Category Archives: economics

Status of Jews in Moldavia, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 149-151:

These hostile feelings were much more deeply rooted in the north, where the Jewish population had increased from about two thousand families to close on a million in a hundred and thirty years, most of them in flight from the appalling conditions in Poland and the Russian Pale, until in several large Moldavian towns, including Yassy, the Moldavian capital, they now outnumbered the Rumanian inhabitants and monopolized the commerce of the province. Small wonder that this indigestible explosion of people caused dismay, resentment and hostility among the inhabitants; there was nothing comparable here to the harmonious and long established position of the polished and much less numerous Sephardim of the Ottoman world; small wonder, too, that the Jews, denied full citizenship and with nearly every route to advancement or honour denied to them, should expand and excel in the only field that was not barred by prejudice. The remote principality in which they suddenly began to proliferate had no middle class; rural society knew nothing between the mediaeval feudalism of landowners – the great and the lesser boyars, many of whom seldom set foot on their accumulations of acres – and a vast and callously exploited peasantry. There was no urban middle class, and, in Moldavia especially, as the country expanded, the Jewish population became a semi-alien bourgeoisie of middlemen and retailers.

Everyone reluctantly admitted that the Jews were honest in their dealings, however ruthless, and faithful to their agreements. I also noticed that nearly everyone, however ill-disposed in general, had one Jewish friend who ‘was not like the others’, an array of exemptions that must have added up to an imposing total. It was only on later travels in Moldavia and Bukovina that I got to know, talk to and even make friends with Jews not isolated in a Gentile majority. Lack of any need to conform to alien ways had left their way of life absolutely intact: the long black kaftans, broad-brimmed black velvet hats, skullcaps, black, red and blond beards, corkscrew side-whiskers (like those of my host and his son in the woods of the Banat), and a Yiddish largely unalloyed by Rumanian, but embedded with Polish and Russian words as well as the Hebrew studied by the rabbis and divinity students.

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Bulgarian Monastery Hospitality, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 12-15:

St John of Rila is only surpassed in venerability by SS Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Cyrillic script, and by St Simeon, in Bulgarian hagiography. The great monastery that he founded near his hermitage in these lonely mountains is, in a sense, the most important religious centre in the kingdom. The church, burnt down again and again in the disturbed past of Bulgaria, was rebuilt in the last century. The poor quality of the frescoes which smothered every inch of interior wall space and the brazen proliferation of the ikonostasis was mitigated by the candlelight. The Slav liturgy of vespers boomed out by a score of black-clad and long-haired and long-bearded monks, all leaning or standing in their miserere stalls, sounded marvellous. It continued for hours. Afterwards, charitably singled out as a foreigner, I was given a little cell to myself, although the monastery was so full that villagers were sleeping out with their bundles all over the yard and under the trees. Many more arrived next day and the inside of the church virtually seized up with the pious multitude. There were an archbishop and several bishops and archimandrites besides the abbot and his retinue. They officiated in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes. They evolved and chanted in aromatic clouds of smoke diagonally pierced by sun shafts. When all was over, a compact crocodile of votaries shuffled its way round the church to kiss St Ivan’s ikon and his thaumaturgic hand, black now as a briar root, inside its jewelled reliquary.

For the rest of the day, the glade outside the monastery was star-scattered with merrymaking pilgrims. At their heart an indefatigable ring of dancers rotated in the hora to the tune of a violin, a lute, a zither and a clarinet, ably played by Gypsies. Another Gypsy had brought his bear with him; it danced a joyless hornpipe and clapped its paws and played the tambourine to the beat of its master’s drum. A further castanet-like clashing came from an itinerant Albanian striking brass cups together, pouring out helpings of the sweetish, kvass-like boza from a spigot in a tasselled brass vessel four feet high, shaped like a mosque, its Taj Mahal dome topped by a little brass bird with wings splayed. Kebab and stuffed entrails were being grilled in culinary tabernacles as bristling with spitted and skewered meat as a shrike’s larder. Slivo and wine were reaching high tide. The lurching kalpacked villagers offered every newcomer their circular flasks of carved wood. (Elaborate woodwork plays a great part in the lives of Balkan mountaineers from the Carpathians to the Pindus in Greece, where it reaches its wildest pitch of elaboration. The same phenomenon applies to the Alps: the conjunction of harsh winters, long evenings, soft wood and sharp knives.) Under the leaves, a party of bright-aproned women sat round the feet of a shaggy bagpiper pumping out breathless pibrochs.

On the edge of this vast Balkan wassail I fell in with a party of students from Plovdiv. Like me they had come over the mountains, and were camping out. The most remarkable of these was an amusing, very pretty, fair-haired, frowning girl called Nadejda, who was studying French literature at Sofia University: a nimble hora dancer and endowed with unquenchable high spirits. She was staying on at the monastery three days to do some reading, which was exactly the length of my intended stay. We became friends at once. Apart from the stern rule of Mount Athos, women are just as welcome guests as men in most Orthodox monasteries. Bestowing hospitality seems almost the entire monastic function and the atmosphere of these cloisters is very different from the silence and recollection of abbeys in western Christendom. With its clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures and the cheerful expansiveness of the monks, life was more like that of a castle in the Middle Ages. The planks in the tiers of galleries and catwalks were so worn and unsteady that too brisk a footfall would set the whole fabric shaking like a spider’s web. The courtyards are forever a-clatter with mules. The father Abbot, the Otetz Igoumen, a benign figure with an Olympian white beard and his locks tied in a bun like a lady out hunting, spent most of his day receiving ceremonial calls: occasions always ratified, as they are everywhere else south of the Danube, by offering a spoonful of sherbet or rose petal jam or a powdery cube of rahat loukoum, a gulp of slivo, a cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of water, to help along the formal affabilities of the visit.

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Transylvanian Harvest Season, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 139-142:

The summer solstice was past, peonies and lilac had both vanished, cuckoos had changed their tune and were making ready to fly. Roast corn-cobs came and trout from the mountains; cherries, then strawberries, apricots and peaches, and, finally, wonderful melons and raspberries. The scarlet blaze of paprika—there were two kinds on the table, one of them fierce as gunpowder—was cooled by cucumber cut thin as muslin and by soda splashed into glasses of wine already afloat with ice; this had been fetched from an igloo-like undercroft among the trees where prudent hands had stacked it six months before, when—it was impossible to imagine it!—snow covered all. Waggons creaked under loads of apricots, yet the trees were still laden; they scattered the dust, wasps tunnelled them and wheels and foot-falls flattened them to a yellow pulp; tall wooden vats bubbled among the dusty sunflowers, filling the yards with the sweet and heady smell of their fermentation; and soon, even at midday, the newly distilled spirit began to bowl the peasants over like a sniper, flinging the harvesters prostrate and prone in every fragment of shadow. They snored among sheaves and hay-cocks and a mantle of flies covered them while the flocks crammed together under every spread of branches, and not a leaf moved.

Behind the thick walls and the closed afternoon shutters of the kastély [manor house], sleep reigned fitfully too, but resurrection came soon. The barley was already in and István was busy with his reapers and the last of the wheat. (In Hungary, the harvest began on the 29th of June, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, but it was a bit earlier hereabouts.) … After the long weeks of sickles and scythes and whetstones, it was threshing time. Old machines were toiling away and filling the valleys with their throbbing, driven by engines with flapping belts and tall Puffing Billy chimneys expanding in a zigzag at the top. Up in the mountains, horses harnessed to wooden sledges and rollers for shelling the grain trotted round and round on circles of cobble. Winnowing followed, when clouds of skied grain sparkled and fell and then sparkled again as the next wooden shovelful transfigured the afternoon with chaff. The sacks, carried off in ox-carts, were safe in the barns at last. If the waggoners were Rumanians, instead of crying “stânga!” or “dreaptă!” in their native tongue when they wanted their oxen to turn left or right (or “jobb!” or “bal!” in Magyar if they were Hungarians) they would shout “heiss!” [hăis] and “tcha!” [cea].  I had first noticed these arcane cries when buffaloes were being coaxed or goaded along. István thought that the Turks had first brought these animals here, probably from Egypt, though they must originally have come from India. But the words are neither Turkish, Arabic, Romany, Hindi nor Urdu.

July brought a scattering of younger Transylvanians and their relations in search of refuge along the river valley from the heat of Budapest, which summer had turned into one of the great tropical cities of the world. There were parties and picnics and bathing, and tennis at István’s till it was too dark to see the ball, on a court sunk among thick trees like a shady well; and feasting and singing round pianos in those long disintegrating drawing-rooms, and sometimes dancing to a gramophone. A few of the records were only a year or two out of date, many much older: Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Blue Skies, Lazybones, Love for Sale, Saint Louis Blues, Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise. In case of need, István was revealed as a proficient pianist—“but only for this sort of stuff,” he said, vamping, syncopating, honky-tonking and glissandoing away like mad; then, spinning completely round on the piano-stool, he ended with a lightning thumbnail sweep of the whole keyboard from bass to treble.

The village calendar was starred with feasts and saints’ days and weddings. Gypsies throve, the sound of their instruments was always within earshot and the village squares were suddenly ringed with great circular wreaths of dancers in wonderful clothes with their hands on each others’ shoulders, a couple of hundred or more: and the triple punctuating stamp of the horă and the sârbă, falling all together, would veil all their bravery for a moment in dust-clouds. (I learnt all these dances later on.) It was at night that they impinged most insistently, especially on the eve of a wedding, when the groom and his paranymphs went through the slow stages of a mock abduction. If the rhythms of High Hat, The Continental or Get Along, Little Dogie flagged for a moment among the faded looking-glasses and sconces and portraits in the kastély, staccato cries, high-pitched and muted by distance, as the bride was hoisted aloft, would come sailing up from the village below and through the long windows. “Hai! Hai! Hai! Hai!” The dancing was spurred on late into the night by the new apricot brandy, and the fiddles and zithers and clarinets and double-basses were heckled by the distant yelping of wild rustic epithalamia; then strings, hammers and the shrill reeds would be drowned once more by Dinah, and our own hullabaloo under the chandeliers.

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Bratislava’s Babylon, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 247-248:

The Schlossberg, the rock which dominates the town with its colossal gutted castle, had a bad name, and I hadn’t climbed many of the steps of the lane before understanding why. One side of the path dropped among trees and rocks, but on the other, each of the hovels which clung to the mountain was a harlot’s nest. Dressed in their shifts with overcoats over their shoulders or glittering in brightly-coloured and threadbare satin, the inmates leaned conversationally akimbo against their door-jambs, or peered out with their elbows propped on the half-doors of their cells and asked passers-by for a light for their cigarettes. Most of them were handsome and seasoned viragos, often with peroxided hair as lifeless as straw and paint was laid on their cheeks with a doll-maker’s boldness. There were a few monsters and a number of beldames. Here and there a pretty newcomer resembled a dropped plant about to be trodden flat. Many sat indoors on their pallets, looking humble and forlorn, while Hungarian peasants and Czech and Slovak soldiers from the garrison clumped past in ascending and descending streams. During the day, except for the polyglot murmur of invitation, it was rather a silent place. But it grew noisier after dark when shadows brought confidence and the plum-brandy began to bite home. It was only lit by cigarette ends and by an indoor glow that silhouetted the girls on their thresholds. Pink lights revealed the detail of each small interior: a hastily tidied bed, a tin basin and a jug, some lustral gear and a shelf displaying a bottle of solution, pox-foiling and gentian-hued; a couple of dresses hung on a nail. There would be a crucifix, or an oleograph of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption, and perhaps a print of St. Wenceslas, St. John Nepomuk or St. Martin of Tours. Postcards of male and female film stars were stuck in the frames of the looking-glasses, and scattered among them snapshots of Maszaryk, Admiral Horthy and Archduke Otto declared the allegiance of the inmates. A saucepan of water simmered over charcoal; there was little else. The continuity of these twinkling hollows was only broken when one of the incumbents charmed a stooping soldier under her lintel. Then a dowsed lamp and the closing of a flimsy door, or a curtain strung from nail to nail, masked their hasty embraces from the passers-by. This staircase of a hundred harlots was trodden hollow by decades of hobnails, and the lights, slanting across the night like a phosphorescent diagonal in a honeycomb, ended in the dark. One felt, but could not see, the huge battlemented ruin above. At the lower end, the diffused lights of the city cataracted downhill.

This was the first quarter of its kind I had seen. Without knowing quite how I had arrived, I found myself wandering there again and again, as an auditor more than an actor. The tacit principle to flinch at nothing on this journey quailed here. These girls, after all, were not their Viennese sisters, who could slow up a bishop with the lift of an eye lash. And even without this embargo, the retribution that I thought inevitable—no nose before the year was out—would have kept me safely out of doors. The lure was more complicated. Recoil, guilt, sympathy, attraction, romantisme du bordel and nostalgie de la boue wove a heady and sinister garland. It conjured up the abominations in the books of the Prophets and the stews of Babylon and Corinth and scenes from Lucian, Juvenal, Petronius and Villon. It was aesthetically astonishing too, a Jacob’s ladder tilted between the rooftops and the sky, crowded with shuffling ghosts and with angels long fallen and moulting. I could never tire of it.

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Heilsarmee Hospitality in Vienna, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 196-198:

We seemed to have been walking for miles in this dim wilderness. At last, not far, I think, from the Danube Canal, we reached a quarter full of sidings and warehouses, and tramlines running over cobblestones glimmered amid dirty snow, and broken crates were scattered about. Under the lee of a steep ramp, a lighted doorway opened at the foot of a large building whose windows were bright in the murk. The policeman left me and I went in.

A large antechamber was filled with a moving swarm of tramps. Each one had a bundle; their overcoats flapped like those of scarecrows and their rags and sometimes their footgear were held together by rusty safety-pins and string. There were Guy Fawkes beards and wild or wandering eyes under torn hat brims. Many of them seemed to have known each other for years. Social greetings and gossip combined in an affable manner and a vague impulse kept them on the move in a shuffling ebb and flow.

A door opened, and a voice shouted “Hemden!”—“Shirts!”—and everyone stampeded towards the door of the next room, elbowing and barging and peeling off their upper clothes as they went. I did the same. Soon we were all naked to the waist, while a piercing unwashed smell opened above each bare torso like an umbrella. Converging wooden rails herded us in a shuffling, insolvent swarm towards a circular lamp. As each newcomer came level with it, an official took his shirt and his under-linen, and, stretching them across the lamp, which was blindingly bright and a yard in diameter, gazed searchingly. All entrants harbouring vermin were led away to be fumigated, and the rest of us, after giving our names at a desk, proceeded into a vast dormitory with a row of lamps hung high under the lofty ceiling. As I wriggled back into my shirt, the man who had taken my name and details led me to an office, saying that a Landsmann of mine had arrived that evening, called Major Brock. This sounded strange. But when we entered the office, the mystery was solved and the meaning of the word Heilsarmee as well. For on the table lay a braided and shiny-peaked black forage-cap with a maroon strawberry growing from the centre of the crown. The words ‘Salvation Army’ gleamed in gold letters on a maroon band. The other side of the table, drinking cocoa, sat a tired, grey-haired figure in steel-rimmed glasses and a frogged uniform jacket unbuttoned at the neck. He was a friendly-looking man from Chesterfield—one could tell he was from The North—and his brow was furrowed by sober piety and fatigue. Breaking his journey on a European inspection tour of Salvation Army hostels, I think he had just arrived from Italy. He was leaving next day and knew as little about events as I. Too exhausted to do much more than smile in a friendly way, he gave me a mug of cocoa and a slice of bread. When he saw how quickly they went down, a second helping appeared. I told him what I was up to—Constantinople, etc.—and he said I could stay a day or two. Then he laughed and said that I must be daft. I untied Trudi’s eggs and arranged them on his desk in a neat clutch. He said “Thanks, lad,” but looked nonplussed about what to do with them.

I lay on my camp-bed fully dressed. A dream feeling pervaded this interior; and soon the approach of sleep began to confuse the outlines of my fellow-inmates. They flitted about, grouping and re-grouping in conversation, unwinding foot-cloths and picking over tins of fag ends. One old man kept putting his boot to his ear as though he were listening to sea-sounds in a shell and each time his face lit up. The noise of talk, bursting out in squabbles or giggles on a higher note and then subsiding again to a universal collusive whisper, rippled through the place with a curious watery resonance. The groups were reduced in scale by the size and the height of the enormous room. They seemed to cluster and dissolve like Doré figures swarming and dwindling all over the nave of some bare, bright cathedral—a cathedral, moreover, so remote that it might alternatively have been a submarine or the saloon of an airship. No extraneous sound could pierce those high bare walls. To those inside them, everyday life and the dark strife of the city outside seemed equally irrelevant and far away. We were in Limbo.

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Bürgermeister Hospitality, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 115-116:

Remembering the advice the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I had arrived in this little village, I had sought out the Bürgermeister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and, apparently, very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travellers.

The Gastwirtschaft [restaurant] was a beetling chalet with cut logs piled to the eaves. An elaborate balcony ran all the way round it; carved and fretted woodwork frilled it at every point and a layer of snow two feet thick, like the cotton-wool packing for a fragile treasure, muffled the shallow tilt of the enormous wide-eaved roof.

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Civil War “West”: Rivers and Rails

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 1304-1325:

It is important to acknowledge that during Civil War, “the West” referred not to places like Arizona and New Mexico, or even Texas and Arkansas, which constituted the “trans-Mississippi West,” but instead to the expanse of territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The Ohio River marked its northern boundary, and the Gulf of Mexico its southern, and it encompassed all or part of six states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. It may seem odd to think of Georgia as part of the West since it borders the Atlantic Ocean, but strategically much of Georgia—especially Atlanta—was more closely tied to the West than the East. This vast western area got less public attention than the epic battles in Virginia both at the time and subsequently, and until recently Civil War literature tended to treat it as a secondary theater, though a good argument can be made that this expansive region was the decisive theater of the war.

Moreover, there were important differences in the way the war was fought in the West. First of all, the western theater was simply much larger. In the East, which contained both of the national capitals, most of the headline-grabbing battles took place in an area bounded by the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Chesapeake Bay to the east. Gettysburg marked its northern limit and Petersburg its southern. Though it seemed enormous to the soldiers who had to march across it from place to place, it was a relatively small area, roughly the size of Massachusetts. By contrast, the war in the West ebbed and flowed in an area nearly 20 times as large. Given those dimensions, railroads were critical. Confederate General Braxton Bragg moved his army over 1,000 miles by rail to outflank a Union army in 1862; James Longstreet took two divisions across five states by rail to reinforce the Confederate army on the eve of Chickamauga in 1863; and Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman fought an entire campaign over control of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1864 in what may have been the decisive campaign of the war.

Even more critical, however, were the rivers. The rivers in the West were essential not only to the movement of armies, but also to the transport of the supplies necessary to sustain those armies. Transport ships could carry more men and goods, and do so more quickly and efficiently than railroads. And while rampaging cavalry might be able to interrupt railroad traffic by tearing up rails and burning bridges, they could not stop the flow of the rivers. Of course, transports could be ambushed by parties on shore, such as the battery the rebels briefly established at Commerce, Missouri, and for that reason, gunboats were necessary to escort the transports and keep the rivers secure.

In addition, the rivers were geographical realities that affected the strategic planning of both sides. In the East, where the main field armies of both sides slugged it out between Richmond and Washington, the rivers ran mostly west to east—that is horizontally as they appear on a map—athwart any potential Union line of advance, making them defensive barriers that worked to the South’s advantage. Civil War scholar Daniel Sutherland has named the Rappahannock-Rapidan River line in Virginia the “dare mark” beyond which Union armies advanced only at their peril. But with the exception of the Ohio River, the principal rivers in the West ran either north-to-south, like the Mississippi, or south-to-north, like the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers—that is, vertically as they appear on a map. Consequently they served not as barriers to a Union attack, but as avenues along which Union armies, supported by river gunboats, could advance. For these reasons, Union planners began to consider a river gunboat flotilla from almost the first days of the war.

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Confederate Commerce Raiding Effects

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 1238-1257:

Altogether during the war, eight Confederate commerce raiders captured and destroyed some 284 Union merchant ships valued at more than $25 million. Most of them were sailing ships, and a third of them (97) were taken by either the Alabama or the Florida.

In assessing the impact of these rebel raiders, as in assessing the impact of the blockade, numbers alone cannot tell the full story. William Dalzell, whose 1940 history The Flight from the Flag remains a classic, argued that the ripple effect of those 284 lost ships went well beyond the immediate impact of sunken ships and lost cargoes. The success of the Florida and the Alabama in particular led to a significant jump in maritime insurance rates, which reduced the profit margin even for ships that never encountered a rebel raider. Moreover, the rebel raiders engendered such fear within the American maritime community that many merchants abandoned American-flag ships altogether and shipped their goods in foreign bottoms. Facing a dearth of customers, American shippers either sold out or reregistered their ships in foreign countries. Whereas in 1858 only 33 American-built vessels registered as British ships, a total of 348 did so in 1863. Thus while the raiders sank or burned some 150,000 tons of Union shipping, they were also instrumental in provoking the transfer of another 800,000 tons to foreign registry. In all, nearly a million tons of merchant ships-half of the U.S. merchant marine-ceased to fly the American flag. In the fall of 1863, a reporter for the New York Herald noted that of the 176 ships then in New York Harbor, only 19 of them flew the American flag. The others flew the flags of England (93), Bremen (20), France (10), Denmark (6), Hanover (6), Hamburg (6), Prussia (4), Belgium (3), Norway (3), Austria (3), Holland (2), and Sweden (1). Indeed, American-flag shipping dropped nearly as spectacularly during the war as southern cotton exports. While the blockade reduced southern cotton exports from 2.8 million bales in 1860 to 55,000 in 1862, rebel commerce raiders effectively reduced Union shipping from 2.2 million tons in 1860 to fewer than 500,000 by 1865. Considering that the South invested considerably less in building and equipping its handful of raiders than the North did in establishing and maintaining the blockade, the southern decision to adopt a strategy of guerre de course [war on commerce] seems more than validated.

On the other hand, the raiders’ impact on the economy of the North was not nearly as devastating as the impact of the blockade was to the economy of the South. The hundreds of American-owned ships that adopted foreign registry to avoid being targeted by the rebel raiders were not lost, merely reflagged. During Britain’s wars with France earlier in the 19th century, much of its trade shifted to American-flag vessels to prevent their capture by French privateers. American commerce in this period had thrived as a result, but so, too, had the British economy. Now the situation was reversed, and during the Civil War much of America’s trade shifted to British-flag vessels. In both cases, the home economy continued to prosper. An editorial in the New York Sun in March of 1865, only weeks before Appomattox, noted “There never was a time in the history of New York when business prosperity was more general, when the demand for goods was greater, and payments more prompt, than within the last two or three years.

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Perils of Civil War Blockades

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 669-691:

Night was the most dangerous time, for that was when the blockade runners were most likely to attempt a run in or out of port. In the middle of a moonless night, perhaps in a misting rain, a slightly darker shadow amid the blackness might be perceived creeping through the anchored ships of the squadron. Wary of firing into a friend, the officer of the deck might order that the night signal be made asking “friend or foe?” At this order, the signal officer might fumble in the dark for Coston flares, and put up the required combination of red or white flares. If the appropriate response was not forthcoming, a rocket might be fired into the dark sky to alert the rest of the squadron. Feet would pound on the ladders and decks as men tumbled up from below to cast loose the big guns and train them out into the darkness seeking the shadowy outline of the blockade runner going past at 10, 12, or even 14 knots. Muzzle flashes would light up the night, temporarily blinding the gunners. Some ships would slip their anchors and set out in pursuit. Then it was over, more often than not with the runner escaped, the men angry about their missed opportunity, and the officers frustrated.

A typical encounter took place off Charleston on June 23, 1862. At 3:00 A.M., in the pitch black of the pre-dawn darkness, the deck watch on the wooden side-wheel steamer USS Keystone State spotted an unidentified steamer coming out of Charleston and making for open water. The watch officer fired a gun, slipped the anchor cable, and set out in pursuit. Thus alerted, the USS Alabama and the USS James Adger, flagship ship of the squadron, joined the chase, and all three Union warships set out at full speed after the illicit vessel. After three hours and more than 40 miles, the Alabama and James Adger found themselves falling further and further behind and they gave up the chase to the swifter Keystone State, which had a reputation as the fastest ship in the squadron. When the sun rose, the commander of the Keystone State, William LeRoy, identified the chase as the Nashville, a notorious blockade runner recently renamed named the Thomas L. Wragg. LeRoy ordered the coal heavers to redouble their efforts. To lighten ship and gain speed, he ordered the ship’s drinking water pumped over the side and jettisoned several lengths of anchor chain. Slowly but steadily the Keystone State began to gain on its quarry.

On board the fleeing Nashville, the officers and crew grew desperate. They threw their entire cargo, cotton valued at more than a million dollars, overboard, and then they began tearing apart the deck cabins to burn the wood and raise more steam. The Nashville pulled ahead again. For more than 300 miles, the two ships raced across the ocean at full speed, heading southeast. Finally after an all-day chase, with each ship squeezing every ounce of speed out of its engine, the Nashville slipped into a squall and disappeared. Eventually it reached Abaco in the British Bahamas. LeRoy, vastly disappointed, pointed, returned to resume the interminable blockade of Charleston. Statistically this went into the books as the successful escape of a blockade runner, though of course the loss of the Nashville’s cargo meant that it resulted in no benefit to the Confederacy.

But there was more. When the James Adger returned to the blockade squadron off Charleston after its 80-mile roundtrip pursuit of the Nashville, its commander, John B. Marchand, learned that during his absence another notorious blockade runner, the Memphis, had slipped into the harbor past the blockading squadron and was aground on the beach at Sullivan’s Island under the guns of Fort Moultrie. The Confederates were already at work removing its cargo by lighters. It was mortifying to Marchand to report to Du Pont at Port Royal that two ships had successfully violated the blockade.

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Logistics of Early Sidewheel Steamships

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 78-97:

Despite their self-evident logistical limitations, the tactical superiority of paddle steamers in the Mexican War led Congress in 1847 to approve three new side-wheel steamers (the Susquehanna, the Powhatan, and the Saranac), and one with a screw propeller (the San Jacinto), all of which would play prominent roles in the Civil War. Like all steamers of that era, each of these ships carried a full suite of masts and spars and were labeled “auxiliary steamers” because they were expected to navigate under sail at least as often as they did under steam. They were, in fact, transitional vessels that straddled the age of sail and the age of steam. The principal reason for including the San Jacinto in the program was to compare a screw-driven vessel against a paddle-wheel vessel, a comparison that was marred by the fact that the San Jacinto had a number of engineering flaws-including a propeller shaft that was 20 inches off the centerlines.

Despite that, it very soon became evident that the side-wheel steamers were inferior to screw steamers. When the Susquehanna was dispatched to the Far East by way of Capetown and the Indian Ocean in 1851, it took eight months to steam 18,500 miles, and it burned 2,500 tons of coal en route. Simple division shows that this yielded an average of 7.4 miles of forward progress for each ton of coal burned. Because coal cost an average of about $10 a ton in 1851, it cost the government about $1.35 (more than a full day’s pay) for every mile that passed under the Susquehanna‘s keel. Moreover, the lengthy transit time was a product not only of its relatively slow speed (8-10 knots) but also of the fact that the Susquehanna had to stop eight times en route to refuel, spending 54 days in port recoaling. Finally, all of those coaling stops were necessarily at foreign ports because the United States had no overseas bases in the mid-19th century. Even after the Susquehanna arrived-finally-on station at Hong Kong, it remained dependent on foreign sources of fuel to stay there. Obviously, for a navy with far-flung responsibilities and no overseas coaling bases, steam power continued to have significant limitations.

A second problem with side-wheel steamers like the Susquehanna was that those enormous paddle wheels on each side obscured much of the ships’ broadsides, thus limiting the number of guns they could carry, and those big paddle wheels made very inviting targets. If one of the paddle wheels was damaged by enemy fire, the ship’s mobility would be dramatically affected, and the helmsman would need great skill to prevent the ship from yawing off course or even steaming in a circle. Navy Lieutenant W. W. Hunter suggested that the solution was to turn the paddle wheels on their sides and place them below the water line, thus putting them out of the line of fire and restoring storing an uninterrupted broadside. Dubbed the Hunter’s Wheel, this seemed to offer a technological and tactical solution. But in practice the Hunter’s Wheel proved stunningly inefficient. In 1842 the USS Union was engineered to operate with Hunter’s Wheels, but while they dramatically churned up the water and burned extravagant amounts of coal, the ship made no better than five knots, and in 1848 its engines were removed and it was employed as a receiving ship. In the end, the best solution proved, after all, to be Ericsson’s screw propeller, and in the mid 1850s, during a burst of naval expansion, the U.S. Navy returned to it for a new generation of warships.

The Powhatan and Susquehanna were among the “black ships” in Commodore Perry’s expeditions to Japan.

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