What was the Confederate’s best weapon?

3/7/2013 • Ask Mr. History

What was the confederates best weapon?

Cheryl O’Mara

? ? ?

Dear Ms O’Mara,

The Confederates improvised a variety of homegrown weaponry with varying degrees of success, but it might be argued that their most destructive item was the torpedo—now called the mine—in both its water and land forms. Arguably the Rebel weapon that did the most lasting damage to the United States, however, was the cruiser, a fast sailing ship employed as a commerce raider. Of the eight principal cruisers that the Confederacy took to sea, six were built in Britain, purchased by its secret agent James Dunwoody Bulloch. One, CSS Alabama, rates among the most successful commerce raiders of all time, before it was sunk off Cherbourg, France, by USS Kearsarge in June 1864. Another, CSS Shenandoah, was still ravaging the whaling fleet in the Arctic when the war ended and did not declare its war "over" until November 1865, when it returned to England, its captain sold it off and dismissed his crewmen (many of whom were foreign volunteers). Between the merchantmen they seized or sank, the multitudes more that were sold to foreign flags and the spike in insurance rates they caused, those eight cruisers reduced the U.S. Merchant Marine from number one in the world in 1850 to a poor second to Britain, a secondary status that would persist until World War II. 



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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