[Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast by Andrew W. Hall (The History Press, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. Pages main/total:122/139. ISBN:978-1-62619-500-4 $19.99]
Over the past fifteen years or so, a small but useful body of literature (among these works by Edward Cotham, Stephen Dupree, and Stephen Townsend) exploring Civil War campaigns fought along the Texas coastline has emerged. While the title of Andrew Hall's new book Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast may suggest a scope similar to that found in Rodman Underwood's study of the other side of the equation Waters of Discord: The Union Blockade of Texas During the Civil War (2008), it's fairly narrowly focused on the port of Galveston. With Ed Cotham's fine coverage of Galveston's military role with Battle on the Bay (1998) and Jim Schmidt's home front centered Galveston and the Civil War (2012), Hall's book detailing Confederate efforts to import military and civilian supplies through an ever tightening Union naval cordon tells another part of the story.
Hall begins with a brief discussion of Galveston's importance as a deep water port with a natural harbor and a rail connection to the Texas interior. Given its potential use to the enemy, it didn't take long before the U.S. Navy arrived on station. Any study of blockade running also has to discuss the land defenses supporting them and Hall traces the efforts by a string of Confederate commanders to keep the port open to runners while at the same time finding a solution to defending the vulnerable island town itself. By war's end, Galveston was the only major Confederate sea port still in operation, so it's activities should not be perceived as a sideshow.
In addition to relating tales of Confederate speculators, sea captains, crews, and vessels involved in running the blockade, the author also recounts U.S. naval efforts geared toward intercepting arriving and departing runners as well as closing the port itself. In addition to offering readers an engaging narrative history, Hall exploits his considerable hands-on research and wreck diving experiences on the Denbigh and Will o' the Wisp projects to document the careers of these vessels and relate some of the findings of the marine archaeological excavations. There's some good discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of runner design, too.
Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast occupies a place among the better quality titles attached to the publisher's expansive catalog of Civil War subject overviews. Along with the content highlights already noted, it is well stocked with area maps, photographs and other illustrations, including many graphical renderings of the ships mentioned. Though a bibliography is absent, sources used can be traced through Hall's endnotes. An exhaustive scholarly history of West Gulf Blockading Squadron operations authored by one of the premier Civil War naval historians will be available later this year, but many readers with a particular interest in Galveston's central place in those events will be well satisfied with Hall's popular account.