The Confederate privateers were privately owned ships that were authorized by the government of the Confederate States of America to attack the shipping of the United States. Although the appeal was to profit by capturing merchant vessels and seizing their cargoes, the government was most interested in diverting the efforts of the Union Navy away from the blockade of Southern ports, and perhaps to encourage European intervention in the conflict.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Confederate government sought to counter the United States Navy in part by appealing to private enterprise world-wide to engage in privateering against United States shipping. Privateering was the practice of fitting ordinary private merchant vessels with modest armament, then sending them to sea to capture other merchant vessels in return for monetary reward. The captured vessels and cargo fell under customary prize rules at sea. Prizes would be taken to the jurisdiction of a competent court, which could be in the sponsoring country or theoretically in any neutral port. If the court found that the capture was legal, the ship and cargo would be forfeited and sold at a prize auction. The proceeds would be distributed among owners and crew according to a contractual arrangement.