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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 ship’s 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.

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In Denbigh’s 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 effort.

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C. W. H. Pickering,  a partner with J. Henry Schröder in the European Trading Company.

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Family tradition holds that Charles William Pickering first went to sea aboard a blockade runner; was that ship Denbigh?

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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. 

Family 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.


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What's New?

new.gif (977 bytes) John Newland Maffitt and the Galveston Blockade | Chasing a Fox new.gif (977 bytes)
new.gif (977 bytes) 2001 Field Crew | In-Kind Contributions  | How Much Coal? new.gif (977 bytes)
new.gif (977 bytes) Denbigh Wallpaper new.gif (977 bytes)


"An Extremely Fast Boat" | The "Mobile Packet" | A "Bold Rascal" | Denbigh Today
Denbigh's Crew | The Erlanger Loan | Birkenhead-Built: An Unrivaled Legacy
Denbigh Primary Source Documents | Galveston During the Civil War | Denbigh, Clwyd, Wales
The U.S. Coast Survey and the Blockade, 1861 | The Ship's Library: Recommended Reading
Running the Blockade Into Galveston: A Personal Narrative | Denbigh Day-by-Day
Denbigh Portrait | Official Number 28,647 | Valve Chest Animation (300kb) | Investors
Links of Interest | Denbigh F.A.Q. | Denbigh's Engines | Denbigh's Boiler
Feathering Sidewheel


April 27-28 Side Scan Survey | May 7-10 Site Mapping
June 16-17 Sub-Bottom Profiling | Site Mapping, July 9-12, 1998 | Dive Trip, October 18-30, 1998
Underwater Images | 1999 Summer Field Season | Denbigh Site Plan
Jerry Williams Speaking Tour | Denbigh Project Benefit Dinner |
Denbigh Artifacts | 2000 Field Crew | 2000 Field Crew Photo Album |
The Denbigh Wreck Site: A Quicktime VR Panaorama
Connecting Rod Recovery, July 22-24, 2000 | Modeling a Shipwreck
Credits & Thank-Yous

J. Barto Arnold et al. 1998-2000, The Denbigh Project, World Wide Web,
Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, E-mail: (  
Tuesday, July 25, 2000 Revision.

Questions, comments or suggestions about this website? Send them here.

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