The Georgiana shipwreck was discovered by underwater archaeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence on March 19, 1965 at 32°46?47?N 79°45?35?W. The state of South Carolina later issued South Carolina salvage license #1 to Spence’s company, Shipwrecks Inc., to explore the combined wreck of the Georgiana/Mary Bowers. Hundreds of thousands of individual artifacts were recovered from the site.
Continue reading to learn more about this amazing Civil War Steamer: the Georgiana…
Although, the Georgiana is now one of the best known Civil War shipwrecks. Prior to the research on the steamer's unusual history and prior to the discovery of the wreck's location, the Georgiana was a mystery ship largely unknown to the public.
The Feb. 28, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly, carried the following account titled Another Steamer for the Rebels. "The steamer Georgiana, the tender of the Alabama, was in the harbor of Holyhead, England, and went to sea on the 24th of January, bound for Nassau. She had a formidable crew of rough-looking men of almost every European nationality. She mounts twenty-eight guns, and carries out a quantity of tea and other necessaries for the use of the crew of the Alabama. A letter from Holyhead says: “Her crew—rather numerous, by-the-way—were all bearded like pards, and reminded the by-standers forcibly of Cooper’s heroes. She is bound for America, and looks just the thing for running the blockade." Dr. Spence actually recovered some of the Georgiana's tea, which, despite being submerged for over a century, still had its characteristic odor.
Zero visibility, a heavy surge and strong currents are the norm for the site, which may explain why, despite the Georgiana’s historical and archaeological significance, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology (SCIAA), which is officially in charge of all of the shipwrecks in South Carolina waters, has only made one trip to the site. That trip was in 2011, about 45 years after Spence first informed the State of his discovery. The bad thing is, at this rate, the State may not get back out to the Georgiana site until the wreck's 200th anniversary.
Thomas Scharf (who had served in the Confederate navy), in his History of the Confederate Navy, described the Georgiana as the "most powerful" Confederate cruiser.
The Georgiana was 226' long and was built of heavy iron planks and frames. The vessel was powered by an enormous steam engine that drove a 12' diameter propeller. She was also rigged for sail. The cruiser must have been an impressive sight. She had heavily raked masts and her clipper bow sported the figurehead of a woman. The Georgiana was reportedly pierced for fourteen guns and could carry over four hundred tons of cargo.
The Georgiana was lost on the night of March 19, 1863, while attempting to run past the Federal Blockading Squadron and into Charleston, South Carolina. She was sunk after a desperate chase in which she came so close to the Yankee guns that her crew even heard the orders being given on the enemy vessels. With solid shot passing entirely though her hull, her propeller and rudder damaged, and with no hope for escape, the Georgiana's captain ran her aground. Once aground, the Georgiana's crew scuttled her and escaped to shore. The Yankees then set her on fire. The partially submerged wreck burned and blew up for three days.
The United States Secretary of Navy wrote: "the destruction of the Georgiana not only touched (the Confederate's) pockets, but their hopes. She was a splendid craft, peculiarly fitted for the business of privateering."
Contemporary accounts published in the Charleston Daily Courier reported the Georgiana's cargo as consigned to Fraser and Company, a blockade running firm headed by George Alfred Trenholm. Underwater archeologist and historian, Dr. E. Lee Spence, has uncovered evidence showing Trenholm was the historical basis for much of the Rhett Butler character in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind.
Today the Georgiana sits on the bottom with her huge boiler only five feet under the surface. She is now plumed with a glorious array of Sea Fans, Sea Whips, and living corals. Large sections of the hull are still intact. In places the starboard side of the shattered blockade runner protrudes over nine feet from the sand. Under the mud and sand lies the remainder of the hull of the ill-fated warship.
Most of the time there is zero visibility, but, on a clear day, skin divers can dive down into the Georgiana's immense cargo hold simply by holding their breath. They can swim right past the remaining iron deck supports. The ship's deck was white pine and has long since been eaten away. Sea Urchins, and Sea Anemones abound on the wreck. The wreck seems alive with Sea Bass, Grouper, Flounder, Sting Rays, Sea Horses, and Toad Fish - a toad fish is an ugly looking fish that actually makes a barking noise, and has a bite worse than its bark.
Once in the Georgiana's cargo hold, divers can observe heavily encrusted artifacts sitting where they have lain for over one hundred years. Near the forward cargo hatch Spence found boxes of pins and buttons. Spence recovered sundries, munitions, and medicines easily worth over $12,000,000, but he never found the 4,500 troy ounces of gold coins she carried. The coins could easily have a numismatic value of over $15,000,000.
A United States consular dispatch dated on January 6, 1863, stated. "The steamer Georgiana, just arrived at Liverpool from the Clyde. She is new and said to be a very superior steamer. ··· Yesterday while lying here she had the Rebel flag flying at her mast." The London Times of April 8, 1863, described her as follows: "There is not the least doubt of her being intended as a privateer." The New York Times of March 31, 1863, reported a spy's description of the craft as "a superior vessel, ··· built expressly for the rebel navy." The spy went on to report that she was "altogether a faster, stauncher, and better vessel than either the Oreto or Alabama."