Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lieutenant Gift's Raid at Apalachicola 1864

Cotton warehouses at Apalachicola in the 1800s. Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

As I noted in an earlier post, the Confederate Navy never really had a presence in Florida throughout the Civil War. There was some CSN gunboat activity on the Apalachicola River in Florida, mainly in association with protecting the important industrial center of Columbus, Georgia, upstream on the Chattahoochee River. The main confederate warship operating on the river was the steam sloop CSS Chattahoochee, which was sunk by a boiler explosion in May 1863. Eventually, the CSN raised the Chattahoochee and returned her to Columbus for repair and refitting.

George W. Gift joined the U.S. Navy in 1847 as a Midshipman. He resigned his commission a few years later (1851) to go into business for himself in the California territory on the west coast of the growing United States. When the war broke out, he traveled back to the south to join the Confederate Navy. He was an energetic and ambitious officer who served in multiple theatres, including on the Mississippi River, in North Carolina, and in Florida. He even caught the attention of Adm. Franklin Buchanan, who regarded him highly. He served as an officer on the Chattahoochee in 1863 under Lt. John J. Guthrie, left to serve in North Carolina (where he was a participant in the CSN raid on the USS Underwriter), then returned to Florida where he was given command of the refitted Chattahoochee.

During his first term of service on the Chattahoochee, he proposed to Lt. Guthrie a plan to take a CSN raiding party downriver into Apalachicola Bay to attempt to capture the Union gunboat USS Port Royal. He never got the chance to do this, but now back in Florida, and still flush with the success of the raid on the Underwriter, he determined to implement his earlier plan. On 3 May 1864 he set out from Georgia in the steamer Swan with a force of Confederate sailors and some soldiers. The force assembled at the Town of Apalachicola on 12 May. That night, they set out in boats to try to capture the USS Adela; a fast, sidewheel steamer that was itself a captured confederate blockade runner. Unfortunately, on this night Lt. Gift’s luck ran out. As the CSN raiding party set out from the docks, they were spotted by ship’s boats from the USS Somerset under the command of Acting Volunteer Lt. W. Budd. Most of the CSN raiding party returned to land and escaped through town. Gift and the men remaining with him were able to outrun the USN boats in their launch and escape back upriver. Thus ended one of the rare C.S. Navy military activities in Florida during the war.

CSS Florida. The CSS Chattahoochee looked similar to this. Naval History and Heritage Command.

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