150 Years Ago: A Rebel Blockade Runner's Last Run
Few Confederate ships ran the blockade more often than the Advance. The fast, Scottish-built 900-ton sidewheeler made more than 20 voyages - paying back her owners many times over as she brought in not only badly needed war supplies but also highly sought after luxuries. Named in honor of North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance, the sleek double-stack vessel originally designer as a fast passenger liner eluded capture over 40 times as she zipped in and out of Wilmington and other ports in the Tar Heel State. Unfortunately, the 41st Union warship she encountered was one of the fastest ships in the Union navy: the USS Santiago de Cuba - which ended the blockade runner's storied 15-month career on the night of September 10, 1864.
The Advance, however, was not sunk by the USS Santiago de Cuba when the Yankee vessel caught up with her in Cape Fear Inlet; she was instead taken as a prize to New York and then selected for service by the Navy. Even with a 20-pounder rifled gun and four 24-pound howitzers aboard the now rechristened USS Advance could still make 12 knots, which made her suitable for service in tightening the blockade around the very ports she had been running in and out of under the Rebel flag. Her capture, however, was a severe blow to Confederate captains, fewer and fewer of whom risked going out where even the Advance had been unable to escape.
Although she never chased down any of her fellow blockade runners, as USS Advance the vessel did see action in the battle for Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River that Christmas. Under the command of Lt. Cmdr. John Upshur she exchanged fire with the fort's Half-Moon Battery, reportedly silencing its 8-inch gun, then came closer inshore to help rescue and tow away the gunboat USS Osceola, Upshur's vessel finished out the war as a dispatch and supply ship, and after war's end was renamed USS Frolic and, with Upshur still in command, was sent to the European Squadron. The vessel was finally decomissioned in 1877 and sold to a private owner in Virginia in 1883.
As CSN Card 67, CSS Advance is one of the many blockade runners that appear in the strategic Civil War naval game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas. Successfully running the blockade is vital for Confederate victory in the game, as it was in the war. Stopping such ships is equally vital for the North, which in attempting to do so makes use of such ships as the gunboat USS Osceola, which also appears in the game as USN Card 9 and which, ironically, as noted above, was saved by Advance when that former blockade runner was in Union service.