Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Capture of Georgina and Some Furry Friends

The English-built steamer Georgina had the potential to be one of the most effective ship ever to serve in the Confederate States Navy. She was a large steamer with a good size hold for cargo and had several placement for large caliber guns. Like many of the English-built cruisers, great secrecy surrounded her construction. It is still not clear whether the Confederacy intended her to be a commerce raiding cruiser or a blockade runner.

During her maiden (and only) voyage  in the Spring of1863, she was definitely a blockade runner.  Loaded with small arms, naval artillery, black powder, money, and alcohol, Georgina attempted to the run into Charleston. She did not make it.  U.S. Navy ships USS America, Wissahockon, and Housatonic spotted her and opened fired.  The shots struck Georgina.  During the chase, Georgina's captain committed a serious navigation error, causing the ship to run hard aground. He and the ship's company immediately abandoned ship.

Wissahockon's commanding officer ordered a boarding team to take possession of the ship and "all prisoners."  One of Wissahockon's division officers, Lieutenant Israel Vail, in his excellent memoir Three Years on the Blockade, tells us what happened next:

"A boat was immediately lowered from our ship, and Lieutenant Casey was sent to board the stranger, with orders to bring back the prisoners with him, and to ascertain what cargo she had, and get such other information as he could by an examination of her papers. It was past midnight, but we all sat up and waited patiently for the return of the boat, as we were anxious to see the prisoners and hear all the particulars about the ship.

In due time the boat returned bringing the prisoners, which consisted of a large Newfoundland dog and a very large Southdown sheep. Lieutenant Casey had obeyed his instructions to the letter, so far at least as the prisoners were concerned, for the dog and sheep were the only living things to be found on board the vessel, and these amiable animals had met him at the gangway as he stepped on board, and gave him a hearty welcome, at the same time indicating their willingness to surrender, without any words on the subject.

The arrival of these unexpected prisoners caused an immense amount of amusement for us, as we all crowded to the rail to see them hoisted on board, and the Lieutenant seemed to be very proud of his peaceful capture. He reported that he had made a thorough examination of the ship in search of officers and crew, whom it was possible might be stowed away somewhere among the cargo, but, that he could find no trace of any living beings except the prisoners mentioned. So he had concluded that all hands had escaped to the shore in their boats, as soon as the ship had struck the bar. Signals were at once made from our ship for assistance in getting the stranger off the bar, and in a few minutes several boats arrived from the other blockading ships, and preparations were made for hauling her off.

There was no manifest of the cargo found, but it was presumed that she was loaded with arms and ammunition, as a portion of the cargo was in sight, and consisted of small rifled cannon and Enfield rifles. There must also have been a considerable quantity of medical stores on board, as quite a number of bottles of quinine were found, as well as several cases of brandy. The quality of the latter article was tested.”

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