I think it’s important to talk about people in history, and I realized that’s something we haven’t really done in our weeks of posts on blockade runners. This week’s first maritime post focuses on five captains who ran the Union blockade during the Civil War.
Many of the captains had been Southern steamboat captains prior to the war, which was an ideal qualification since they usually knew the coastline, allowing them to be captain and navigator. Some captains had served in the U.S. Navy and resigned when their states joined the Confederacy. Others were foreigners, willing to have an adventure and perhaps earn a fortune.
The post will be relatively short since it’s the holiday season and I suppose most readers don’t want 2,000 words to study.
Captain Steele was an Englishman and being a foreigner certainly had it’s advantages in the American conflict. Why? Well, with Europe holding on to neutrality as their watchword, Union officers couldn’t do much to Steele when they captured him. Since he was a civilian and foreigner, he was merely detained by the prize court and then allowed to depart for his home country…or to serve on another blockade runner.
Jonathon Steele is one of the more famous captains of this maritime episode because he captained the Banshee, which was the first steel hulled vessel to cross the Atlantic. (You can read more about the ship here.)
Prior to the war, Thomas Lockwood captained the Carolina, a small, side-wheeled packet boat which carried mail and cargo along the Southern coast. He was known for his skillful seamanship and had done well financially. As secession fired the South, Lockwood was hired to take dignitaries – including General P.G.T. Beauregard – on a harbor cruise around Charleston Harbor.
With his experience and knowledge of the coastline, Lockwood was a valuable captain during the blockade runner years. He commanded the Carolina, Theodora, Kate, and Elizabeth, and oversaw the construction of Colonel Lamb. Kate was actually Carolina, just renamed. Colonel Lamb was built in England and was supposed to service in the Gulf, but the war ended and the ship returned to Europe.
With his maritime expertise, James Carlin was never out of a job for long during the blockade running days. He started running ships for John Fraser & Company, an import/export company, but soon “transferred” to the Importing & Exporting Company of South Carolina.
He commanded the Cecile, but when that ship wrecked in the Bahamas, he captained several ships – include the Ruby – while waiting for the company to purchase and assign him a new merchant runner. In 1863, Captain Carlin ran both the Ella and Alice before the company sent him to Europe to oversee the construction of new ships.
Louis M. Coxetter
Louis M. Coxetter crossed to Havana on Thomas Lockwood’s Theodora in 1861, on his trip to to take command of a blockade runner he had been hired to captain. As another knowledgeable Southern captain, he would find plenty of work for shipping companies during the war.
His first runner ship was the Herald, and he and Lockwood worked for the same company, becoming the best captains in John Fraser and Company’s merchant fleet. However, Coxetter later transferred to the Chicora Importing and Exporting Company. It was uncommon for merchant companies to have bidding wars for the most successful runner captains – each trying to outbid the others with best offers and salaries.
John P. Smith
Captain John P. Smith had quite an adventure as he tried to leave Galveston, Texas, on April 30, 1864, with two other runners. As Union blockader chased the Southern ships, Smith managed to maneuver his ship – the Alice – staying out of range of at least one hundred artillery shells lobbed from the Union ship. Smith ordered the crew to throw between 250 and 300 bales of cotton overboard to lighten the cargo and hopefully gain enough speed to leave the enemy behind.
Using the weather and shoreline as his allies, Smith managed to outrun the Union ship and end the pursuit. However, the excitement had destroyed one of Alice’s engines; after a night of repairs, Smith and his crew managed to give the ship somewhat serviceable and made a slow voyage across the Gulf. Because so much fuel had been consumed during the escape, Alice’s upper deck was dismantled and burned to ensure that she reached Havana harbor and Spanish protection. Smith’s escape created embarrassment and frustration for the Union blockaders outside Galveston.