Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Talkin’ Blockade Runners — June 5 in Conroe

Posted in Education, Memory by Andy Hall on May 22, 2013

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On Wednesday, June 5, I’ll be giving my talk, “For-Profit Patriots: Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the Woodlands Civil War Round Table in Conroe, north of Houston. My talk will be at 7 p.m. at the Windsor Hill Club House, 1 East Windsor Hills Circle. Visitors are welcome, although everyone attending must be 18 or older due to the rules of the community. As before, there will be particular emphasis on two vessels wrecked here in 1865, Will o’ the Wisp and Denbigh. The official blurb:

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 In the closing months of the Civil War, long, low blockade runners slipped in and out of Texas ports, racing both to keep the Confederacy supplied, and to generate dramatic profits for their owners. It was a risky, high-stakes gamble that was the foundation for many fortunes on both sides of the Atlantic. Almost 150 years later, archaeologists and historians have begun to uncover the stories of these remarkable vessels. The discovery of the paddle steamer Denbigh in 1997, and of a wreck believed to be the famous Will o’ the Wisp in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, open the door to a long-overlooked story of patriotism, avarice and daring during those last desperate months of the conflict.

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“Patriotism, avarice and daring”? Did I write that? Gack, what turgid over-selling!

Anyway, it should be fun and informative. Hope to see you there!

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Image: Me with nautical archaeologist Amy Borgens on the Will o’ the Wisp wreck site, July 2009.
 
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  1. SF Walker said, on May 30, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    I didn’t know the Denbigh was wrecked off the Texas coast–I wish I could make it out there to hear your talk. There’s a very good painting of the Denbigh in the Time-Life Civil War series–in the volume entitled “The Blockade: Runners and Raiders.” She was a handsome vessel–was she scuttled by her crew? What’s the condition of the wreck today?

    • Andy Hall said, on May 30, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      I know the painting well. It was done by Thomas Cantwell Healy, brother of the much-better-known George P. A. Healy. There is circumstantial evidence, located by my colleague, Barto Arnold, that that painting was done on canvas and with paints brought in on that very ship.

      The hull of the wreck is relatively intact, but buried in sand. The large, box-like boiler stands proud of the bottom, and breaks the surface of the water a bit. Parts of the iron paddlewheel frames are exposed in the water column, too. The water there is very shallow, 6 feet plus or minus, depending on the tide.

      If you could get rid of the water — because visibility is very poor — the exposed part of the wreck looked about like this in 2000 — diver for scale in blue.

      • SF Walker said, on May 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

        Andy, thanks for the reply and for the nice illustration of the Denbigh’s remains! I don’t believe any of the Civil War wrecks here in Charleston have made it in this state of preservation–the ones in the harbor, including the Patapsco, Chicora, and Palmetto State, have all been dredged–apparently only the keels survive.

        Clive Cussler claims to have located at least five blockade runners here using magnetometers and side-scan sonar, but gives little info on his website apart from the coordinates. One of them, the Stonewall Jackson, was claimed by Cussler to be 18 feet under the beach at the Isle of Palms–and the Rattlesnake (probably the photograph of the runner by the jetty in the Time Life volume) is just off the coast of Sullivan’s Island.

        Thanks also for the interesting info on the painting (and the paint!)–I’d heard of George P.A. Healy; I didn’t know his brother was an artist, too. A while back I used this image to make a small balsa wood model of Denbigh for a diorama.

        • Andy Hall said, on May 31, 2013 at 6:19 am

          I didn’t realize you were in Charleston. It was the late Charlie Peery of Charleston who got us going to locate DENBIGH in the first place. At the time he owned that painting.

          • SF Walker said, on June 1, 2013 at 11:28 am

            Interesting! One of my cousins, who is a diver, may have known Dr. Peery. She had the pleasure of working with Ralph Wilbanks prior to his involvement in raising the H.L. Hunley. I think both men were part of the Hunley Commission. The local dive shop here, the Wet Shop, published an excellent map showing the general locations of all the known wrecks in Charleston waters–when I first saw it many years ago I was surprised by how many wrecks there were.

            I had a look at the Denbigh Project website yesterday–did you paint those four images of the ship?

            • Andy Hall said, on June 2, 2013 at 8:46 am

              Not sure which four images — these? — yes, those are my digital renderings. They’re pretty bad.

              • SF Walker said, on June 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

                Yep, those are the ones. I wasn’t quite sure whether they were digital. Actually, that’s nice work–they’re more detailed than the digital models done for the Ship Simulator program I’ve got on my computer–and those are pretty decent.

              • Andy Hall said, on June 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

                Thanks, but I think my later work is a lot better. I discovered this morning that it’s inspired at least one major Lego project:

                Blockade Runner Reference

                and

                Commerce Raider: Chickamauga


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