U.S. Civil War left a Legacy on P.E.I. Marine History

Steamer at Plant Line Wharf 1893. Public Archives and Records Office. Sterling Collection Accession 3218/70.

The image is a striking one. A handsome two-funnel paddle steamer is tied up to the Plant Line wharf in  Charlottetown.  In the album where the image is found, a date of 1893 is attached to the picture. However there is no name given and no name can be found on the ship. What could it be and why was it in Charlottetown harbour?

By 1893 the day of the side-wheel paddle steamer was long past.  Screw steamers had proven to be more powerful and, more importantly, cheaper to run.  As passenger and freight boats they had long since been supplanted by newer models, except perhaps in England where paddle-wheelers continued to be used as tugs for many years.  So it is likely that the mystery boat is an older vessel. It appears to be of iron or steel construction and seems in good condition.

Without more clues it seemed that the ship was destined to remain nameless and then a reader of this column gave me the answer. He was, and continues to be, an inveterate researcher and genealogist and has probably viewed more miles of microfilm than anyone in the province.

The ship, he suggested,  was the S.S. Miramichi and like so many of the vessels coming in and out of Charlottetown there was a story to tell.

I have several times remarked on the amazing number of times that the Island steamers were associated with the American Civil War. The Boston boats; Oriental (Minna), Greyhound, and St. Lawrence (General Whiting) all had been blockade runners while the Worcester, Carroll, Somerset,  Westmorland and Lady LeMarchant all had roles on the Union side. The Miramichi was also engaged in the conflict but not under that name.

S.S./U.S.S. Bat. Drawing by Erik Heyl from Early America Steamers, 1953.

The Liverpool shipbuilding firm of Jones, Quiggins & Co. built a large number of blockade runners for either private owners or the government of the Confederacy. In 1864 four identical sister-ships; Bat, Deer, Owl, and Stag were launched from their yards between June and August.  Built of steel, they were all 230 feet overall, 26 feet wide and were relatively shallow draft drawing only 6 feet 6 inches when fully loaded.  Although schooner rigged their primary propulsion was from 180 horse-power twin vertical oscillating Watt engines fired by two boilers driving side paddle wheels.  The fine straight lines were surmounted by two funnels.  One of the outstanding features of this class of blockade runners was the speed of the vessels. She reached 14 knots in trials but was capable of higher speeds when loaded as the paddles were then deeper in the water. These ships were each designed to carry from 800 to 850 bales of cotton through the Union blockade and provide revenue for the beleaguered south. On return trips they would carry necessary supplies and materials for the war effort.

The Bat was launched on 1 August 1864 and within a few days was pressed into service. On her first trip for the Confederacy she carried a cargo of shoe machinery across the Atlantic. Stopping for coal at Halifax she headed south to try and sneak into the port of Wilmington North Carolina. She evaded several of the blockade ships but was spotted by the patrol vessel U.S.S. Montgomery. The Bat was unable to get up to speed before she was fired on. A single shot hit the Bat’s deckhouse fatally wounding a crew member and the ship surrendered immediately.  The Bat was sent to Boston where she was condemned as a war prize and purchased in November 1864 by the U.S. Navy for $150,000. As the U.S.S. Bat she saw out the rest of the war without incident.

Auctioned in New York following the end of the war she was sold for less than $30,000 and renamed the S.S. Teazer. She may have operated between Boston or New York and New Orleans but in 1872 she came to Quebec having been purchased by the Quebec & Gulf Ports Steamship Company and was renamed the S.S. Miramichi.

The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company had the Royal Mail contract for voyages between Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia running several iron paddle-wheel steamers. Passengers and freight connected at Shediac and Pictou for Prince Edward Island although after Confederation the line, renamed the Quebec Steamship Company in 1880, often made regular stops at Charlottetown.  By the 1890s the  Miramichi was also a regular visitor to Summerside as well. In 1895 the Miramichi was replaced by the S.S. Campana and the thirty-year-old Miramichi, ed-Teazer, ex-Bat, continued on routes on the St. Lawrence and the Gulf. In 1902 she became the property of the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company but appears to have been scrapped shortly after.

The preponderance of former civil war vessels seeing service in P.E.I. waters raises the question of the effect of the war on the economy of the region. Up to the mid 1860s P.E.I. had a strong shipbuilding industry but it disappeared in the following years. Was a contributing cause the large number of ships built for both sides in the American conflict which were released on the market after the war’s end?  Hundreds of vessels at cheap price were suddenly available.  Certainly we have seen how inexpensive and modern steamers on both the Atlantic coastal services and in the Gulf came from surplus vessels built or purchased for war shipping and naval activities.

With the exception of the photo shown above there appear to be no pictures of the Bat or any of her three sister ships so this picture is a valuable artifact, not just of the history of Prince Edward Island, but for the remarkable story of the blockade runners and the navy of the Confederate States.

More detailed accounts of the Bat’s short war-time history are found in a number of published accounts but is most easily accessed in a Wikipedia article found here.  As usual Kevin Griffin’s history of the Clarke Steamship Company contains invaluable information about the shipping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence including services between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

I am indebted to champion researcher Gary Carroll for providing the key to unlock the mystery of the unknown paddle-wheeler.

12 thoughts on “U.S. Civil War left a Legacy on P.E.I. Marine History

  1. Jamie

    Almost looks like something is being dumped or pumped over the port side forward of the wheelhouse.

    Reply
      1. Jamie

        Could be, looks kind of smoky\dusty and blowing around. I guess dumping over the side would be the way they’d dispose of ashes and pretty much everything else lol.

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  3. Philip Ireson

    The ship was the wartime blockade runner Chicora, also known as Let Her Be, she was built in Liverpool in 1864 and owned by the Chicora Importing Company. The photo shows her in Canada post war when she had another deck added to her hull to increase her capacity as a commercial vessel. A painting of her exists in her wartime blockade runner role and I have a copy in my collection plus other information on her career should anyone be interested .

    Reply
    1. sailstrait Post author

      I do not agree. The Chicora ended up on the Great Lakes in 1868 and there are a number of photo showing her in that location. This is most certainly the Bat with the building and ownership information and changes noted above. A photo of the Chicora can be seen at http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/1014/data and there are many differences between her and the Bat/Miramichi. To my knowledge the Chicora never visited Charlottetown although she stopped in Halifax on her way to the lakes in 1868. In order to pass through the locks she had to be cut into two sections and re-assembled above the locks. She never came into salt water again and the photo in Charlottetown dates from the 1890s.

      Reply
  4. Phil

    The vessel is certainly Chicora, the picture I have in my collection was made by the English marine artist Edward James shows her as she appeared in Bermuda in 1864 and she is in every respect identical to the picture you have except that another deck had been added. The funnels are the same the guards are the same the hull lines and bow are the same but the clinching evidence is the double fret paddle boxes which were a trademark of all vessels produced by the Merseyside shipbuilders Jones Quiggin and their subcontractors, William C Miller and Son of Toxteth and Bowdler Chaffer of Seacombe .
    There is a picture of Bat taken after the war when she was in commercial service and the photograph shows that the paddle box frets were of a different pattern to the picture above and also to other Jones Quiggen vessels but she still had the distinctive rounded guards that appeared on all succeeding Quiggen’s paddle steamers.
    There is no doubt in my mind that the vessel is a Jones Quiggen vessel, she has the same paddle box pattern that can be seen on PS Hope, Col Lamb and Dream of which I have several pictures and photographs. I have an extensive collection of pictures of blockade runners built on Merseyside, Clydeside and on the Thames and it is easy to distinguish the hull lines, paddle boxes and guards of Quiggen’s designs from every other ship builder.
    Now we come to the controversial part, the date on the photograph is 1893, it is not certain that this was when the picture was taken as I have seen dates written on photos in US collections that could not be correct because that type of blockade runner was not being built in 1862 .
    I agree with you that Chicora was used on the great lakes in 1868 as I also have three photographs in my collection showing her in this service. Unfortunately, although there is no doubt that her hull is the same, in every other respect she had changed significantly from her wartime service and her distinctive double fret paddle boxes had been covered over with strange fret-less paddle guards that never appeared on any blockade runner design. I conclude that in the three years between 1865 and 1868 the Chicora entered commercial service as a cargo vessel and was unsuccessful causing her to be sold for passenger service on the lakes .

    Reply
    1. sailstrait Post author

      Dear Mr. Ireson;
      I think we may be in violent agreement on several points. There is no question in my mind that this is indeed a Jones, Quiggen vessel and so note in the article. I defer to your knowledge of the paddle box design. I also agree that the Great Lakes pictures of the Chicora are of no assistance as it was greatly modified when cut apart to transit the lock and then re-built. I have depended to great measure on the information included in the entry for the Bat in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Bat Normally I am suspicious of the validity of Wikipedia sources but this one seems to be well grounded in other research including the U.S. Naval and Heritage Command page at https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/histories/ship-histories/confederate_ships/bat.html
      If I understand your concern correctly it is that the image in question does not match to one of the Bat which you have seen and which Erick Hayl many have used as the basis for his sketch. It is not surprising to me that there may be confusion between the several Jones, Quiggen vessels operating out of Bermuda in 1864. The Bat had several sister ships and I suspect that the design of the Chicora may not have been greatly different from them. Owing to the clandestine character of the trade it may have been an advantage to sow confusion as to which ship was which.
      The Bat – Teaser – Miramichi history is recounted in the Charlottetown Daily Examiner (reprinting an article in the Montreal Star) for 1 June 1895 p. 2, available at the islandnewspapers.ca website. This article is not without errors and it incorrectly identifies the builder and site but it does have the advantage of being written within 30 years of the events noted and within the memory of the ships owners and officers.
      Finally, as former Archivist of PEI I have direct knowledge of the David Stirling photo album in which the photo as found. The pictures in this album are all original images and are taken within the span of a few years bridging the 1893 date. The building behind the paddle steamer was located on the wharf used by the Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company (after 1880 the Quebec Steamship Company). The structure does not appear on an 1878 bird’s eye view of Charlottetown or on a detailed 1880 map pf the city which shows the buildings. While its exact date of construction is not know it was most certainly after 1880 and the steamer could therefore not have been the Chicora which was by that time land-locked in the Great Lakes.
      I would be very interested is seeing both the Edward James image of the Chicora and the photo of the Bat so I can better understand the differences of which you speak.
      Thank you for your questions. I certainly strive to have accurate information and depend to great measure on the knowledge of experts to ensure that Sailstrait does not contribute to the increasing problem of “not quite right” statements in on-line sources.

      Reply
      1. Phil Ireson

        Your dating of the buildings on the wharf in Charlottetown seems pretty conclusive so we still seem to have a mystery on our hands which I am sure we will get to the bottom of eventually. Out of interest if you send me a private email I will share my photographic evidence with you off forum then I will give this problem some more thought. We both seem to agree that the ship was built by Quiggens but which ship is it? I will go through my database and see if I can come up with some other ideas regarding her identity.

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  6. Philip Ireson

    I have located a good picture of the Teazer for you to study and you will see the difference in the paddle box that I referred to. Teazer, formerly Bat was one of several in her class built by Jones Quiggens for the blockade and she had the later pattern rounded guards for and aft of her paddle boxes (the aft one is missing in the photo) . If you contact me I could also send a second picture of Bat and a good one of Chicora as well. The picture of the vessel in Charlottetown has definitely got a Jones Quiggen double fret paddle box but which vessel she was is still in doubt .

    Reply

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