American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

"The Sea Islands"

But while this army is keeping so "quiet along the Potomac," let us take a run out into the ocean, and see what the United States Navy is doing all this time.

At the beginning of the war, the President had ordered that all Southern ports be blockaded. This was very necessary, in order to cut off trade between these ports and foreign countries. You can see how impossible it would be to starve out a prisoner if some one all the while were bringing supplies; so with the Southerners,—the quicker and more wholly they were cut off from all help, the quicker they must give way, and the sooner would the war end. Several vessels were sent to these different ports to blockade them; that is to keep any vessel from going in or coming out. One fleet was sent to the Sea islands, a group of islands south of South Carolina, that State which had begun the war against the Union. These islands produce the very finest cotton in the world. It is known in the cotton-markets all over the world as the "sea-island cotton." You can see now why it was important to get possession of these islands; at any rate, why it was important to shut them off from foreign trade.

The flag-ship in this fleet was called the "Wabash." Behind her were forty-eight gun-boats and steamers, and twenty-six sailing vessels. Quite a fleet, compared with that of 1812.

The commander formed his fleet into a big circle, and began to steam round and round between two important forts, all keeping up a steady fire as they passed round. Round and round they went, worrying the two forts on all sides, until they gave way—and the richest lands of the South were in the hands of Union vessels.

The owners took to flight, burning their stored cotton as they went, determined that not one shred of it should fall into Yankee hands.

The negro slaves did not flee. They came down to the water side as the vessels drew near,—some of them with the few little things they owned tied up in little bundles,—and begged to be taken away to the land of freedom.

In a few months, great changes were seen on these sea islands. The Yankees were busy learning to raise cotton, and everywhere were schools and teachers for these black people. Think of it! schools for the negroes! Why, the Southerners would as soon have thought of educating their cows as of educating their slaves.