Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

On the Road

Posted in Education by Andy Hall on May 19, 2011

There are lots of good things about living where I do, but one you won’t find in the Chamber of Commerce brochures is that there are four wrecks of Civil War steam blockade runners right along this stretch of the Upper Texas Coast. Two of them, Acadia and Denbigh, have been positively identified; a third, Will o’ the Wisp (above), has been tentatively identified, and a fourth, Caroline (or Carolina) may have been located. Good, good stuff.

I’ve had the opportunity to dive on a couple of these sites, and from 1997-2003 was one of the lead investigators on Denbigh, the only one of the four to be formally excavated as an archaeology project. Denbigh was a remarkable ship, built in the same Birkenhead yard as the Confederate raider Alabama — which has its own connection to Galveston, thankyouverymuch — the second-most-successful runner of the war, having completed a total of eleven round voyages between Havana and Mobile, and Havana and Galveston, before being lost on the inbound passage of her twelfth trip into the Confederacy in May 1865.

But I digress. I’ve accepted an invitation to speak on Civil War blockade runners on the Texas coast on Thursday, October 20 at the Brazoria County Historical Museum in Angleton as part of Texas Archaeology Month. It’s been a long time since I talked about blockade runners, so it will be nice to return to that subject. More details closer to the date.

More blockade runner aye candy here.


4 Responses

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  1. Jim Schmidt said, on May 20, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Andy – That’s terrific! Congratulations! That’s only 60-90 minutes from my home and I am penciling it in to my Outlook calendar right now. Really look forward to it! Jim

  2. corkingiron said, on May 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Birkenhead – as in England? Were these ships built for the CSA as blockade runners Andy – or were they turned to that purpose after the War broke out?

    • Andy Hall said, on May 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Yes, Birkenhead as in across from Liverpool, Mersey Ferry and all that. John Laird & Sons, where Denbigh was built, was arguably the world’s pre-eminent builder of iron-hulled ships at that time. Laird was so well-known, in fact that in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo explains to Professor Aronnax that he’d contracted Laird to prepare the hull plates for Nautilus, which were then (along with elements from other builders) shipped to Nemo’s hideaway where his crew assembled the submarine. Let me tell you, Captain Nemo is one hell of an endorsement.

      Denbigh is the only one of those four built there, and she was built as a coastal excursion steamer, running between Liverpool and the resort town of Rhyl on the Welsh coast, 1860-63. She was quite fast when new (14.5 knots IIRC), but by the time she entered blockade running she was relatively slow. Runners were generally not well maintained; they were short-term investments in a (financially) very high-risk venture.

      Will o’ the Wisp was built on the Clyde, purposely as a runner, and exemplifies the extreme development of the Clyde steamer type. Her “entry” — the shape of the hull forward — is like a knife. She was very fast, too (17 kts, again from memory), but very shoddily built — she was leaking so much at the end of her Atlantic crossing to Nassau, her owner ran her into the shallows and let her settle on a sandbar to keep her from sinking, she was so riddled with leaks.

      More on blockade runners here:

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