Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Fate of a Runner

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 23, 2015

Denbigh

One hundred fifty years ago this evening, May 23, 1865, the blockade runner Denbigh ran aground on Bird Key, a few hundred yards off the Bolivar Peninsula, near the entrance to Galveston Bay. The following morning, the stranded runner would be spotted and shelled by the blockaders U.S.S. Cornubia and Princess Royal. Denbigh‘s crew took to their boats and headed for shore; a boarding party from U.S.S. Seminole went aboard the little steamer, gathered up the ship’s papers, and set her ablaze. One of Seminole‘s crew members, Luke Robbins, was killed instantly by the discharge of his own weapon while clambering back into the boarding party’s boat; he was the only casualty of the operation. Robbins may have been under the influence, as two other members of the boarding party were found to be drunk and put in irons upon their return to the Union warship.

In all, Denbigh had made seven round voyages between Havana and Mobile and six between Havana and Galveston, the second-best confirmed record of any runner in the conflict. Years later, William Watson wrote of her:

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One of the most successful, and certainly one of the most profitable, steamers that sailed out of Havana to the Confederate States was a somewhat old, and by no means a fast, steamer named the Denbigh. . . . She was small in size, and not high above water, and painted in such a way as not to be readily seen at a distance. She was light on coal, made but little smoke, and depended more upon strategy than speed. She carried large cargoes of cotton, and it was generally allowed that the little Denbigh was a more profitable boat than any of the larger and swifter cracks.[1]

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Denbigh had made it successfully in and out of Galveston a half-dozen times before this last attempt, and it’s likely that her fatal grounding happened because the Confederate troops on shore who were responsible for setting out range lights and markers for the runners’ safe navigation had abandoned their posts in the general collapse of the Texas and the Trans-Mississippi Department. The runner Lark did make it into Galveston that same night, but her master noted that the forts he passed guarding the harbor entrance appeared to be abandoned. Lark would endure another disaster the following morning, when hundreds of Confederate soldiers and civilians swarmed the ship at Central Wharf and looted virtually everything that wasn’t nailed down. Lark‘s master made no attempt to load a return cargo; that evening he got under way again, stopped briefly at a nearby wharf to pick up Denbigh‘s crew, and dashed out of the harbor again for Havana, the last blockade runner to clear a Confederate port.

It was almost the end.

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[1] William Watson, The Adventures of a Blockade Runner; or, Trade in Time of War (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893), 287–88.

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4 Responses

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  1. woodrowfan said, on May 25, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    What did the crew do once they got to Havana? What happened to the ship??

    • Andy Hall said, on May 25, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Lark returned to civilian service in some capacity, likely under a new name, and the crew presumably scattered to other jobs, as mariners are wont to to. We actually don’t have (or I’m not aware of) a list of crew on her final voyage.

      The wreck of Denbigh remains where she burned, about six miles over that way [points].

      http://nautarch.tamu.edu/PROJECTS/denbigh/

      • woodrowfan said, on May 25, 2015 at 9:30 pm

        Thanks, what about the “Lark”?

        • Andy Hall said, on May 25, 2015 at 9:36 pm

          Lark doesn’t appear under that name in the the Lloyd’s Register for the few years following the war. She may have been renamed, and possibly also sold and registered under a new flag.


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