Book Review: British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War


by Joseph McKenna

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019. Pp. vi, 206. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN: 1476676798

Blockade Running for Fun and Profit

British historian McKenna, author of British Ships in the Confederate Navy and other works, gives us a look at the British role in blockade running, a largely untold story. He opens by noting that not only were many of the blockade runners and their crews British, but much of the organization and funding of blockade running was done by Britons.

McKenna then discusses the legalities of the blockade and its evolution through the war, and, of course, the resulting development and evolution of blockade running and some of the diplomatic controversy stirred up by these. He gives us looks at the ships, both adapted and special built, their crews and the men who commanded them, and, perhaps the least well-known aspect of the business, the complex financial aspects of procuring and operating blockade runners and the profits, He then devotes one long chapter to close looks at several daring missions, not all successful.

McKenna’s notes are particularly good. For example, one details a ship’s cargo, revealing the extent to which much of the goods and material being run through the blockade was of little or no benefit to the Confederate war effort, such as silks and other fabrics, fine wines and whiskeys, and various other luxury goods.

In the end, McKenna makes the rather surprising conclusion that the blockade was ineffective, which is not supported by the evidence. While it is true that for the first year of the war the blockade was run frequently, ship arrivals at Southern ports steadily declined.  And during the war’s second year the Confederacy’s foreign trade had fallen by perhaps 90-percent of prewar levels.

Despite the odd conclusion, British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War is a good read for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of blockade running.


Note: British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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