On her maiden voyage, Confederate Navy ship Georgiana was running a blockade in the Charleston Harbor of South Carolina when she was destroyed by the Union gunboat USS Wissahickon today in 1863. Now WE know em

Crew members of the USS Wissahickon next to the ship's Dahlgren XI-inch pivot gun, during the American Civil War, 1863.

Crew members of the USS Wissahickon next to the ship’s Dahlgren XI-inch pivot gun, during the American Civil War, 1863.

The Georgiana was an iron hulled propeller steamer built by the Lawrie shipyard at Glasgow, Scotland for the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War.

She was registered in December of 1862 as belonging to N. Matheson’s Clyde River service in Scotland.

The Georgiana left Europe on her maiden voyage to Charleston, South Carolina to be fitted out as a “powerful” cruiser and receive her officers and crew.

For this ocean crossing, she was commanded by retired British naval Captain A.B. Davidson, with 140 men on board and an armament of guns and gun carriages in her hold.

Then on on night of March 19, 1863, the Georgiana encountered Union Navy ships engaged in a blockade of Charleston Harbor.

She attempted to run past the Federal Blocking Squadron when the armed U.S. Yacht America (of the famed America’s Cup racing trophy) spotted the Georgiana and alerted the remainder of the Union blockade fleet by shooting up colored signal flares.

A chase ensued during which the Georgiana came so close to the big guns aboard the gunboat USS Wissahickon that her crew heard Lieutenant Commander John L. Davis give the order to open fire.

With a solid shot passing entirely through her hull, the Georgiana’s propeller and rudder became damaged before the Georgiana could fire back.

With no hope for escape, Captain A.B. Davidson flashed a white light in token of surrender, and began looking for a place to beach the ship.

The heavily damaged Georgiana came to a stop in fourteen feet of water some three-quarters of a mile from shore.

Then Captain Davidson decided to scuttle the Georgiana and escaped with all hands.

When the USS Wissahickon reached the scuttled Georgiana, Lt. Commander Davis ordered his crew to set the wrecked ship afire lest Confederate guerrilla’s from shore try and salvage her and her cargo.

The Georgiana burned for several days accompanied by large black powder explosions.

This was construed as “the most consummate treachery” by the Confederate guerrilla bandits because they would have shared in the proceeds from the prized ship reportedly carrying munitions, medicines, and merchandise valued at over $1,000,000.

Nothing further is known of retired British naval Captain A.B. Davidson, or his 140 men.

On August 31, 1864, the Confederate blockade runner Mary Bowers bound from Bermuda to Charleston, struck the submerged wreck of the Georgiana. She “went on with such force as to make immense openings in her bottom,” and she sank in a “few minutes, most of the officers and men saving only what they stood in.” The steamer’s passengers and crew escaped with the exception of a boy, Richard Jackson, who was left on the wreck and later taken off by the Federals.

Then on October 6, 1864, the wreck of the Georgiana and Mary Bowesr was subsequently run into by the Confederate blockade running, sidewheel steamer Constance Decimer, which was bound from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Charleston.

Discovery of the wreckage

The wreck of the Georgiana was discovered by pioneer underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence on March 19, 1965 in the shallow waters of Charleston’s harbor.

 

Wreck Chart by E. Lee Spence showing the location and a cross section of the wreck of the Georgiana.

Wreck Chart by E. Lee Spence showing the location and a cross section of the wreck of the Georgiana.

Spence initially spotted the wreckage from the air, however it was not until 1967, with the help of commercial fisherman Wally Shaffer and George Campsen, that Spence formed Shipwrecks Inc. and actually began salvage operations on these wrecks. Shipwrecks Inc. was subsequently awarded the first salvage license issued under the state of South Carolina’s shipwreck salvage law, which had been drafted by Spence and Campsen and passed by the South Carolina legislature.

The remains of the sidewheel steamer Mary Bowers rests on and across the shattered wreckage of the Georgiana just forward of the first wreck’s boiler.

 

Artifacts recovered from the wrecks of Georgiana and Mary Bowers

Artifacts recovered from the wrecks of Georgiana and Mary Bowers

Today the Georgiana sits on the bottom with her huge boiler only five feet under the surface. She is now plumed with a wide array of sea fan, sea whips, and living corals. Large sections of the hull are still intact. In places the starboard side of the shattered blockade runner protrudes over nine feet from the sand. Under the mud and sand lies the remainder of the hull of the ill-fated warship.

On a clear day, skin divers can dive down into the Georgiana’s immense cargo hold simply by holding their breath. They can swim right past the remaining iron deck supports. The ship’s deck was white pine and has long since been eaten away.

Once in the Georgiana’s cargo hold, divers can observe heavily encrusted artifacts sitting where they have lain for over one hundred years. Near the forward cargo hatch Spence found boxes of pins and buttons. Spence recovered sundries, munitions, and medicines easily worth over $12,000,000, but he never found the 350 pounds of gold believed to be hidden on the wreck.

Now WE know em

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