|Custodians of the coast Looking out from the mouth of every important harbor along the Southern seacoast, the Confederates were confronted by just such a grim menace as this. Riding at anchor or moving swiftly from point to point, the Federal fighting-ships, with sleepless vigilance, night and day sought every opportunity to destroy the vessels which attempted to keep up the commercial intercourse of the Confederacy with the outside world. At first it was chiefly a “paper blockade,” and the fact that its mere announcement accorded to the Confederacy the status of belligerents was hailed at the South as a fortunate diplomatic mistake. Swift merchantmen abroad were easily induced to enter the bold enter-prise which meant such profitable trade; laughing at the inadequate Federal patrol, they began to dump huge cargoes of the munitions of war at every Southern port, taking in return cotton, so necessary to keep the looms of Europe going. With the rapid growth of the Federal navy the blockade, whose early impotence had been winked at by European powers, became more and more a fact. The cordon was drawn tighter and tighter from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. One venturesome vessel after another was overhauled or driven ashore and both they and their cargoes became the rich prizes of the Federal navy. While this served vastly to increase the difficulty and danger of dealing with the South, it did not deter greatly the bold spirits to whom this war-time commerce was so profitable and necessary, and down to the fall of the last Southern seaport swift blockade-runners were found that could continue to show the beleaguering fleet a clean pair of heels. From the war's very beginning the Confederates were hopeful of being able to oppose the Federal navy with fighting-vessels that would raise the blockade, but they could not build boats fast enough, and almost as soon as they were finished they were captured or destroyed in one bold attempt after another to contend with the superior numbers that opposed them. Once at Mobile and again at Charleston, after a naval victory the Confederates proclaimed the blockade raised, only to find that in a few days the investing fleet had been doubled in strength. Meanwhile the blockade-runners continued to ply between Nassau, Bermuda, and other convenient depots and the ports of the Confederacy. Charleston, S. C., and Wilmington, N. C., the two most closely guarded ports, continued to be made by these greyhounds of the sea until the Federal land forces at last compassed the evacuation of the towns. Enormous as was the quantity of the merchandise and munitions of war that got by the blockade, it was the work of the Federal navy that first began to curtail the traffic, and finally ended it.|
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