Destruction of a salt works by the US Bark Kingfisher on the Florida Coast. Source: Fla. Dept. of State on-line photo archive.
As the Civil War progressed, salt became one of the most vital commodities for the Confederacy. Salt was the primary means of preserving meat at that time, along with many other critical uses. By the end of 1861, the CSA recognized that it required a reliable supply of salt, as the tightening US Navy blockade was beginning to severely cut off imports from Europe. Every year, the states making up the Confederacy required 6 million bushels of salt, over half of which was imported. Before the war, salt sold for 50 cents a bushel (sack) off the ships at New Orleans; it sold for $25 per bushel in Savannah in January 1862. By October of that year, it was selling for $140 per bushel in Atlanta. Production of salt became so important that if you worked in a salt works, it meant an exemption from conscription into the Confederate Army.
While some salt was produced along the coasts of many of the southern states, its remote coastline made Florida the ideal place for this enterprise. Salt production was particularly prolific along Florida’s Gulf coast, and a large number of Confederate salt works were established, where sources of saltwater and wood (for stoking fires) were abundant. It eventually became a major task of the Union Navy blockaders to locate and destroy these works, much of this responsibility falling to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, responsible for most of the Florida Gulf coast. As runner after runner was captured and its cargo examined, the USN blockaders almost always found salt in the cargoes. This led the Squadron command to realize that crippling the supply of salt, both brought in by runners and produced locally, would be a major strategic blow to the Confederacy.
The "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies" contains a wealth of reports on raids on Gulf Coast salt works during the war. I will be posting updates on significant raids on the appropriate CWN 150 dates as we hit those in the coming years. Stay tuned !!
A good overall summary of the Union raids on salt works is by my USS Ft. Henry shipmate Marine Sgt. Dave Ekardt on the Naval and Marine Living History web site at: http://www.navyandmarine.org/ondeck/1862saltraids.htm