Tag Archives: blockade runner

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.

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Charlottetown-Boston Steamer “Oriental” was Confederate Blockade-runner

Oriental001When Carvell Brothers, shipping agents,  placed an ad  for the summer schedule in the Islander in the summer of 1866 on behalf of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company few readers were aware of the history of one of the boats newly placed on the run.  The steamer Oriental was a modern boat which promised speedy and comfortable service to Canso, Halifax and Boston along with the steamship company’s other boat the Alhambra. But the Oriental had a previous existence as a blockade runner trying to supply the Confederate States of America.

The American Civil war had ended only the year before and the blockade runners played an unsuccessful role in supplying the South and carrying their cotton to market.

The blockade runners of the American Civil War were seagoing steamships that were used to make their way through the Union blockade that extended some 3,500 miles along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines and the lower Mississippi River. To get through the blockade these ships had to cruise by undetected, usually at night. If spotted the runners would then attempt to outmaneuver or simply outrun any Union ships on blockade patrol. The typical blockade runners were privately owned vessels often operating with a letter of marque issued by the Confederate States of America. These vessels would carry cargoes to and from neutral ports often located in Nassau and Cuba where neutral merchant ships in turn carried these cargoes, usually coming from or destined to England or other points abroad. Inbound ships usually brought badly needed supplies and mail to the Confederacy while outbound ships often exported cotton, tobacco and other goods for trade and revenue while also carrying important mail and correspondence to suppliers and other interested parties in Europe, most often in England. Most of the guns and other ordnance of the Confederacy was imported from England via blockade runners. Some blockade runners made many successful runs while many others were either captured or destroyed. There were an estimated 2500-2800 attempts to run the blockade with at least an 80% success rate. However, by the end of the Civil War the Union Navy had captured more than 1,100 blockade runners and had destroyed or run aground another 355 vessels.

One of the finest of the 1,100 captured ships was the screw steamer Minna. The ship had been built in the Palmer Brothers yard at Jarrow on the Tyne in 1856.  Registered at 774 tons the 212 foot iron ship had a 264 hp engine driving a screw propeller which gave it a high speed. Its first owners were Malcolmson Brothers in Waterford Ireland, a firm of cotton manufacturers with business links to the American-south. Late in 1864 the Minna found herself, probably not for the first time, in Nassau loading cargo to be shipped to the waiting Confederates. The USS Circassian, which itself had been a former blockade runner, intercepted the ship off Charleston near the Carolina coast. She was described by the correspondent for the Greenlock Advertiser as “the celebrated blockade runner Minna, a splendid barkentine steamship, of Waterford Ireland, undoubtedly one of the finest prizes of the war.” She was found to be carrying $300,000 worth of goods which included quinine, rifles and powder as well as a marine engine which was believed to be destined for a rebel ironclad.  Also on board was a consignment of bibles and prayer books which were in short supply in the south.  When the cargo sold in Boston the Massachusetts Bible Society bought a part of that shipment but was later refused permission to ship the bibles to the south.

The ship itself was sold early in 1865 to Boston interests for about $70,000. In March of that year the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company was incorporated under Massachusetts legislation.

Boston stockIn 1864 service to Halifax and P.E.I. had begun with two steamers, the Commerce and the Franconia.  This appears to have been the first regularly scheduled steamer service linking the Island with New England. The latter ship was replaced in 1865 with the Greyhound  and both vessels were replaced in 1866 with the Minna, now re-named the Oriental, and the American-built Alhambra.The Oriental continued to be a visitor in Charlottetown Harbour for a number of years but the vessel is recorded in the Record of American and Foreign Shipping as being wrecked in June 1876. The ship was wrecked at Harding’s Ledge, near Boston.  No images of the vessel have been located.

In an ironic twist two of the steamers later added to the route by the same company had been on the other side of the civil war sea forces as U.S. Navy blockade guard ships.

That will be the subject of an upcoming blog entry.