Crossing the Border

Each trip [Amanda Bowen] made to Hannibal, Louisiana, and vicinity she delivered and collected mail. She was one of the bravest, most daring of our aides.

—Absalom Grimes, from his autobiography, Confederate Mail Runner

A scene on the blockade runner Lilian. Running the blockade into the harbor of Wilmington, NC- illustration of people on a boat
Blockade runner Lilian in Wilmington, NC harbor

Families and friends on opposite sides of the conflict sought ways around the blockades to keep in touch. 

Although the U.S. Post Office Department officially ended mail traffic across the border on August 26, 1861, mail continued to be carried between north and south. Express companies carried much of the mail through "flag-of-truce" ships.

Because Union forces began blockading southern ports in April 1861, mail was often carried on blockade runners or routed through foreign posts. Southern mail going overseas was carried through the Union blockade by ships sailing from Cuba, Bermuda, and other islands in the West Indies to Charleston, South Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; and several southern ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Because the Confederacy did not have postal treaties with foreign governments, letters were carried as private "ship" mail. They were charged the inland rates plus two cents, which was paid to the ship's master.

The handstamped "ship" marking indicated receipt of the letter from a private vessel. Letters carried through the Union blockade paid postage twice. The first was U.S. postage, which paid overland postage once the letter was deposited into the U.S. mail. The second charge came from the ship's master, who placed the letters into federal mailboxes.