The first Confederate ship to put to sea was the CSS Sumter, a former Spanish screw steamer of 500 tons that was outfitted with cannons and other provisions for war time use. On April 18, 1861, Commander Raphael Semmes took command of the vessel and a dozen officers and crew. On June 30, 1861, the Sumter sailed from the mouth of the Mississippi River and was promptly chased by a Union steamer, USS Brooklyn, but managed to get out to sea and make her way to Cuba, where it engaged other merchant ships and took them as prizes.

       Among the notable blockade runners were privately owned vessels like the SS Syren, a 169-foot (52 m) steel-hulled sidewheel steamer that made a record 33 successful runs through the Union blockade. and the CSS Advance that completed more than 20 successful runs before being captured. After its capture it was renamed USS Advance in 1864 and USS Frolic in 1865.

       The first ship to evade the Union blockade was the A and A, a bark from Belfast, making its way from Charleston harbor. The General Parkhill, a British ship built in Liverpool, England, was the first blockade runner to be captured by the USS Niagara also at Charleston harbor.

Screw-driven steamers:


  • CSS Florida (1862), (cruiser 1862–64). Commissioned August 17, 1862, at Green Cay, Bahamas. Commanded by Capt. John Newland Maffitt (see photo left). Sailed to Cardenas and Havana, Cuba, before making the famous run into Mobile Bay, Alabama, on September 4, 1862.  CSS Fingal (1861)
  • (CSS Atlanta ironclad 1862–63). An iron merchant screw-steamer of 462 tons built by J & G Thomson at Govan, Scotland, 1861. Sold to John Low for the Confederate States Navy. Fingal was the last blockade runner to enter Savannah, GA, November 1861, with a large cargo of Enfield rifles, cannon and military supplies. After two unsuccessful attempts to break out of the blockade, she was converted into the ironclad CSS Atlanta (1862–1863). On its second sortie she was out-dueled by two Union monitors, captured and put into service on the James River as the ironclad USS Atlanta.
  • CSS Laurel (1861–1864). A 207-foot iron hull single-screw steamer, commanded by Lt. John F. Ramsey, CSN, made 1 successful blockade run as CSS vessel, owned by the CSA, renamed Confederate States and survived the war.
  • CSS Sumter (1861), (cruiser 1861–62). A 437-ton screw steamer cruiser, was built at Philadelphia as the merchant steamship Habana Purchased by the Confederate Government at New Orleans in April 1861, she was converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of Raphael Semmes. While coaling and getting supplies at Martinique she was blockaded by Federal sloop of war USS Iroquois, but ran the blockade and made her way out to sea. Sumter captured another six ships from late November into January 1862, while cruising in European waters. In January 1862 the Sumter was sent to Gibraltar but was unexpectedly captured by Federal men-of-war ships and was later sold, thus ending her career as a blockade-runner. [CSS Sumter is not the CSS General Sumter cottonclad river gunboat (1861–1862), then named USS Sumter on capture and deployed in the Gulf blockade.]

Side-wheel steamers:

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