Blockade
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Blockade runs at Sabine Pass commonplace in Civil War

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday September 4, 2000.

NEDERLAND--During the Civil War, if you were wealthy enough to seek to run cotton through the Federal blockade, a good place to buy a surplus schooner was from the Admiralty Court in New Orleans. Of course one had to sign a waiver that he would not re-enter the vessel in the blockade-running trade, but what else was there to do with a surplus schooner in 1862?

If one planned to run the blockade at Sabine Pass, however, he would need a very experienced pilot, preferably a bar pilot. The Pass was then divided into its Texas and Louisiana channels, bordered on the inside by oyster reefs and on the outside by treacherous mud flats.

For the first 18 months of the war, there was no permanent blockade at Sabine Pass, and blockade-runners could set sail in broad daylight with little risk of being captured. There was no blockade of the neighboring Calcasieu River for the first three years. After the blockade began, blockade-runners sailed after midnight of a moonless, foggy night, but the risk of striking a reef was greatly increased.

Two Beaumonters who ran the blockade were Otto and Charles H. Ruff, before the war Otto owned a sawmill and a grocery, and Charles was a cotton buyer and owned a saloon. Together, they owned two cotton steamers, the Mary Falvey and Uncle Ben, and the blockade-running schooner Tampico.

The Tampico made at least four voyages, carrying cotton to Matamoras, Mexico, and it was registered under the English flag. On its fifth voyage in March 1863, the Tampico was captured off Sabine Pass, with 112 bales of cotton aboard, by the U. S. gunboat Cayuga, and was shipped under a prize crew to New Orleans.

Ruff Brothers leased their steamer Uncle Ben to the Confederate government, who eventually purchased and armed it as a gunboat. The brothers also sent the Mary Falvey to sea with a load of cotton, but the steamer was sold in Mexico.

When Otto Ruff died in Beaumont in October 1862, his estate included $4,410 received from cotton sales of the Tampicoís previous voyages; $5,787 in gold owed by Diomicio Camacho, a Mexican cotton factor in Matamoras; and 1/3 of the cargo of the Tampico, which was then at sea.

In Dec. 1862, D. R. Wingate, a Sabine sawmiller, bought the steamer Pearl Plant, and loaded it with 500 bales of cotton. However, the Pearl Plant ran on a mud flat near Sabine Pass and had to be burned to avoid capture.

Another lucky blockade-runner was Capt. Henry Scherffius of Orange. He made 12 successful voyages aboard his schooner Clarinda, carrying 150 bales each time, to Matamoras, but on his 13th voyage, a blockader ran the Clarinda aground near Corpus Christi. Capt. Augustine Pavell, whose cotton business was on the delta island in Sabine River, also made many successful voyages on the Sophia.

The two steamboats captured at the Battle of Sabine Pass were also refitted as blockade-runners. When the Clifton attempted to escape with a load of cotton, it too ran aground on a mudflat and had to be burned.

T. W. House, Houstonís principal cotton exporter, bought the refitted Sachem and turned it over to Capt. Scherffius, who promptly renamed it Clarinda. The Clarinda escaped to Mexico twice with loads of cotton, but on the second voyage, Scherffius sold the ship for 8,000 P. in gold, which he delivered to House.

The munitions imported by blockade runners helped field the Confederate armies for 4 long years. The stories about them deserve not to be lost.

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