By early 1863, Governor Zebulon Vance saw the need for the State of North Carolina to operate its own system of supplying Tar Heel soldiers in the field. His limited service as the colonel of the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Troops gave him firsthand knowledge of the inadequate nature of the Confederate supply system, and as Governor, he felt that he had the right take care of his citizens serving in combat. He created a state office known as the “Bureau of Foreign Supplies,” and contracted with a British mercantile firm to purchase ships to transport North Carolina cotton overseas. The firm, Alexander Collie Company, would receive half of the profit from the sale of the cotton, and North Carolina would receive the other half. With that share of the profit, North Carolina purchased much needed war supplies for the return trip back to Wilmington, N.C.
The system worked extremely well, until it became entangled with Confederate officials in Richmond, Virginia, who demanded that North Carolina give up its share of purchased war supplies to the Confederate War Department. For the better part of 1863 and 1864, Governor Vance maintained a war of words with Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon over North Carolina’s use of its own blockade runner, S.S. A.D. Vance, and other ships such as the S.S. Don, S.S. Nebula, S.S. Rover’s Bride and other ships contracted by North Carolina and Alexander Collie Company. Much of this controversy continued until the port of Wilmington, N.C. was closed in early 1865.
For our “First Wednesdays Post,” we are highlighting the S.S. A.D. Vance during its attempt to run the blockade in September 1864. The ship had attempted to go over the New Inlet bar numerous times, and was forced to into port at Smithville, N.C. to await the rising of the tide. The letters dated 1 September 1864 to Alexander Miller McPheeters and Governor Zebulon Vance were written by John White before the S.S. A.D. Vance’s fourth attempt to cross over the New Inlet Bar. John White was Governor Vance’s agent to Great Britain and a native of Scotland. S.S. A.D. Vance was unsuccessful in its crossing over the bar that night, and it was not until the night of 10 September 1864 was the ship able to cross the bar and begin its’ run to Bermuda. Due to the C.S.S. Tallahassee, a Confederate privateer, seizing a load of anthracite coal that was meant for blockade runners, the S.S. A.D. Vance was forced to use inferior coal for its’ run through the blockade, and was soon spotted by the U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba. The U.S. Navy vessel was able to give chase and captured the flagship of North Carolina’s blockade runner fleet.
Fortunately, the State Archives of North Carolina has a wealth of sources pertaining to Governor Vance’s efforts to supply North Carolina troops through the N.C. Bureau of Foreign Supplies. These records range from our Civil War Collection within our Military Collection; Adjutant General and Governor’s Office, Military Board Records for the period of the 1863-1865; private manuscript collections (particularly Calvin J. Cowles, John Devereux, John Julius Guthrie Papers, and D. H. Hill Papers); Governor Vance’s own gubernatorial papers for 1863-1865; and lastly, our Treasurer’s and Comptroller’s Papers, subseries titled “Military Papers,” boxes 93-97.
Please see below for our “Second Mondays” presentation titled The Blockade and Blockade Running in North Carolina, 1861-1865 by Andrew Duppstadt, Curator of Education, N.C. Division of State Historic Sites.