Acadia Makes Two
The stretch of beach where Acadia went aground on the evening of February 5, 1865.
Forty-eight hours after Will o’ the Wisp went aground on February 3, a few miles below Galveston, another runner was wrecked 25 miles or so farther down the coast, just west of San Luis Pass. Although the fates of Wisp and Acadia were similar, the circumstances of the latter’s destruction were somewhat different.
At the same time soldiers and civilians were picking over the wreck of Will o’ the Wisp, the runner Acadia ended her brief life on the Gulf beach about forty miles south of Galveston. Acadia had been launched at Sorel (now Sorel-Tracy), Quebec, on the St. Lawrence River in May 1864. She was a large side-wheel steamer, 211 feet long and registered at 738 tons. There was little infrastructure for the construction of iron-hulled vessels in Canada at the time, so Acadia was built of timber. Acadia was registered at Montreal on the last day of October 1864 by Jacques Felix Lincennes of Sorel and William McNaughton of Montreal, but her true ownership remains unclear. Acadia’s owners evidently intended to run her through the blockade or otherwise dispose of the ship to make a quick profit because they took the step of noting on her registry papers that her master, Thomas Leach, was empowered to sell the ship with “no minimum price named, at any place out of the province of Canada.”
Acadia sailed from Halifax for Nassau on December 6, 1864. Among her passengers was a group of men who the local U.S. consul reported were part of a “piratical gang” of Confederates traveling to Vera Cruz, Mexico, from there to go overland to California with the intent of seizing a U.S. Mail steamer on the Pacific coast. Acadia made a brief stop at Nassau, where she took on cargo for Texas, and then another at Havana, loading more inbound cargo. After a stop at Vera Cruz to land the Confederates bound for California, Acadia sailed again, this time setting a northerly course for the Texas coast.
Acadia ran hard aground in the surf between San Luis Pass and the mouth of the Brazos River around dusk on February 5, 1865, in the same heavy fog conditions that led to the loss of Wisp. Captain Leach — who by some accounts was trying to enter the mouth of the Brazos River at Velasco (an ill-conceived plan if true, given the large size of the steamer) — later claimed that he had intended to reach the coast much farther north, about fifteen miles south of Galveston, but had been pushed off course by a strong current. In fact, Acadia’s failed attempt to run the blockade seems in retrospect to have been almost doomed by incompetence. The ship’s sailing master, frustrated at his inability to get his bearings in the fog, had reportedly given up charge of piloting the vessel before the ship struck bottom, and the steamer’s magnetic compass had allegedly never been properly secured or adjusted, “no regard being had for quantity of iron and iron nails closely connected with the needle, in fact, not a binnacle in the ship, the compasses not even fixed on deck when leaving Havana.” The destruction of the ship was made complete the following morning, when she was discovered and shelled by the blockader USS Virginia.
Much of Acadia’s cargo was salvaged by the Confederates and sold at auction in Houston later in February, bringing in over $28,000. The lots, as reported by the Galveston Weekly News, included flannel cloth, Nova Scotia wool, linen and silk handkerchiefs, lead pencils, letter paper and envelopes, percussion caps, hand tools, preserved fruit, black tea, claret, playing cards, gold lace, French quinine, calomel. Also included was a quantity of “blue mass,” a mercury-based medicinal used to treat everything from constipation and syphilis to tuberculosis and birthing pain. The editor of the Weekly News was fairly disgusted at the premium paid for luxury items, even as the Confederacy was entering its death throes: “The few dozen preserved fruits…brought from four to five hundred per cent on first cost, while the necessary articles of iron brought but 10¢, but a trifle over actual cost, showing a proneness to indulge our appetites in preference to supplying the actual wants of the country.”
William Watson, an experienced blockade-running captain who made a last wartime visit to Galveston about this time as pilot of the steamer Pelican, observed that in these last, frenetic weeks of the war “the general scramble [at Galveston] seemed to have become more desperate, and blockade running was now carried on to a reckless degree.” This included ships and crews that had no business trying to run the blockade. Acadia and Captain Leach were among these, so grossly ill-prepared that it’s remarkable they didn’t get themselves killed in the process.
The wreck of Acadia was visible from the beach for more than a century; the last bit of it reportedly blew down in Hurricane Alicia in 1983. In the last 1960s and early 1970s, the wreck was salvaged by a Houston dentist, Wendell Pierce, who collected hundreds of artifacts, mostly from remnants of the ship’s cargo that were missed in 1865. The artifacts he collected are now in the Brazoria County Museum in Angleton, south of Houston.