Birlinn Ltd (3 July 2006), Hardback & Paperback, illustrated, 219 pages.
The Civil War of 1861-65 was one of the defining moments in the history of America, and the role of the blockade runners in providing the lifeline to the Confederacy is well known. Far less understood is the role Scotland played in this ‘peculiar trade’. By launching the fastest steamers in the world, it was inevitable that Confederate agents should be drawn to Clydeside in their quest to beat the ever-tightening blockade. Their clandestine operation stripped the Clyde of its existing stock of ‘racers’ while their orders for new custom-built ‘runners’ of even greater speed forced the pace of marine technology. The outcome was that over one third of the steamers running the blockade were Clyde-built.
With fortunes to be made running munitions in and cotton out, Scotland provided many of the daring captains, engineers and stokers that ran through the lines of blockading Federal warships on moonless nights. The attrition rate to capture was staggering but the lure was such – costs being recovered after just two runs – that Clydeside speculators set up their own blockade-running firms.
More sinister was the Confederate covert programme to acquire cruisers and an armoured ram from the Clydeside yards. This political and legal game of ‘cat and mouse’ tested British neutrality and stretched diplomatic relations with the United States to the brink of war. The local emancipation societies made sure that the US consul in Glasgow had the evidence to expose the lethal intent of these vessels, forcing many Scots to question their support of the slave-owning secessionists.
Clyde Built is a rigorous yet fascinating account of Scotland’s involvement in the American Civil War – an involvement that prolonged this bloody conflict by several years and left a technological legacy that was the foundation of Scotland’s world-class shipbuilding industry.
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