“Ninety-eight of these shells struck the vessel”: Destruction of the blockade runner Flora

At least four different blockade runners used the name “Flora.”  The third of these was an iron steamer owned by the Importing and Exporting Company of Georgia, associated with the Lamars of that state.  On October 18, the Flora left Nassau for her maiden run through the blockade, heading for Charleston.  Bad luck dogged the vessel, as while passing Elbow Key, one of the north-most in the Bahamas chain, a Federal vessel spotted her.  After a chase, which prompted the blockade-runner to drop her cargo, she shook off pursuit.

On the evening of October 22, the Flora neared the South Carolina coast, but again was spotted.  But for the moment, her luck turned good, as Commander Thomas H. Patterson, senior officer off Charleston that evening, reported:

… about 9 p.m. of the 22d instant the Wamsutta discovered a blockade runner going inward. She immediately slipped, fired at her, and made the signal indicating a vessel going outward, which, though very soon rectified by her picket boat, created some confusion and uncertainty as to the course of the stranger….

The Mingoe, the next vessel to the westward, saw but did not fire at the strange steamer, and Commander Creighton says in his report, “She passed in so quickly inshore that before I could slip or get my broadside to bear she was out of sight.”

In turn, the Flora passed the USS Laburnum, USS Geranium, USS Sonoma, USS Acacia, and USS Azalea, none getting off more than couple shots at the blockade-runner.  Remarkably, the Sonoma, standing south of Breach Inlet, did not see the Flora at all.  But those shots, and the movements of the vessels to intercept, forced the Flora to maneuver in the tricky Maffitt’s Channel.  And that’s where her luck ran out – or to be specific, running up on Drunken Dick’s Shoal.

The monitor USS Patapsco was notified of this grounded blockade runner, but did not venture closer in the darkness.  At dawn, she and the other monitors moved up to gain the range on the Flora.  At the same time, the batteries on Morris Island opened on the stranded runner.  Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames provided a detailed report of the destruction of the vessel:

I have the honor to report that at daylight on October 23 a large side-wheel iron steamer with two smoke-stacks was discovered ashore opposite Battery Rutledge, Sullivan’s Island, she having run on a shoal at that point during the night. This vessel was painted lead color, was very long, and appeared to be of light draught. She is probably of about 700 tons burden. The first shot fired at her was from the picket monitor: Fort Putnam opened at the same time with two 30-pounder Parrotts, striking her on the quarter at the second shot. This was the first shot that struck the blockade-runner from either army or navy. Battery Chatfield opened with a 300-pounder Parrott; the third shell from this gun passed through the starboard wheel-house into the vessel and exploded, tearing the wheel and wheel-house all away and breaking up a large portion of her works amidships. Fort Strong opened with three 100-pounders, striking her many times in the hull and on her decks. The navy also kept up a fire upon the vessel from two monitors, doing the steamer much damage.

The name of this vessel was the Flora* ; she was no doubt running into Charleston at the time of getting aground. She now lies a complete wreck. This vessel was distant from Fort Putnam 2,700 yards, from Battery Chatfield 2,600 yards, and from Fort Strong 3,500 yards.

The following amount of ammunition was expended in destroying this steamer: Fort Putnam, 30-pounder shell, 38; 24-pounder shell, 22. Battery Chatfield, 300-pounder shell, 7. Fort Strong, 100-pounder shell, 77. Total, 144. Ninety-eight of these shells struck the vessel.

Thus a brand-new blockade runner met her end in the waters off Charleston.  The sailors of the blockade had some explaining to do, as this was another near-miss indicating not all was air-tight at the entrance to Charleston.  But the Army got in some good target practice.

  • NOTE:  In the printed Army Official Reports, Ames identified the vessel as the Flamingo.  However, in the Navy Official Reports, Ames’ report is printed with the vessel identified as Flora.  There was some confusion between the Army and Navy as to what to call the vessel.  The Charleston Mercury clearly indicates the name was indeed Flora, running mention of the vessel from October 24 through 27, 1864.  The confusion even caught underwater archaeologist and author E. Lee Spence in his book Treasures of the Confederate Coast, where he lists both the Flora and Flamingo as separate wrecks in the area.  Belated apology for not chiming in on the comments when Andy Hall worked through this misidentification some time back while discussing the wrecks off Sullivan’s Island.  I really should follow comments better!

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 30-32.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on ““Ninety-eight of these shells struck the vessel”: Destruction of the blockade runner Flora

  1. The sailors of the blockade had some explaining to do, as this was another near-miss indicating not all was air-tight at the entrance to Charleston.

    One of the broad lessons of the blockade is that almost always, someone will get through. The last runner here in Texas came in on the evening of May 23-24, 1865, simultaneous with the Grand Review of the Union Armies in Washington, D.C. AT that point there were probably a dozen of more blockaders off the bar, but still the runners could get through.

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