Civil War Blockade Running

Of the eleven states that would create the Confederate States of America, Florida was the third state to secede from the Union, and the least populated. Instead of man-power, Florida’s contribution to the war effort centered on supplying the Confederate army with salt, cattle, citrus, and corn whiskey. However with the Union forces attempting to blockade nearly 3,500 miles of the Southern coastline, 1,400 miles of which were Florida’s shores, getting those supplies to the Confederate army was difficult, to say the least.

The blockade infringed on varying international treaties and could have cost the United States government dearly if they had lost the war. Regardless, its success is evident. By stopping trade, the Federals were able to stop much of the assistance that the South may have received from foreign countries in addition to the supplies produced by other states in the South. Over the course of the Civil War, the blockade slowly suffocated the Confederacy and, in combination with strategic victories in battle, decided the outcome of the war. The success of the blockade was also instrumental in developing the lucrative and risky business of blockade running to ensure that at least some supplies made it past the Union forces that blocked the ports and patrolled the coast.

Because the Big Bend section of the state was more populated and had more developed infrastructure, blockade runners on the west coast of Florida typically employed bigger ships. These allowed blockade runners to carry greater quantities of lead, iron, ammunition, and weapons to Tallahassee, where they were transferred to the Confederate Army. This structure allowed for greater access to luxuries, such as coffee and textiles, which brought in a bigger return on investment than war materials. Although the Confederate government would have rather that blockade runners transport only war materials, it did recognize the need for blockade runners to make a profit.

Despite its sparse population during the period, Manatee County had its own resident blockade runner: Capt. Archibald McNeill. McNeill, who moved his family into Gamble Plantation in spring of 1862, was the mail carrier for the area, transporting mail and passengers between Tampa and the Manatee River using his sloop, Mary Nevis. Although McNeill and his family never owned the plantation, they did remain there as caretakers throughout the Civil War and into the Reconstruction period. The connection to the river was good for his business ventures, but brought about much unwanted attention from Federal troops. One such visit occurred while McNeill was away. Union troops conducting a raid on the plantation were successful in confiscating twelve barrels of sugar meant for the Confederate Army.