Federals on Folly, Confederates on Morris, and a blockade runner between

A sad photo of wreckage on the beach.

The Library of Congress caption indicates the pieces in the photo are all that remained of the blockade runner Ruby, which ran aground off Lighthouse Inlet on the night of June 10-11, 1863. The Ruby had been a regular with Charleston to Nassau runs.

The New York Times carried a report, from the Wilmington (North Carolina) Journal, describing Ruby‘s demise:

We regret to say that the steamer Ruby, Capt. Peat, from Nassau, got ashore on Folly Island breakers, near this bar, on Wednesday night. A large portion of the cargo was thrown overboard, and everything possible done to get her off, but without success. The Yankees on Folly Island having discovered her early on Thursday, opened on her from a battery. Capt. Peat was then compelled to set her on fire and abandon her, and she afterwards blew up. While Capt. Peat and his crew were coming ashore to Morris Island, they were shot at by the Yankees with cannon and small arms, and the balls came dropping around them in every direction.

The report went on to say the Ruby attempted to slip into Lighthouse Inlet, but was confused by a light on Folly Island. The captain reported one dead and one missing from the crew. Federal artillery from the Folly Island garrison deployed and fired a few rounds at the crew as they escaped to Morris Island.

The map below shows the Ruby’s location on the breakers along with the locations of the Federal and Confederate positions.


Simply put, the Ruby lay between the lines.

With the guns already deployed, Federal artillerists started shelling the wreck the morning of June 11. In response Captain John C. Mitchel, commanding the Confederate batteries on the south end of Morris Island, threw a few shells towards the Federals, “silencing them at the second shot.”

The next day, Confederates again noticed Federal activity on Folly Island and opened fire. The engagement soon widened to include heavy Federal batteries further south on Folly Island and gunboats. Again on June 13, Confederates fired on Federals digging on Folly Island. Reporting these activities, General Roswell Ripley, in overall command of the district defending Charleston, noted the need to improve the defenses of Morris Island.

But the Ruby remained there between combatants on the barrier islands. Although the newspaper account indicated the Ruby had burned, apparently something remained for salvage. Later in the month the Federal Navy reported Confederate activity on the wreck. In one of his last actions before leaving command, Admiral Samuel Du Pont directed Commander George Balch to investigate. Balch Consulted his fellow naval officers and General Israel Vogdes on Folly Island. While the Navy felt the Ruby should be destroyed to deprive the Confederates of any profit, the Army thought otherwise. Vogdes was at that time building works to support forty-six guns and mortars, and

… it was considered of vital importance that the troops should not be disturbed in their labors, and the general was of the opinion that it would be better to forego any small advantage that might be gained by offensive operations against the wreck for the infinitely greater advantage to be gained if the enemy were in ignorance of our designs, and thereby enable us to work without annoyance on our batteries.

To Balch, this made sense. The Army was planning an offensive along the barrier islands outside Charleston. Newly arrived Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore was not wasting any time. He arrived outside Charleston with a plan to get in.

(In addition to the New York Times article, citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 319, and ORN, Series I, Volume 14, page 302.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

11 thoughts on “Federals on Folly, Confederates on Morris, and a blockade runner between

  1. That’s a fantastic photo, the only one I know showing the active salvage of a blockade runner. The large, boxlike structure in the center background is one of the ship’s boilers. One of the sidewheel shafts has been removed intact, complete with the paddlewheel flanges (i.e., hub), and is set up on wood blocks and sawhorses. In the right foreground are what appear to be some of the disassembled rings from the frames of the sidewheels. Stacked just behind the ring segments are components of the feathering paddlewheel floats.

    1. I think this photo was taken in the fall of 1863, along with several other photos of activity on Morris Island and vicinity. But there’s not a lot there which one could use to positively identify the Ruby. Not much scenery in the background (save a few masts) to square the location. But I think the cameraman was posted to the southeast of the wreck, with Folly Island in the background.

  2. This is a great view, the only one I know of the internal engineering space of a blockade runner- what remains after extensive salvage, anyway.
    I note for the record that Stephen A. Wise in Lifeline of the Confederacy says that the Ruby (#I, which is identification of this photo- there were two more before the war’s end) was built in Renfrow Scotland in 1854 by James Henderson and Company. It was 177.4 feet long, 17.1 feet wide and drew 8.3 feet of water. Dave Horner (The Blockade Runners) says it was a 400-ton schooner-rigged iron steamer with two smokestacks, one forward of the wheelhouse and one aft of the paddles. It had a crew of 22 and had left Havana on the 2nd of June, and ran ashore at Folly Island shortly after midnight on the 11th.
    First, many thanks to Andy Hall for pointing out in another post the answer to, ‘what the heck are all those pieces stacked in the right foreground?’ Here [http://civilwartalk.com/threads/beached-remains-of-the-british-built-blockade-runner-ruby.79719/] he shares his drawings of another runner’s feathering float apparatus, and identifies the disassembled pieces shown beside the sidewheel ring segments in the photo as a comparable arrangement. I’m sure this is correct, as they otherwise make no sense in an engine room.
    The largest item in the background is indeed one of the boilers, apparently a single-ended marine return-tube boiler, which would be rather advanced and cutting-edge tech for 1854. The old square haystack or wagon boilers were commonly used up into the late stages of the war. The boiler shell is made up of five rings and an egg end, each ring made up of multiple steel plates with riveted seams (standard size rivets would have been 1 & 11/32 inches). [Note- the fourth ring towards the end has obvious shell damage near the bottom). If built according to post-war Lloyd’s Rules, the mean diameter of the boiler shell would have been 162 inches or 13.5 feet, and this looks pretty close to my naked eye. We can’t see the fire box end to determine the number of flues or size of combustion chamber, but the remainder of the hood is visible above the fire boxes where the smoke chamber would have been connected to the smoke pipes.
    The engines, visible behind the cribbed-up main shaft and paddlewheel flanges, are obviously of the oscillating variety, evidenced by the steam inlet ports through the trunnions. They have cylinders apparently a little more than half the diameter of the boiler, which would make them 60-70 inches in diameter, about right for oscillating engines of the 50s and early 60s. A sort of brush arbor has been built between the engines and boiler to provide shade for workers doing what would amount to a time-consuming and meticulous job of carefully disassembling every aspect of the engine and boiler room. All of the piping has already been removed, as has the entire paddlewheel ring and drive shaft to the right. The second boiler is not visible but should have been approximately where the photographer is standing. The entire area is heavily sanded-in; little if any of what should be deck plates are visible.
    My examination raises two questions in my mind—
    First, I’m wondering if this isn’t a postwar, or at least, post-evacuation photo- this kind of disassembly could not have been done under the constant threat of gun and cannon fire described in the Official Reports.
    Second, is this really the Ruby as described by Wise? It’s not impossible that an 1854 Clyde River steamer could have had cutting edge engine, boiler and feathering float technology, but all three are expensive improvements I would have expected of post-1862, when speed and silence became the watchwords of runner design.
    Still, a beautiful photo.

    1. Is it really the Ruby? Well for all I know it could be the SS Minnow.

      Over the years, I’ve seen a number of errors in the captions provided with these wartime photos. So I find myself peddling in the text. I would say that the photo was very likely taken during the war. Otherwise we’d see those scattered parts covered with more sand.

    2. There’s not a website or a book that succinctly pulls together the engineering info on blockade runners that I know of, although on the Denbigh Project we did a pretty thorough job of documenting that vessel’s engineering spaces and machinery. The wreck had been salvaged and some piping removed, but all the main components were still in situ. The team got all the way down into the bilges in some areas around the engines, and one of the coal bunkers was excavated down to the level of the coal. The project website has (IMO) some good material there:


      Andy Hall

  3. One final note-
    Eric J. Graham, author of Clyde Built (2006), writes that the Ruby (I) was launched in May 1861 by Henderson and Sons of Renfrew was 209.2 x 19 x 8.5 and had two 210 horsepower engines. She was built as a fast, light-draft or ‘river class’ paddle steamer, as opposed to the heavier ‘channel class’ ships. Ruby was designed and built to serve as a high-speed ferry “on the prestigious Rothesay-Broomielaw route.” In October 1862 she was purchased for the blockader Alexander Collie.
    That the Ruby boasted a very efficient engine room is evidenced by her performance on a test run noted in the Glasgow Morning Journal upon her departure in November 1862 ‘for a foreign port.” “This favorite steamer” used half a ton per hour of “Welsh patent fuel” during a test on the river Clyde, a 50% saving over ordinary coal. [“Crown Patent” fuel was made in Cardiff by mixing hot waste coal with pitch (distilled coal tar), which was then pressed into moulds, a process similar to making modern charcoal briquettes. A 28-pound block was the most common size for stacking in coal bunkers, where patent fuel took up much less space than regular coal. Welsh coal, which burned with much less smoke than other varieties, was the blockade runner fuel of choice.]
    While Graham’s lack of citations makes it difficult to cross check, his extensive research in Scottish newspapers usually provides detailed facts that Wise was not privy to. A construction date for the Ruby in 1861 makes much more sense than 1854 in light of the state-of-the-art boiler and engines on display in the Charleston photo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: