News & DepartmentsState/National/World

Fast Facts: SS Georgiana Discovered by Diver Exactly 102 Years After Loss

CHARLESTON, S.C.一 On March 19, 1965, underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence discovered the wreckage of the SS Georgiana, the “mystery ship of the Confederacy.” Exactly 102 years to the day, the ship was scuttled by the captain after trying to break through the naval blockade in Charleston, South Carolina.

“The treasure I sought was not only gold, but history,” said Spence in his book “Treasures of the Confederate Coast: the “real” Rhett Butler’ & other revelations.” “The Georgiana was the most powerful Confederate cruiser ever built, and she was my discovery.”

The steamer was built in Great Britain and was sunk in 14 feet of water off the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, during its maiden voyage while carrying today’s equivalent of $2 million in cargo.

On March 19, 1863, the steamer attempted to run past the Federal Blockading Squadron and into Charleston. Instead, she was spotted by the America, an armed yacht that alerted the rest of the fleet.

The ship was caught in a chase with the USS Wissahickon, which fired a shot that went through the hull, damaging the propeller and rudder.

Captain A. B. Davidson flashed a white light signaling surrender, fired on the boarding crew (which was considered a gross violation), and then beached the ship in 14 feet of water, scuttled it, and escaped onto land with his crew.

Lieutenant Commander John L. Davis, who was commanding the Wissahickon, then set the ship on fire to prevent troops from coming back for the rest of the cargo.

Spence spent years gathering notes and data related to the Georgiana to triangulate the wreck’s position. He plotted the ship’s position by running an imaginary line along the beach that would be one mile from shore on an old chart. Then he swung an arc three and one-half miles from Breach Inlet, making the place where the lines intersected the approximate location of the ship.

Spence worked with a trawler captain, Walter Shaffer, to run a grappling device along the bottom of the ocean to see if they snagged anything. Finally, after two-and-a-half hours the pair hooked something, and Spence suited up and dove in where he found the Georgiana. 

“I was on the wreck I wanted,” said Spence in his book. “Elated with the satisfaction of a successful quest, I gave a conqueror’s yell, even though I was underwater and there was no one to hear me but the fish and crabs. I had discovered the resting place of the Georgiana, “mystery ship of the Confederacy.”

The ship is still in the shallow waters of Charleston and can be seen on clear days.

Share This:


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *