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95

ISBN: 9781476676791

 

As there are hundreds of books on American Civil War maritime history and the blockade of the South, one has to question what makes McKenna's book stand out among his colleagues’ writings? The author states in his introduction that he hopes to rectify "little mistakes" made in American writings that have been perpetuated due to the lack of British records. Certainly, McKenna has gone to great lengths to provide new information in his endnotes and to document as much source material as possible. To a degree, his notes are more substantial than the body of his text. For example, and perhaps for the sake of brevity, McKenna tries to oversimplify Lincoln's policies in 1861: "One of the main planks of Lincoln's policy had been the abolition of slavery. For the present, the South needed its slaves." However, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, in Team of Rivals, in his inaugural address President "Lincoln moved to calm the anxieties of the Southern people…he had ‘no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so.'" While this was disconcerting to many in his abolitionist base, it was not until later that Lincoln publicly provided his policy on ending slavery.

 

While the author's endnotes are quite good, his documentation for the volume of data in his introduction and subsequent chapters go unlisted. While most American Civil War historians understand that the blockade covered over "3,500 miles (5,600km) of Confederate Coastline, with 189 harbors, rivers and inlets," there is no endnote to allow the reader the ability to seek out this data and know if it was pulled from Robert Browning, William N. Still, Jr., or another historian that has written on the blockade. One must also understand that while the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion is a great resource, it too, must be put into the same context as newspapers and other letters; it cannot stand alone.

 

Throughout his book, McKenna makes use of ship manifests and information on their captains and crews to develop an interesting and broader picture of this international venture. The list of vessels in alphabetical order showing builders and runs gives researchers an excellent primer. While he did use reliable sources from archives to assist him, he also quotes the writings of James Sprunt and lectures from the Ladies Memorial Association (now the United Daughters of the Confederacy) which are deeply immersed in Lost Cause rhetoric. While many scholars today shy away from the post-war hyperbole, McKenna weaves it into his encyclopedic entries to add a dash of excitement.

 

McKenna does present new information in a format that is consumable for the average reader. He uses newspapers, archival information, and personal accounts to introduce us to those in Great Britain who built vessels, ran the blockade, and aided the South in the Confederate war effort. For those who have read Clyde Built: Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War and Masters of the Shoals, British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War will be a good addition to their collection.

 

Lori Sanderlin

North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

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