|Blockade running was a risky business. About one in every four
attempts to pass through the blockade resulted in the destruction or capture of the
blockade runner, and the total loss of the cargo to its owners. The crew of a captured
blockade runner would be searched and interrogated to determine which among them were
Southerners; these would be packed off to Northern prison camps, while the foreign
citizens who usually comprised most of the crew would be released after the ship was
adjudicated in a Federal prize court typically within a few weeks.
If the risks were high, though, the potential profits were greater
still. Even given the inflated costs of purchasing, outfitting and manning a blockade
runner during the war, it was possible for a ships owners to recoup their entire
investment in a single, successful round voyage into a blockaded Confederate port and back
out again. Investing in a blockade runner was a high-stakes gamble on a grand scale.
|The skeletons of wrecked
ships, like this one near Charleston, were a constant reminder of the risks of blockade
running. Library of Congress photo.
|In Denbighs case, the gamblers were three companies
one Southern, one French and one British which combined to form the European
Trading Company, specifically organized to run the Federal blockade into Mobile, Alabama.
The Southern company was H. O. Brewer and Co. of Mobile, which had an obvious financial
interest in encouraging blockade running through its own commercial connections within the
city. Although the potential for smuggling supplies into the Confederacy through Mobile
had been largely overlooked during the early part of the war, the Alabama port proved to
have some distinct advantages over the better-known blockade-running ports on the Atlantic
seaboard. Unlike at the crowded wharves at Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington,
North Carolina, ships arriving at Mobile could be "turned around" very quickly,
and sent out again with loads of cotton. Perhaps more important, the Confederate
government waived restrictions on Mobile-bound vessels using cotton
bonds, allowing them to carry a higher proportion consumer goods, which invariably
sold in the South for many times their original cost.
The French partner in the European Trading Company was Emile
Erlanger and Company of Paris. Emile Erlanger was part of successful German banking
family, and set out to establish a branch of the family business in France.
Erlanger's company initially issued bonds supporting railroad and government projects, and
in this way he became friendly with the French emperor, Louis Napoleon. Erlanger
and Co. is best known for issuing the so-called "Erlanger Loan,"
which generated millions of dollars for the Confederacy in Europe and allowed the South to
acquire and build ships, purchase military equipment and supplies to aid in the war
C. W. H. Pickering, a partner with J. Henry Schröder in the European
Family tradition holds that Charles William
Pickering first went to sea aboard a blockade runner; was that ship Denbigh?
C. W. Pickering's grave in Highland Cemtery, Junction City, Kansas. Click for enlargement.
|The third partner
in the European Trading Company was J. H. Schröder and Co., a banking firm of Manchester,
England. Schröder and Co. managed the Erlanger Loan in England. One of J. H.
Schröder's partners in the firm was Charles
William Harrison Pickering (left, 1815-1881). Schröder and Co. invested in a
number of major projects including cotton mills, shipping, corn and, according to
Pickering's descendants, the first transatlantic cable (1858). Their major business
in the antebellum period, though, was importing cotton from the southern states to supply
the mills of Liverpool and Manchester.
tradition also holds that C. W. H. Pickering's eldest son, Charles William Pickering
(1841-1928), began a seagoing career in a blockade runner that his father had invested in;
if so, that ship was most probably Denbigh.
Special thanks to Skip Pickering and Connie Pickering Stover for the information on their
ancestors. Additional material from Richard Roberts, Schroders: Merchants &
Bankers; Steven R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy;
and the Macmillan Information
Now Encyclopedia, The Confederacy.