>> every weekend booktv offers programming focused on nonfiction authors and books. keep watching for more here on c-span2 and watch any of our past programs online at booktv.org. >> you're watching booktv on c-span2. this weekend we're visiting galveston, texas, with the help of our local cable partner comcast. up next, we visit with author andrew hall whose book "civil war blockade running on the texas coast" explores galvestons' role in the civil war. >> people don't think of texas as being, playing much of a role in the civil war because they're more familiar with a lot of the battles and a lot of the struggles that took part in the eastern united states gettysburg, of course, sharpsburg or antitam.
they think of the campaign in georgia and sherman's march from atlanta to savannah in late 1864 and up through the carolinas in late 1865. sometimes they'll think about the campaigns that took place in tennessee and mississippi. for example, the siege of vicksburg. there weren't a lot of major military actions that took place in texas. and so that -- texas sometimes doesn't get the attention that it probably should. galveston's role in the civil war was an important one. galveston at the time, in 1860 was the largest city in texas. it had it had the largest population. it was one of the two commercial centers of texas, and it was the primary seaport of texas. there were no rail connections between texas and the rest of the united states in 1860. you could not get on a train in texas and travel to the other parts of country. and so texas was, texas' primary
link to the rest of the united states or after 1861 to the rest of the confederacy was by sea. and galveston was the best natural harbor on the texas coast, and galveston was the large city. and so a lot of everything that involved trade and later blockade running went through galveston for the most part. and other small ports along the texas coast, but galveston was the primary one. even before the confederates fired on fort sumter in april of 1861 in charleston, the union was preparing and thinking about what happens if this becomes, if secession becomes a shooting war. and one of the things that they considered was creating -- establishing a blockade of southern ports. the idea of a blockade is to use -- it's an old, traditional technique that's used in warfare to blockade an enemy's port to
keep ships and vessels from coming in and out to prevent the enemy from getting support from outside. the union, union forces declared a blockade on april 19 of 861. that was just -- 1861. that was just two days after jefferson davis had declared the confederates would authorize privateers to go after union shipping which is itself an act of war. but the union blockade was declared in april 19th of 1861. the idea was that the federals would position warships around the confederate coast around the southern ports and prevent vessels from coming in and out. running the blockade was it legal? it wasn't legal in the eyes of union forces, it was legal in the eyes of the confederacy because they didn't recognize federal -- they didn't recognize federal authority in the is seceded states -- in the seceded states.
blockade running was mostly done as a private venture. anyone could become a blockade runner if you had the capital or a vessel or the business interests, and lots of people did. lots of, lots of folks who were involved in other aspects of business became involved in blockade running during the war because that was a way to maintain their businesses. how seriously did the federal government the union take blockade running? they took it very seriously, and they realized from the very beginning of the war, from the very beginning that they would need to devote a lot of resources to the blockade. the union navy at the beginning of the war was, i don't know 40, 50 vessels at most in active service. it was very small, and it had to expand tremendously. and so for the first few i months through the middle of 1861 through early 1862 the federal navy the union navy was buying up every ship it could find not just building lots of
new warships, but purchasing every civilian ship they could put a gun on and using it on the blockade. and the thinking was well, we don't need to blockade the coast, we just need lots of ships. we don't need lots of warships because they're not going to be going into combat a lot. and that's probably right. so the union navy expanded during the course of the war from maybe 40 or 50 ships on active service to, i think, over 600. and the vast majority of those were on the blockade around southern ports. the blockade became much more effective as the war went on because, simply because the navy, the union navy expanded so much at the very beginning of the war. the first ship appeared on the blockade off of galveston was the uss south carolina appeared off galveston in july of 1861 and it was just one ship. to blockade not just galveston but the entire texas coast. but, of course more came after
that and it expanded. and by 1864 there were typically a dozen union warships just off galveston. and so they took it very seriously, and they devoted a tremendous amount of resources into enforcing the blockade. for the fast blockade runners, they still -- the odds were still in their favor even by end of the war. they were getting through most of the time. the odds got a lot longer as the war went on. blockade running could be hazardous. blockade runners, they were private -- they were almost all privately owned vessels. there were few exceptions late in the war of ships that were actually owned by the confederate government but most of them were privately owned civilian merchant ships. they were unarmed, and generally they would not put up a fight if they were, if they were caught. they would run like crazy. they would throw the cotton overboard, they would throw cargo overboard, they would put everything that would burn into
the furnaces to to keep going and try and outrun blockade runner -- excuse me a blockade vessel that was after them. but once they were cornered, they would usually surrender. so it was not, it was not physically dangerous in the same way that it would be serving on a confederate warship. but there were dangers, nonetheless. there were lots of blockade runners were wrecked because they traveled, they traveled at night, they traveled in poor weather conditions, they traveled in trying to get in and out of harbors where all the aids to navigation, the buoys and lights and everything had been removed. so it was very common for blockade runners to be wrecked especially coming into a confederate port. and there were sometimes casualties when that happened; sailors and crew members were drowned or lost. so it was, it was -- there were dangers involved with it in that regard. the federals, they were in a
little bit of a tight spot because they were out to stop the blockade runners, to to capture them, but most of the crews of blockade runners either were citizens of neutral countries -- british typically -- they were either citizens of neutral countries or at least they had papers saying they were citizens of neutral countries. and there wasn't very much that the union could do to hold them for very long. what they would do with the ships is the captured blockade runner would have a prize crew put aboard, they would take the vessel to the nearest federal prize court which in this case would be new orleans or maybe key west and the navy would file papers to have the prize, the captured vessel condemned as it was called. and then they would present the evidence that they had that the ship was, in fact running the blockade in contravention of
u.s. law and they would present that evidence to the court. if the owners had -- if the owners of the ship had a representative, which they generally didn't, that person could go to court as well and present evidence that they were not, in fact, running the blockade because they never admitted that they were actually doing that. but more often, almost always the ship was found to have been running the blockade, would be condemned by the court, and then the ship and all its cargo would be sold at public auction. and there are a number of cases of blockade-running vessels that were caught, sent to a prize court, condemned sold at auction, sold again and then sold to someone who put it right back in the blockade running and within three or four months that same vessel would be running the blockade under a new name with new owners but it's the same ship. right on up to the end of the war in texas, the last blockade
runner entered confederate port, port of galveston here. it was the blockade runner lark, and it came into it came into galveston on the night of may 23 24th 1865. that's more than a month after appomattox, that's more than a month after lincoln had been assassinated. texas and the trans-mississippi department still had not surrendered. texas was still officially part of the confederacy, was still officially part of the war. and the blockade was still active here. and so as late as the final, last week of may of 1865 we still had blockade runners trying to get into the port and leaving. the lark was actually the last blockade runner to enter and clear a confederate port. i talk about in the book it's sort of a rough ending to blockade running, because lark on the morning of the 24th tied
up at central whatever which, in fact was -- wharf which, in fact, was right here where we are now. tied up at central wharf, and they were doing all the things they normally did to get the ship ready to be unloaded and tying up at the wharf and putting gangplanks down and stuff like that, and a confederate courier on horseback came pounding out along the pier yelling, "get your ship cast off, cast off, get your ship out into the harbor away from the dock." and before they could do that, a gang of about 200 soldiers confederate soldiers who were away from their garrison away from their post, they were fed up, they swarmed the ship, and they began breaking open cargo holds and and looking for liquor, looking for alcohol. and when they found that they -- and they found that started drinking by this time a large group of citizens had
arrived and were watching all this, and pretty soon the looting became general. and you had women and children and civilians and soldiers all going through the cargo of this blockade runner that had just arrived and taking anything they could, anything they could use, anything they thought they might be able to sell, just taking everything they could get their hands on. and finally the captain of the lark managed to get enough people off of his ship that he could cast off. he got going again and picked up the crew of another blockade runner which had been wrecked the night before over on the peninsula. he picked up that crew and on the night of may 24th, headed back out into the gulf of mexico and back toward havana, and that was the last blockade runner to clear a confederate port. and it happened right here. this is not a part of civil war history that people are