Grounding of the schooner Arletta and the “ingenuity of men who have a passion for whiskey”

Despite Federal strongholds outside Savannah, Georgia and presence of the blockading ships, blockade runners still attempted to make that port in the winter of 1864.  One such attempt occurred during the first days of March that year.  The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, which garrisoned Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island at that time, saved details of the event in their regimental history:

March 2. During the night a small fast-sailing schooner, of thirty-five tons, loaded with coffee, pepper, alcohol, and whiskey, commanded by John N. Wicks, of Brooklyn, N.Y., assisted by a crew of four, direct from the neutral docks of John Bull, at Nassau, in trying to dodge into the mouth of the Savannah under cover of the night-fog, struck the shoals east of the Roads towards Braddock’s Point, and disabled her rudder, but succeeded in getting to sea again.

Braddock’s Point is the southern end of Hilton Head Island:


The ship was the schooner Arletta.  And she was not out of danger:

March 3.  During the night the disabled schooner was swept by the winds and currents upon the southern extremity of Tybee Island, where Captain [David ] Churchill and his Company (F), captured crew, vessel, and cargo.  The navy coming in after the ceremonies were over, wished to gain possession of the prize.  But Major [James E.] Bailey, Captain Churchill, and Quartermaster [Frederic] Wilcoxson were unable to see the point. The craft had an English flag – neutral of course – and claimed to be named the Artella [sic].  The cargo was safely landed by our men and stored, in part, for the time, with Captain Churchill at the Martello Tower.  In a few days the whole was removed and stored in Fort Pulaski.

The navy officer mention, Lieutenant William Kennison, seemed more concerned with saving the Arletta itself.  While the army officers insisted they needed no help, Kennison looked for means to work the schooner off the beach.  But he later assessed that impractical, leaving the potential “prize” for the army.

The real concern from the Navy’s perspective was not the cargo or the vessel. Rather it was the number of blockade runners still active.  An enclosure to Kennison’s report called this out, “Three-fourths of steamer blockade runners get through, and about one-fourth of sailing vessels.”  One steamer was at that time in Savannah, waiting to make a run out.  Two sailing schooners had earlier used Ossabow and Wassaw Sounds to clear Savannah for Nassau earlier in the year.

While the naval officers fretted over the blockade, the army officers gladly added the cargo to the garrison’s stores.  While some of the coffee was damaged, much of the remaining cargo was eventually shipped to Fort Pulaski.  Including the whiskey:

The ingenuity of men who have a passion for whiskey was well illustrated by some of the prisoners then in the fort who were detailed to roll the casks of liquor from the south wharf up the plank causeway and into the fort. The men worked in pairs two to each cask, one at each chime.  Before the men started on this duty some genius initiated them into the mystery of drawing the liquor while the casks were in motion.  They furnished themselves with gimlets and pine taps, and went on duty with empty canteens.  Starting from the jetty with a cask, the man at the left chime would shortly insert the gimlet into the centre of the head of the cask, and hold it firmly till the revolutions of the cask carried it through; then withdrawing the gimlet he held his canteen till it was full, when his pine tap was inserted, driven hard, broken off, and the scar smoothed over with dirt from the sides of the cask.  The art was handsomely practiced, and probably would have passed undetected had it not been for one man who drew his canteen full from a cask of alcohol, from which he took so heavy a drink that it made him wild and —-.

There’s always one at the party who spoils it for everyone!

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 230; ORN, Series 1, Volume 15, page 355.)


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