TO transform a ship into a successful blockade runner in the 1860s there were some essential requirements: grey or white paint to camouflage the vessel at sea, an evaporator to make fresh water for the boilers and a hinged mast and telescopic funnel to keep a low profile.

While the American Civil War was raging, a growing flotilla of Clyde-built paddle steamers were quickly refitted and sent across the Atlantic to play a vital role in taking food, medicine, clothing and weapons into the southern states.

Now a new display at Glasgow's Riverside Museum celebrates the Blockade Runners while posing questions about their involvement in a war that had its origins in the difficult issues of slavery, co-inciding with the 150th anniversary of the assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln.

"President Lincoln wanted to strangle the south and many Glasgow paddle steamers that were used on the Clyde to go from Glasgow to Rothesay or Dunoon were taken over to the Caribbean to run the blockade," said John Messner, curator of transport and technology at the museum.

"They sailed across the Atlantic, which is not what these river craft were built to do. It was a perilous journey and not just that, when they got across they were sailing from British colonies, such as Nassau and Bermuda, or from Havana, and still doing 400 or 500 miles in open water."

The display focuses on one month during the war, November 1863, a time when President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address and six ships from Glasgow were actively running the blockade: The Herald, the Spunkie, The Kelpie, The Robert E Lee, The Rothesay Castle and The Juno.

Among the highlights of the display, never been shown before, are Glasgow's first Confederate flag, that flew from a house in St Vincent Crescent where James Smith, who knew personally Jefferson Davis the first president of the Confederacy, lived with his family in the 1860s.

Edinburgh-born Smith moved to Jackson, Mississippi, made his fortune and returned to Scotland in the 1850s. When war broke out his brother, who stayed behind in the States, joined a regiment to fight for the south.

"James Smith sat on both sides of the debate raging in Glasgow at the time because he had family over there and at the start of the war sent out weapons for Jackson, Mississippi, for the defence of that city," said Messner.

A cotton dress made in Glasgow in the 1860s, probably from cotton from the United States, is an example of some of the cargo that was on board the blockade runners. And an Enfield rifle, similar to many used by both sides in the war, is evidence of the weapons sent to troops.

" Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the American Civil War, massive areas of the nation were devastated by it and it was a big turning point in the history of the United States," said Messner. "This display focuses on Glasgow's role in all of that. Yes, sending out these ships but also the internal debate that was happening in Glasgow. Was it right?"

Blockade Runners is situated upstairs in the Riverside Museum. Visit