[Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida'S Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 by George E. Buker (Fire Ant - University of Alabama Press, 2004). Paperback, maps, photos, notes, appendices1, bibliography. Page Total/Main: 248/182. ISBN 0-8173-1296-X $24.95]
Unlike perhaps any other study of the Union blockade of the southern coastline, George Buker's history of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron focuses on internal political and economic developments. According to the author, these blockaders of Florida's western coastline were uniquely successful in their ability to facilitate a civil war within a Confederate state2. Buker makes a strong case overall. In addition to providing arms and supplies to dissident Floridians, the fleet cooperated directly with organized pro-Union irregulars in the disruption of vital Confederate salt production and cattle procurement. Operating under the umbrella of the U.S. Navy, refugee camps protected the families of pro-Union/anti-Confederate Floridians. The establishment of contraband camps served the dual purpose of breaking down the institution of slavery in the state and providing recruits for USCT units.
Buker credits the East Gulf Blockading Squadron with the novel creation of an army regiment [the 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.)]3 by the navy. The 2nd Florida cooperated with the 2nd USCT in operations along large stretches of the Gulf coast. As blockade running in this region was characterized by the use of small sailing schooners, close cooperation with locals was critical to success. Unfortunately, when the U.S. army took over oversight of these units, they alienated segments of the sympathetic populace by requiring regular enrollment in exchange for help, and ending the arming and supplying of independent irregulars. Changes in naval leadership also led to increased friction.
By taking Civil War naval studies in a fresh direction, George Buker has produced a significant contribution to the literature. Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands should be considered essential reading for those interested in examining the Union blockade, the South's inner civil war, and the degree of interaction between the two.
1 - 4 Tables. They list known members of local pro-Union guerrilla bands and those enlisted in Federal units.
2 - According to Buker, the same opportunity for fomenting civil conflict in the state existed for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Florida's east coast, but the navy and army [Dept. of the South] displayed little interest.
3 - The 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) was organized by the army in East Florida [Dept. of the South], but the effort was largely an organizational failure.