A Union Soldier and the Demise of the Blockade Runner Celt
After the attack on Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861, newly inaugurated president Abraham.
Lincoln ordered a blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to deprive the Confederacy of freedom of movement and, importantly, to prevent it from trading with Europe.
To counter this strategy, the South employed fast blockade runners to evade the Union Navy; these vessels and their crews were considered the lifeline of the Confederacy throughout the Civil War.
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Blockade runners were often operated by British citizens, who made use of nearby neutral ports in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Bermuda.
Food, clothing, and matériel were smuggled in to the Confederacy, while much-needed cotton to supply
Escape From Charleston: The textile industry in England was smuggled out of the South.
In the opening months of the war, the Confederacy scrambled to assemble a navy and embarked on an ambitious shipbuilding effort.
Naval personnel were drawn from Southerners who had left the US Navy, and the military and civilians.
Alike began to acquire ships—both existing vessels and newly built ships and boats, for the war effort.
The Celt was built in Charleston specifically to run the blockade.
In February 1865, the Celt would run aground as it was attempting to slip out of Charleston and run past the Union ships outside the harbor.
Admiral John Dahlgren’s flagship USS Harvest Moon came upon the stranded vessel and took onboard a number of her crew,
including a man claiming to be a stowaway Union soldier, Private Michael Kirby, supposedly of the United States Army.
Dahlgren was not immediately convinced of the man’s story,
but in time would verify that he was indeed who he said he was, and Kirby was sent ashore under the protection of Union forces.
Who was Michael Kirby, and how did he end up in a Confederate blockade runner heading towards the open ocean from a Southern port?
Escape From Charleston: A native of Ireland, Michael S.
Kirby was born in the town of Dungarvan, Waterford County, on 27 December 1842.
His father, Patrick, brought his family to the United States in the late 1840s,
Residing first in Boston, then New York, and lastly in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
He was a shipmaster, having followed his father Dennis’s predilection for maritime pursuits, and commanded transAtlantic ships for many years.
After swallowing the anchor, he found steady work ashore as a rigger and outfitter of vessels.
Michael would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, and went to sea as a young man and in time became a shipmaster himself. Before the outbreak of the Civil War,
Kirby was running canal boats belonging to the Pennsylvania Railroad on the towpaths of the Schuylkill Navigation and the Lehigh,
Delaware, and Raritan canals, carrying anthracite coal through Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley,
from Mauch Chunk (since renamed Jim Thorpe), through Allentown and Bethlehem to Easton.
At Easton, the Lehigh Canal connected with the Delaware Canal, and the coal was carried southeastward to Trenton, and then north and east on the Raritan Canal to New Brunswick, bound for New York City.
His regular stops at the canal locks near the towns and cities along the route no doubt allowed him to develop contacts and relationships with many of the local citizens.
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