Marauders of the Sea, Confederate Merchant Raiders During the American Civil War

CSS Georgia. 1863. Captain William Lewis Maury

CSS Georgia.

An interesting Confederate Naval Officer, was Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, born in Virginia, he had entered the United States Navy, as a Midshipman, in 1825, when he was 19.

CSS Georgia
CSS Georgia

He had a crippling injury which confined him to duty ashore, but he became the Superintendent of the Navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments in 1842, and in 1844, added the overseeing of the new Naval Observatory in Washington D.C.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury resigned his post at the Observatory, and joined the Virginia Governor’s advisory council, and was appointed as a Commander in the CS Navy. He was a strident critic of Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, and to get him out of his hair, Mallory shipped Maury off to England in October 1862, no exact orders as to his duties seem to exist, but the vague: “ On secret service.” was used.

Maury arrived in Liverpool on the 23rd. of November, where he met Bulloch for the first time, he also met Captain Marin Jansen of the Royal Nederlands Navy in London , where he moved with his 13 year old son who had travelled with his father.

It does appear that Mallory had briefed Maury about building and purchasing vessels in England for the Confederate Navy, and this subject had been discussed with Jansen, who, when visiting ship building yards in both England and Scotland, kept his eyes open for a suitable vessel for his friend Maury.

Maury’s cousin, Thomas Bold of Liverpool, supplied arms to the Confederacy as a ship chandler, in his own name, her purchased the merchant ship Japan, under construction at Dumbarton in Scotland. Maury himself never went near the building site, in lieu, he sent another cousin, Lieutenant William Lewis Maury posing as being on a holiday in a nearby village, but he too did not visit the ship.

Marin Jansen looked after all the necessary details, had the ship ready to sail by the end of March. With the Alexandra seized by the British, the Confederate Naval Officers earmarked to serve in her, were now available for service in Japan.

On the 1st. of April 1863, she cleared the Clyde, a very ordinary merchant ship, inspected, and cleared by British Customs. The Alar, a small ship usually engaged trading to the Channel Islands was used for transporting arms, ammunition, and after five days of hard work, Lieutenant William Maury commissioned CSS Georgia off the French port of Brest.

The ship was enroute for the South Atlantic before the US Consul at Glasgow could ask Lord Russell to detain her, all far too late. Records of Georgia were scant, she was a screw steamer of about 500 tons, had a

Civil War P 90.

squat thick funnel. Her guns consisted of two by 100 pounders, two by 24 pounders, and a single 32 pounder, all Whitworth guns. She was esentially a steam ship carrying only auxiliary sails.

As he was restricted to coaling at neutral ports at 90 day intervals, Maury spent a good deal of his time with the boilers banked, the ship immobilized, he was forever hopeful of a ship load of coal coming his way awaiting capture, but he did not have the luck of an Alabama, and her fortunate Captain.

At last, he captured Constitution on the 25th. of June 1863, but it entailed two weeks hard slog to transfer the coal to his ship via buckets.

He took Georgia into Cherbourg on the 28th. of October, and took the train to Paris to meet with his Flag Officer Samuel Barron. Seven lonely months at sea had yielded little, he told his tale of woe, the sails did not have enough power to allow enemy ships to be captured under sail, of necessity, steam had to be used, and this soon exhausted the coal supply, he asked to be relieved of this command, and Lieutenant Evans was given temporary command.

From a log extract of Georgia, Maury recorded he bonded prizes valued at $240,000, and that he had destroyed by fire another four ships with a value of $191,270.

At the Geneva Tribunal, Northern shippers claimed damages of $406,000 attributable to the actions of Georgia.

But the ship was not the success of Florida or Alabama, even Sumter did much better. Mallory was impressed at the speed at which Maury had come up with the finding, buying and converting Japan, into the Georgia, and he was ordered to repeat the dose.

Thanks to David A. Gamage for the following about the fate of CSS Georgia

CSS Georgia:
The rest of the story

On the early morning of January 14, 1875 the 212-foot steamer Georgia ended what was to be its final journey when in darkness the ship grounded on a ledge in lower Western Penobscot on the Maine coast. The ship was in route from Halifax to Portland with passengers and freight. The passengers, including women and children and crew were removed safely to shore from the fatally wrecked Georgia by means of the ship’s lifeboats and the Whitehead Life-Saving Station surfboat. This was the first rescue performed by the newly established Whitehead Life-Saving Station.

The CSS Georgia returned to France in October 1864 with an severely fouled iron hull from marine growth in the southern waters. Because it was a slow sailer, too slow for effective commerce raiding, the Georgia was taken to Liverpool and sold on June 1 to a merchant. When four days enroute with cargo the Georgia was taken on August 15 by the U.S Navy frigate Niagara and sent to Boston and sold as a lawful prize.

The Georgia was purchased and documented in 1865 by New Bedford merchant. The ship was redocumented in Canada in 1870. Above deck accomodations for crew and passengers was added for the ship to be used for Maritime Provence service to and from Quebec City.  In the winter of 1874 the ship became trapped in ice in the St. Lawrence and sunk. It was latter refloated and repaired and thereafter went into freight and passenger service on the Portland and Halifax run.

The final and fateful voyage of the Georgia began on January 13, 1875 when the ship departed Halifax at 9pm. enroute to Portland. On board were twelve passengers and a crew of forty-one. After passing Seal Island at the southern tip of Nova Scotia ta the ship assumed a westerly heading across the Gulf of Maine that would approach Matinicus Rock lighthouse 110 miles distant. At 1pm it began to snow and it became very thick by 8pm. The ship was stopped and a sounding showed 70 fathams. While enroute on two occassions the captain believed both compasses were off and had twice made adjustments to each.

The Georgia had passed northerly of Matinicus Rock unseen from the ship. It continued 12 miles then pass through the passage between Two Bush Island and the Crow Island Ledges on the starboard and the Northern Triangle ledges to port. It had been estimated they would reach Matinicus Rock at 10:30 pm.  About that time with diminishing snow a light was seen on the starbard quarter that was thought to be Matinicus lighthouse.  Continuing on a red flashing light was seen ahead. This light was Southern Island at the entrance to Tenants harbor and they realized the white light was not Matinicus. It was Whitehead.

The steamer was stopped for a period of time while the captain and the pilot discussed the options to proceed in a southwesterly dirction along the steamship route or to back track easterly on their original route to open water to await daylight. The pilot insisted on the latter, a fateful choice. The ship had drifted southerly for nearly an hour during this idle period. Within ten minutes of getting underway about midnight the iron hull of the Georgia stuck and slid onto the jagged protruding granite rocks of the Northern Triangles. The ship came to a stop with half her length aground. With the tide high and beginning to ebb there was no hope of backing off.

The captain thought with the stern afloat the ship could remain there safely until morning. Seas were running high at the time, lifting and dropping the ship’s stern. From the continual pounding on the ledge the hull soon began to leak profusely. The hull was fatally breached and the ship began to break up. Water flooded the baggage and engine room and soon flooded the below deck passenger cabin. The passenges and crew were then gathered on deck. The captain then ordered the boats lowered.

The captain took one boat, the engineer the second, the pilot the third and the mate the fourth. An able seaman was appointed for each boat. The captain took the women and children in his boat along with twelve men. When the Captain’s boat had launched and was pushing off two men jumped from the ship into the boat nearly swamping it.

The boat with the engineer and the boat with the mate then pushed off. However, the pilot’s boat capsized having fouled in the davits when being lowered leaving the pilot and five men stranded on the wrecked ship.  The pilot begged to be taken aboard one of the other boats but was denied.  The boats were fully loaded and for one to return to the Georgia’s hull in the high seas could be disaterous.

The captain and the engineer headed for Tenants Harbor about seven miles distant.  The engineer reached the port at 7am. The captain with his overloaded boat arrived sometime later with a help of a tug intending to go to the wreck. The mate’s boat with lantern and compass and twelve men on board made for Whitehead where they arrived before daylight at about 6am. Very shortly Keeper Norton of the Whitehead Lifesaving Station was informed of the wreck with six people still on board. Because no flares were fired and no signal lights displayed neither the keeper of the lighthouse or the lifesavers on watch and patrol were aware of the wreck.

Onboard the wrecked Georgia the pilot made a potentially fatal decision. Whereas the bow section of a ship is of necessity the strongest part of a vessel and the Georgia bow was solidly grounded on the ledge, the pilot gathered the the men aft. With the bow held firmly the seas were lifting and dropping the still floating stern. The ship suddenly began to break in half. The men abandoned the stern and went forward to the bridge just as the stern section broke free and sunk.

The surfboat was launched and reached the wreck site in about one hour. Heavy seas were running and the surfmen were obliged to watch their chances and to cautiously approach the wreck among exposed ledges six times with one person from the wreck dropping on board each time. One of the passengers was so exhausted (hypothermia) that Keeper Norton chose to divert northerly three miles to Hewett Island where this victim was taken to a house and revived. The surfboat soon after returned to White Head where the shipwrecked persons were cared for. On the next day they were taken to Tenants Harbor in the surfboat to join the others from the Georgia and to then be taken to Portland by the Revenue Cutter Dallas.

The Georgia was a total loss. A portion of the cargo consisting of skin of various kinds was salvaged along with rigging, anchors and chains, and two donkey engines. The ship was valued at $100,000 and insured for $60,000. It was owned by the Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company.
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Sources:  The last voyage and grounding of the Georgia was described in The Rockland Opinion. The rescue was described in Horace Norton’s journal.  Early history of the ship was obtained from internet sites of the Department of the Navy –Naval Historical Center and the Naval Historical Society of Australia.

David A. Gamage
Jay, Maine
February 10, 2010



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