AUTHOR: JC Knowles; edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter and Hallie Smith
One of the most successful vessels to run the blockade off the coast of North Carolina during the American Civil War was the Giraffe, later called the Robert E. Lee, owned by the Confederate government. Wilmington was used as the port of call to import and export goods for the Confederacy.
The primary commander of that vessel was Lt. John Wilkinson. Lt. Richard H. Gayle assumed command in May 1863 and was commanding when the Robert E. Lee’s luck ran out on November 9, 1863, after having successfully carried out over 7,000 bales of cotton and returning with munitions invaluable to the Confederacy.
One merchant at Nassau, a port for blockade-runners, said, “If a steamer had the luck to run the blockade into Charleston or Wilmington with merchandise twice, the Yankees were welcome to her after that.” The Giraffe/Robert E. Lee ran the blockade twenty-one times before she was captured.