The cotton war

Cotton bales

Cotton bales on a conveyer belt

In 1861 a group of cotton-growing southern states broke away from the Union of American States, leading to the start of the American Civil War. They were known as the Confederate States.

Cotton and slavery were vital to the economy of the American south. In 1862, the Northern states’ navy blockaded Southern ports like Charleston and Savannah. The Confederate states needed to get cotton out to raise funds. Fast ships known as blockade runners were commissioned and built on Merseyside, designed to outrun the Federal navy ships and get the cotton to Liverpool.

Liverpool had many links to the Southern states because of the cotton trade. Fraser Trenholm & Co was a company of merchants with offices in Charleston and Liverpool, which had close ties with the Confederate states. Their records show that they financed the supply of arms in return for cotton.

The supply of cotton was uncertain, making prices go up and down.Some speculators profited from the war by holding on to cotton stocks and selling at the highest price.

Cotton ships

Most cotton came from the four major Southern US ports: Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans and Mobile. These ports accounted for 85% of US cotton exports to Britain. The bales were stowed and the ships set sail for Liverpool.

The shipping of cotton was seasonal, as it was dependant on the harvesting of the crop. Picking began around August, and the first supplies would reach the ports around October. Cotton continued to arrive for about six months after this, as it could be harvested until December. A full round voyage allowing time for unloading and loading the cargo could take several months. In the 1850s there were 700 voyages per year between Liverpool and the USA.

When it arrived in Liverpool, the cotton would be unloaded by dockers and carted to one of the many warehouses around the Dock Road.

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