August 9, 1864: Prince Albert out on the jetty, another blockade runner sunk

On August 9, 1864, Captain Joseph F. Green, commanding the blockaders off Charleston, reported the demise of another blockade runner:

I have to report that a propeller steamer, name unknown, was discovered by the Catskill at daylight this morning aground off Moultrie.  The Catskill immediately opened fire upon her with her rifled howitzers, followed by the battery on Cumming’s Point and she was soon set on fire and sank.

The monitor USS Catskill did not use her main guns, but rather boat howitzers.  But the heavy hitting was done by the larger Parrott rifles from the Army’s batteries ashore on Morris Island.  The combined fire made short work of the stranded blockader runner.

Though Green could report success in that regard, the other side of the story concerned him:

It is with regret and mortification that I have to state that this violator of the blockade would have reached Charleston safely and unseen had she not taken the ground.

Neither the picket tugs, nor any of the picket boats, so far as I have learned, knew of the grounding or presence of the strange steamer until the Catskill fired upon her, when they had returned or were on their way to the lower anchorage of these roads.

Acting Ensign [Joseph] Frost, commanding the tug Dandelion, the advance picket tug, appears to have been particularly regardless of the orders and indifferent to his duty on the night in question.  He anchored about 9 p.m., contrary to general and special orders, and remained at anchor all night and left his anchorage at daylight without seeing the strange steamer. I have placed him under suspension.

That’s not the “mentioned in dispatches” you want to have on record.

The blockade runner was the Prince Albert working out of Nassau.  The August 10 edition of the Charleston Mercury reported:

The steam propeller Prince Albert from Nassau, got ashore, near the Sullivan’s Island Breakwater, on Monday night last.  At daylight the Yankee batteries on Morris Island commenced firing at her, and, we understand, have injured her so much that she has become a wreck.

The paper also noted that Battery Gregg (Fort Putnam) fired 106 shots at the steamer, while Battery Wagner (Fort Strong) added 72 shots.  This distracted the gunners from their main target of Fort Sumter that day, which only received 133 shots.  The Confederate batteries replied with 117 shots.  The Confederates were able to salvage some of the ship’s cargo, particularly greatly needed medical supplies.

The Prince Albert was one of many ships that ran afoul of Bowman’s Jetty off Sullivan’s Island.  The land seemed to reach out and grab any vessel passing Maffitt’s Channel.   Historian Stephen Wise indicates the Prince Albert ran into the wreck of the Minho (which had also taken down the Presto earlier in the year) on the jetty, underscoring the treacherous nature of the passage.

Even with the ironclads and blockaders concentrated at the mouth of the harbor… even with heavy guns on Morris Island… Charleston remained an active port for ships running the blockade.  In fact, four of five attempting to enter Charleston that August would be successful.

(Citations from ORN Series I, Volume 15, page 624; “Charleston Mercury,” Volume 85, #12135, August 10, 1864, p.2, c.1.)

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