The Wreck of The General Beauregard
By Captain Dave Tilley
The sun settled on the bow of the Blockade Runner …General Beauregard‚ as Captain J. Archibald Wilson coolly approached the Confederate coast of North Carolina on December 11, 1863. The sea groaned and growled as she rolled side-to in the heavy beamsea with the graceful Beauregard, no doubt heavily laden with much needed supplies for the Southern Cause The …General Beauregard‚ was now a veteran of these waters with 16 successful trips under her keel. Captain Wilson had no reason to believe that tonight''''s dash through the gauntlet of blockading Union ships for the safety of Fort Fisher and New Inlet would be any cause for undue alarm. Twightlight and Sunset on Onslow Bay brought an eerie glow from the fires at the Salt Works at Masonboro Sound. The twin paddlewheels rhythmic march would soon bring Captain Wilson and …General Beauregard‚ to their approaching date with destiny on her 17th and final voyage.
The future …General Beauregard‚, reported by Ed T. Nichols, commanding the U.S.S. Alabama, was an Iron hulled, Sidewheel Steamer, 223 x 26 x 14 with three masts and square rigged forward. Originally built as …The Havelock‚ in Goven, Scotland by J & G Thomsom in 1858, the US Consol in Liverpool reported that she sported telescopic funnels or chimneys. Owned by Chicora Importing and Exporting Company of Charleston, SC her name was changed to …General Beauregard on her arrival in the Port of Charleston after her first successful run through the blockade.
The standard tactic of the day was to come in North of Fort Fisher and then turn to run right along the beach. The Union Blockaders were for the most part designed to operate in the open ocean and not in the shallow surf areas that the Blockade Runners used to their advantage. The best Blockade Runners were shallow draft vessels with large fast engines that could outpace their pursuers in the open ocean and slip into any nook and cranny along the Carolinas notoriously shallow coast. The signature color of a …Blockade Runner‚, dark gray, was to blend in against the shoreline so they could pass undetected until they were under the protection of the Confederate Guns.
The …Salt Works‚ ( Really Salt Drying Areas ) along Masonboro Sound had fires burning almost day and night and it was these fires that many a blockade runner lined up on to bring it into the beach.
The Cruiser Howquah lay at her usual nighttime sentry post north of Fort Fisher. Her shallow draft made her the prefect choice for picket duty up close to the Confederate Coast. Held at full steam and anchor buoyed she could cut the tie and make a run for anything that came down the coast. Her impressive record racked up many of the sinkings that were accredited to the Union forces off New Inlet.
Captain Wilson made his turn North of New Inlet. Coming to full steam the sound of the crashing surf all but drowned out the march of the twin paddlewheels as she moved closer to the surf line. The men shoveling the smokeless coal must have known they were close now. The repetitive pace of the smoldering engine room had quickened along with the strain on their backs. Masonboro Sound and it''''s Saltworks now at her stern, Captain Wilson knew he was now past the point of no return. Every eye on the ship peered into the inky darkness for the outline of their would be pursuers. Silence was now the rule. The tension must have been maddening when off in the distance, several clicks off the port bow, a glowing rocket popped and streamed up through the night sky. They had been spotted. Now the chase was on. If they could just get under the guns of Fort Fisher they would be OK. Still several miles off in the distance the sentries at Fort Fisher undoubly saw the streaming rockets just like the rest of the Union Fleet. The Fort sprang to life in an effort to defend the ship that was now running for its very life.
Standing at her post North of Fort Fisher The Crusier Howquah spied the dark silhouette of a Blockade Runner making her way down the coast. Slipping her anchor as she had done many times before with her steam engines at the ready the Cruiser moved in to block the way of the ghost ship. All they had to do was get between the dark silhouette and the powerful guns of Fort Fisher and the fight would be over. Trapped, the ship would be blasted from the water by the Union warships or run up onto the beach. Either way the battle would be over.
The General Beauregard raged at full steam when the Union ship came into view. The thunderous blast of it cannons shot out into the night. They had opened fire. 1 round, then another splashed into the sea around the Beuregard. There was only one thing left to do. Captain Wilson knew there was only one hope for both his badly needed cargo and his crew. He would have to beach his beloved vessel. The order was given and they drove hard into the hard sandy bottom.
The morning sun meet the crew of the Howquah accompanied by the Tuscarora rowing toward the stranded Ship. The men pulled at the oars and strained their backs against the heavy sea. They were close now. Close enough to see movement along the beach. Suddenly the tables were turned on the Union boarding party. The pursuers became the pursued with the sound of cannon shot, first from one direction then from another. The Confederate troops from Fort Fisher and Battery Gatlin had not been resting on their lauals throughout the night. The much needed supplies were hurriedly offloaded and they set up defensive positions around the stranded runner. They had opened fire on the boarding party. Tuscarora moved in to provide covering fire as the boarding party rowed for their lives. A shell struck home hard in her quarter, this was the thanks she was to receive for providing help for the boarding party. The Confederate troops surly celebrated the Unions hasty retreat.
The salvage of the cargo would have been the primary concern for the Confederate troops. The price of the cargo could and would buy more ships to replace this veteran. The second concern would have been to stop the Union forces from freeing the stranded Blockade Runner. In which case she would have been sold at a prize court and returned to duty on the Union line. This was the case for many Confederate ships. The Robert E. Lee is a prime example. Upon her capture she was sold to the Union and returned to Confederate coast as the …Rattlesnake‚ to begin a traitors life running down the very ships that were once her kin. The last thing for the Confederate forces to do was set fire to the stricken vessel. She must be destroyed to make sure that one of their finest would not come back to haunt them.
The midday sun greeted the billowing smoke rising from the once proud ship. The men of the Confederacy stood on the beach watching once again as their dreams of a Nation drifted higher and higher into the noon sky.
The Blockade Runner General Beauregard can still be seen at present day Carolina Beach. She stands at the foot of Spartanburg Ave in the same spot she ran aground at on that dark night with Captain Wilson at her helm. The ravages of time, sea and storms have taken their toll on the old girl for close to 150 years. On low tide she still pokes her engine above the waves to greet the sunbathers, beach goers and fisherman. Mostly laid flat and buried by the ravages of time the General Beauregard is known for providing some excellent Surf Fishing. This wreck can also be fished from a boat but care must be taken as the wreck rises quite close to the surface.