The Revival of
After the war, Major George B. Davis reflected, "The Federal Government . . . succeeded in placing in the field armies of unexampled size, composed in great part of men taken from civil pursuits, most of whom were unfamiliar with military affairs and so unacquainted with the usages of war. These armies were carrying on hostile operations of every kind, over a wide area, and questions of considerable intricacy and difficulty were constantly arising which required for their decision a knowledge of international law which was not always possessed by those to whom these questions were submitted for decision. Conflicting decisions and rulings were of frequent occurrence . . . and great harm not infrequently resulted before decisions could be reversed by competent authority." 1 Davis's observation held true for sea as well as land, and in fact, the best example came in the Lincoln administration's "conflicting decisions and rulings" on the treatment of blockade-runners. Through it all, however, an attempt to adhere to international law, albeit fumbling and at times half-hearted, proved to be a hallmark of this aspect of the Civil War.
The percentage of prisoners of state who were blockade-runners rose as the war continued. This stands to reason, as the Union blockade grew increasingly effective after its paper beginnings. Yet the number of such prisoners by no means kept pace with the growing effectiveness of the blockade. Modern scholarship shows that the naval blockade increased fivefold in effectiveness, as federal captures of ships rose from one in ten in 1861 to one in two by 1865. 2 Yet the number of men held in Northern military prisons for running the blockade by no means quintupled.