Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Destruction of a Blockade Runner

It’s characteristically the larger or more significant engagements that make it into the history books and articles on the Civil War Navies, but I’ve always thought that for every big event, there are dozens of small ones that don’t attract notice, and yet played a role in the ultimate outcome of the war. On 15 October 1861, Capt. John Marston of the steam frigate USS Roanoke, on blockade off Charleston, SC, reported sighting a “large sail.” He dispatched the steam gunboats USS Flag and USS Monticello to chase down this unknown vessel, and was subsequently joined by the sail sloop USS Vandalia. The Monticello reported back that it was the blockade runner Thomas Watson, which had run aground on Stono Reef as she tried to evade the pursuing blockaders and get into Charleston Harbor. The runner was found abandoned by boat crews from the Roanoke, Monticello and Vandalia. Intelligence reports had suggested that Watson was carrying arms, but a thorough search of the entire ship indicated that she was carrying “salt, blankets, flannel, a few smaller articles.” Marston’s orders to the cutting out party were to attempt to free the Watson from the reef, but she was stuck fast, so his orders included burning the ship after removing as much of the cargo as possible. This was completed by 16 October 1861. Illustration source: Library of Congress "Civil War Drawings" collection online.

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