Little Bits of History

Not Fast Enough

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 19, 2015
E Lee Spence by Sea Research Society

E Lee Spence by Sea Research Society

March 19, 1863: The SS Georgiana sinks. The steamship belonged to the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. It was supposed to be the “most powerful” cruiser in the Confederate fleet but she was never used in battle. She was laid down in 1862 and built by Lawrie Shipyard, perhaps with a subcontract with Laird. She was iron hulled and with a steam-driven propeller of 120 hp. She was painted black from her jib sail and raked masts and across her entire hull. Her clipper bow had a figurehead of a “demi-woman”. She was able to carry fourteen guns and more than 400 tons of cargo. Built in Glasgow, Scotland and perhaps with help from Liverpool, she was on her maiden voyage to her new home when she sank.

She was under the command of a retired British naval officer and en route to Charleston, South Carolina to be fitted out for service in their battle with the Union forces. There were 140 men aboard as Georgiana attempted to run the Federal Blockading Squadron guarding the Charleston Harbor. She was spotted first by the armed US yacht, America (of America’s Cup fame). And she was reputed to be a “very swift vessel”. America sent up colored flare signals alerting the rest of the blockade ships. The Georgiana was sunk after a desperate chase through the coastal waters. The USS Wissahickon was so close to Georgiana, that her crew could hear the orders being given to fire.

Solid shot passed entirely through her hull. The propeller and rudder were damaged and there was no hope to escape. Captain AB Davidson flashed a white light, a signal of surrender. In that way, he gained some time and was able to beach the ship in fourteen feet of water about three-fourths of a mile from shore. After scuttling her, he and all hands escaped on the land side and made their way to safety. The “treachery” disappointed the blockade crew who would have been able to share in the proceeds from gaining the ship. Lieutenant Commander John L Davis, of Wissahickon, set the wreck on fire to keep guerrilla bands from salvaging the ship or her cargo.

On March 19, 1965 (exactly 102 years later) the wreck was found by underwater archaeologist E Lee Spence. Today Georgiana lies just five feet under the surface with large sections of the hull still intact, but the ship is surrounded by sea fans, sea ships, and living corals. Much of the ship remains under mud and sand. It is possible to dive to the wreck and see the now heavily encrusted artifacts still in the hold. Spence found sundries, munitions, and medicines worth over $12 million but did not find the 350 pounds of gold reputed to have been in the hold. A sidewheel steamer, Mary Bowers, lies in the same place. She, too, was trying to run the blockade when she struck the wreckage of the Georgiana and sunk in the same place. The wreckage of the two distinctly different ships built just a few years apart is an interesting study in the art of shipbuilding.

The destruction of the Georgiana not only touched their (the Confederate’s) pockets, but their hopes. She was a splendid craft, peculiarly fitted for the business of privateering. – Secretary of the Navy Gideon

Apart from her cargo, the loss was a serious one to the Confederacy, as she was a much faster and stronger ship than any one of its cruisers afloat and would have made a superb man-of-war. – Thomas Scharf

As a child, everyone dreams of finding treasure. There’s romance and drama. But as an adult most people aren’t going to spend their lives trying to find it. – E Lee Spence

Rocks are like wreck magnets and ships run aground today in pretty much the same locations and for the same reasons they did thousands of years ago. – E Lee Spence

Also on this day: Avalanche – In 1775, four people were buried in an avalanche and three survived 37 days.
PTL Club – In 1987, Jim Bakker resigned as chairman of his PTL ministry.
And the Winner Is … – In 1953, the Oscars were televised for the first time.
Rack ‘Em Up – In 1954, Willie Mosconi ran the table, for 526 balls.
Tired of Looking – In 1687, La Salle was murdered.

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