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This week in the civil war

Union moves warships to enforce blockade

President Abraham Lincoln announced a blockade of Southern seaports months earlier in 1861. Enforcing it is another matter, requiring many more Union warships to police thousands of miles of coast against gunrunners and profiteers aiming to supply the less industrialized South with arms, weapons and troop supplies.

The Associated Press reports in early December that work proceeds quickly on construction of several naval side-wheel steamers to be armed with powerful 11-inch guns and 150-pound rifled cannon. AP also announces six fast screw sloops-of-war are being built for the Navy: the Shenandoah, Sacramento and Ticonderoga among them.

And the Union has more than just the Confederate ports and coasts to watch. AP reports a Canadian steamer has been seized off the coast of Maine by a revenue cutter. The report ads: “The steamer had on board about ten thousand Springfield muskets, clothing, boots, bank paper and munitions of war … the cargo was consigned to parties in the Southern States.”

The so-called Anaconda plan calls for squeezing off Southern supply lines both at seaports and interior rivers such as the Mississippi. A naval blockade will be a key to the eventual Northern victory. But ultimately, the war’s outcome will depend chiefly on the bloody land war and its grinding battles to come.

With winter near, there is no major fighting. AP reports on Dec. 8, 1861, that Union soldiers are setting up winter camps in Maryland and elsewhere, the roads muddy and almost impassable for army baggage wagons. Elsewhere, 31 “contrabands” – a phrase coined for escaped slaves – are reported to have found freedom this week by reaching federal outposts in Virginia. A trickle now, the “contraband” tide will become a flood of liberated slaves later in the war.

– Associated Press

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