A Crime Disgracing the History of Mankind
From: bernhard1848@att.net
Assuming that the war was waged against Southern Americans to free the slaves, using former New England slave ships for blockading purposes must have been embarrassing. It is further ironic that the Margaret Scott mentioned below was indicative of slavers still being fitted out in Massachusetts in 1861—and Confederate naval legend Captain John Newland Maffitt was still capturing “abolitionist” slavers off Cuba before resigning his US Navy commission and fighting to save the US Constitution. 
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
A Crime Disgracing the History of Mankind:
“On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation stating that a blockade of the Southern ports was in effect. It occurred to Gustavus Z. Fox, assistant secretary of the navy, that sinking ships at the mouths of the harbors might increase the effectiveness of the blockading vessels. On October 17, 1861, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles gave orders to Guy D. Morgan to purchase 25 old vessels as “secretly as possible before any knowledge is obtained that Government is in the market.”
Morgan apparently had no difficulty purchasing old whaling ships berthed at New Bedford, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut. These ships were stripped of all their gear, loaded with granite, and fitted with a pipe and valve so that they could be flooded with ease. In a letter of November 17, the secretary of the navy wrote to Flag Officer Du Pont: “It is believed that a new channel now exists bearing about due east from the light [Morris Island]. If this can be thoroughly closed, and only a few vessels sunk in the intricate channel of Sullivan’s Island, Charleston as a harbor will no longer exist.”
The Stone Fleet, so named because the ships were loaded with granite, reached its destination singly or in small groups. [At Port Royal] The “sinking operation” was under the command of Capt. Charles Henry Davis, USN….who had a distinct distaste for the job. On December 2 he wrote his family: “The pet idea of Mr. Fox has been to stop up some of the Southern harbors…I had always had a special disgust for this business…I always considered this mode of interrupting commerce as liable to great objections and of doubtful success.” The sinking of the vessels [off Charleston] began late in the afternoon of December 19 and continued through most of the next day. The 16 ships had been sunk in checkerboard fashion across the mouth of the main channel leading to Charleston. As the reporter for the New York Herald who was present wrote: “One feels that at least the one cursed rathole has been closed and one avenue of supplies cut off by the hulks.” An editorial appeared a few days later in the same paper saying: “Charleston, so far as any commerce is concerned except that in small coastwise vessels, may be considered “upcountry.”
Ironically, one of the vessels destined for destruction was the Margaret Scott, whose home port was New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had been seized by the government a short time before on the charge that she was being fitted out as a slave ship. She had, it appeared, run some of her cargoes in the ports she was slated to blockade. General Robert E. Lee [said of the sinking vessels that] “This achievement, so unworthy of any nation, is the abortive expression of malice and revenge of a people which it wishes to perpetuate by rendering more memorable a day hateful in their calendar. It is also indicative of their despair of ever capturing a city they design to ruin.”
The venerable London Times, usually so staid in its editorials, became almost vitriolic in its criticism. A sampling of remarks indicates the tone: “among the crimes which have disgraced the history of mankind it would be difficult to find one more atrocious than this.” “People who would do an act like this would pluck the sun out of heaven and put their enemies in darkness.”
The ship owners of Liverpool were so disturbed that they sent a memorandum to Earl Russell of the Foreign Office. And in a reply to Lord Lyons, the British Minister in Washington, the Foreign Office wrote: “Told that such a cruel plan would seem to imply despair at the restoration of the Union…and could only be adopted as a measure of revenge and irremediable injury against an enemy.” This was strong language from a diplomatic source.”
(The Seige of Charleston, 1861-1865, E. Milby Burton, USC Press, 1970, pp.84 -89)