Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spies, Blockade Runners, and Secessionists on the Shore in 1863

Written by Kellee Blake

The Eastern Shore’s blockade runners “are having a high holiday, and the secessionists growing saucy,” grumbled Union General Robert Schenck in 1863. He was right. The canoes of Virginia’s Eastern Shore deftly slipped back and forth across the bay to Northumberland, Mathews, and other Western Shore counties as part of a complex aquahighway system bound for Richmond. On the land, clandestine supply arteries carried goods and munitions from points north, south, and distant east to waiting water transport
across the Bay.

Who was willing to run the blockade and why? Was it money? Patriotism? Both? Were they “serving” the Confederacy in lieu of uniformed action? Shielding another from inculpation? Whatever their reasons, the contraband activity reached its zenith in the summer months of 1863 when nearly all of the Shore’s occupying troops, commanded by General Henry Hayes Lockwood, were called away to fight at Gettysburg.

Though far away, the Battle of Gettysburg would fall hard on the Shore. At least one Shoreman was killed and others wounded fighting for the Confederacy. On the Union side, many of Lockwood’s Maryland soldiers battled against their neighbors, schoolmates, even brothers at Gettysburg. The death and destruction were overwhelming in the thick July heat; fury and bitterness would return to the Shore with these men.

During the three day battle, Henry Lockwood distinguished himself at Culp’s Hill, then briefly served at Harper’s Ferry before returning to the Shore, “the fleshpots of Egypt.” By now, Lockwood’s heart was greatly hardened against the Shorespeople and he determined they would more fully share in “the burden of this war.” The once conciliatory general now proclaimed the Shore to be a place of no “real” loyalty as he declared the blockade running would end. Lockwood and Schenck buttressed their coast guard and established a new paid network of spies and informants. Who were they?

Meanwhile, the Confederate demand for men and goods was exponentially increasing. Soldiers wrote to families on the Shore of their colleagues’ suffering for want of necessities. Even General Robert E. Lee called for the Shore’s continuing help in conveying, “goods from Maryland or Accomac, as it is to our benefit, and furnishes necessary articles to soldiers and citizens.” How would they answer his call? Find out the rest of the story with us.

~ Excerpt from the 2013 Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society Newsletter

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