A Southern Blockade Run Cover Through Wilmington
The decision to impose a naval Blockade on the Southern states was among the first strategic decisions made by the North in the Civil War. Gen. Winfield Scott, the 75 year old head of the army, saw it as a way to force the South back into the union.
On April 19, 1861, in his first formal proclamation after calling for volunteers to defend the Union, President Lincoln declared the seceded states to be under Blockade. The goal of the Blockade was twofold: to prevent shipment of war materials to Southern States and to isolate the Confederacy diplomatically. Lincoln did not want Europe to enter the war.
The decision to impose a naval Blockade proved to be difficult to enforce. The Confederacy possessed over 3,500 miles of coastline from Alexandria, VA to Brownsville, TX — a coastline with 189 harbors, inlets and navigable rivers — to Blockade the coast. The U.S. navy had only 90 warships, of which only 42 were in commission at the time of the proclamation. By the end of the war, however, the U.S. had assembled a fleet of ships large enough to cause considerable difficulties in shipments of mail and goods through the ports.
Historically one of the prize additions to a Confederate collection is a cover that passes through this Blockade. Incoming Blockade covers were usually marked by the port of arrival post office — most of which were Wilmington and Charleston — the two major harbors that remained in Confederate hands the longest. Outgoing Blockade mail was less likely to have postal markings of Confederate origin.
In 1981, Joe Holleman rediscovered a box of Blockade covers stored in Charleston. The box contained 61 covers. Of these, 32 covers with markings typical of Blockade run covers were included. This is by far the largest group of Blockade run covers to ever come on the market. The condition of these were very mixed. It seems the daughter of the family later became a stamp collector and removed many of the attached stamps.
In early 1863, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius L. Burckmyer, their daughter, Mamie, and Mamie’s nurse, Ann Maquire, were in France. Mr. Burckmyer decided at this time to return to the Confederacy to do whatever he could to support the cause. He left his wife and child in France to return to their home in Charleston. The covers and letters that survived where primarily his letters to them.
Mr. Burckmyer had good connections with the Blockade runners and seemed to know which port was the most likely to be successful in getting mail through. Many of his letters told of his trials with the Blockade runners. Without the content of these letters we would not know today where these letters passed through the Blockade.
Figures one and two show a recently acquired example of these Burckmyer covers that passed through the Port of Wilmington, in December 1863. No Wilmington marking is visible so the content of the enclosures must be used to determine its route.
In 1929, a book was published by the family which includes all the text of the letters. These letters shed much light on the Blockade runners. The enclosure to this cover is dated Summerville, S.C., 20 Dec. 1863. The letter indicates a previous letter had been mailed December 9 and sent to a friend in Wilmington to be forwarded through the Blockade. This is a very lengthy letter telling of the conditions in Charleston and assuring Mrs. Burckmyer that they have enough funds for her to live a normal lifestyle.
The letter that followed the December 20 letter was written in Summerville, S.C., January 8, 1864 and states the December 20 letter had been written from December 20 to December 29 and sent to Wilmington to pass through the Blockade.
The cover was posted onboard the ship sometime after December 29. It arrived in Nassau, Bahamas January 8, 1864 where it entered the mail system. It was carried to London and arrived there February 7, 1864. It was then forwarded to Liverpool on February 8, 1864 for delivery to the Frasier and Trenholm Company — a noted British firm, for forwarding to Mrs. Burckmyer in Paris.
This exceedingly rare North Carolina cover is a good example of why it is important to maintain a record of not only the covers of a correspondence but also its content. Without the enclosures we would never have known the port of departure for this cover.