"Far away over the lowlands
the smoke spreads itself, and if veiling from the view those who
might bewatching the annihilation of a vessel once lovely in form,
graceful in her notion, and noted for her speed-a vessel for peaceful
uses, but by a band of desperadoes turned into a pirate (a bloodless
one). The tide of life was at an ebb, and in a short time she
would be but a mass of tangled machinery and charred relics."
Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1863
So ended the C.S.S. Nashville,
a ship whose history paralleled her times and the demands of the
people who sailed her. She had begun as a 1221-ton side-wheel
steamer, built at Greenpoint, New York, in 1853. As a Foretopsail
schooner, 216 feet long and 34 feet in beam, she was powered by
both sail and steam. Reputed to be the finest and fastest passenger
liner and mail carrier on the coast, she could achieve a speed
in excess of 13 knots in a calm sea. The Nashville's maritime
career was further enhanced by successful voyages across the Atlantic.
As Civil War loomed, the vessel continued to ply the coastal
trade nearing Charleston, S.C. harbor on a regular run and the
precise time that Fort Sumter was shelled by the newly declared
Confederate States of America. Witnessing the surrender of the
Fort and the lowering of the U.S. flag, the Nashville was
immediately involved in the conflict. In early May, 1861 her owners
communicated their intent to the new Confederate government to
outfit the ship as a privateer. However, the Confederate government
had plans of its own. Needing a fast vessel to bring needed supplies
from England and possibly transport Confederate Commissioners
to England, the new nation authorized the purchase of the vessel
for $100,000. Appointing as her captain, Robert C. Pegram, and
others as her officers and crew, the C.S.S. Nashville became the
first vessel commissioned by the Confederacy.
In this role she began her first combat cruise on October 26,
1861. Sailing first to Bermuda, she set course for England on
November 5th. Unfortunately, she encountered a severe storm at
sea taking some damage. Nonetheless, she arrived off the Irish
coast and immediately encountered the American clipper, Harvey
Birch. Moving alongside the ship, Captain Pegram ordered gunports
open and demanded surrender. After allowing for the evacuation
of passengers and crew, Pegram ordered the United States vessel
burned. The captives were taken next day to Southampton and released
to the custody of the American Consul.
Again the Nashville was present at a particularly significant
point in time. Initially, the ship was greeted by a hostile
crowd loudly proclaiming the aggression upon the Harvey Birch
an act of piracy. Within a few day, however, the mood changed
as news spread of the Trent affair. A diplomatic crisis had
been created by the removal of Confederate Commissioner Mason
and Slidell from the British vessel by the U.S. Navy. Midshipman
Dalton recorded the shift ". . . from abuse to a more friendly
attitude toward us. In fact, they wine, dined, and toasted us
on every hand as heroes" (Official Records of the Civil
War. Vol. XXVI, 250). The British government sought a careful
course between the new Confederate government and that of the
United States. Wanting to alienate neither, the British conflict
of conscience is reflected in the following poem published in
"Punch magazine" in 1861:
A TRIBUTE TO CAPTAIN PEAGRIM
Commander Peagrim of the Confederate war steamer Nashville
was chief officer of the United States steamer Powhatan
in 1855, and rendered valuable service to British fleet in the
Chinese waters in capturing pirates. Sir John Stirling in his
dispatches to the Admiralty, makes the following mention
of him - "It is impossible to speak too highly of the American
co-operating party engaged. They were with the Rattler, emulating
each other in the thickest of the attack. But my warmest thatnks
in particular are due to Lieutenant Peagrim, the American senior
officer; his encouragement of the men, and coolness under a
heavy fire, and determined bravery when surrounded by a preserving
and revengeful foe, was conspicuous to all."
PACEM, PEAGRIM, PRECAMUR
Oh hear, you inopportune Peagrim,
It's not enough to give any one meagrim,
To think of the row you may get us in now.
By your conduct, inopportune Peagrim.
The ship Harvey Birch on the sea grim
You might board and might burn, Captain Peagrim
And we only should say, in a casual way,
'Twas unlucky she met Captain Peagrim.
But when in Southampton you free, grim,
The prisoners you've caught, Captain Peagrim,
We are placed in a fix, to pronounce of your tricks
Are a hero's, or pirate's, oh Peagrim,
Thus placed betwixt two fires by Peagrim,
Mr. Punch is afflicted with meagrim,
He would fain be impartial in any court-martial
That's hell on the status of Peagrim
A lieutenant's commission holds Peagrim.
But that won't on the wall stick the flea, grim;
Though lieutenant he be, that's no warrant at sea
Giving powers of capture to Peagrim.
Yet as pirate we can't give up Peagrim,
At the yard-arm straight ran up to be, grim.
Which Adams, I fear, will declare 'tis quite clear,
Is the right sort of treatment for Peagrim.
Yet to make causus belli of Peagrim-
Loose the war-dogs, by land and by sea, grim;
For a man with that name! On the annals of fame
To inscribe, not Britannia, but Peagrim!
Then let's all pray for peace spite of Peagrim
May war fears pass off like a meagrim;
And by hook or by crook, may we live to rubuke,
Those who feel apprehensions from Peagrim!
The Captain of the Harvey Birch had no such problem characterizing
the Nashville in a totally unfavorable light. Following
his release at Southhampton, he reported in The London Times,
November 25. 1861"
"the vessel was all out of repair; her
officers were boys, who wanted as courage as much as experience;
that the crew was a mixture of Irish and other foreigners, who
were shipped at first on false pretenses, and then were compelled
to sign other articles at the point of the bayonet. They openly
talked of their discontent on the passage", and he (Captain
Nelson) "did not believe they would have fought. Both officers
and crew were in great fear lest they should meet some American
war-ship on the ocean, and their armament was so poor that they
could have made no resistance to speak of." In short, he
expressed that it was plain that the Nashville was "badly
fitted out, badly armed, poorly officered and badly manned,
and that if she was a specimen of the southern privateer, it
must be either in capacity or treachery that prevented our vessels
from catching them."
On February 3, 1862 the Nashville
received a hearty send off from large and cheering crowds as she
slipped her English moorings and headed for open waters. It was
reported that the Tuscarora,a Union vessel watched the
departure. Apparently, the presence of the British frigate Shannon
dampened any intent of the vessel to sail after the Nashville
before its appointed departure time. England had again walked
a neutral road by careful enforcement of maritime regulations
requiring specific staggered departure of belligerent vessels
from her ports.
Back in American waters, on February
26, 1862 the C.S.S. Nashville encountered the Northern schooner
Robert Gilfillan. As reported by both Lt. Whittle and Francis Dawson, the Confederate vessel hoisted an American flag, ran alongside
the schooner and began to converse amiably while reviewing the
Captain's papers. Catching the Yankee officer off guard, the boarding
party announced the seizure of the vessel by their own, the C.S.S.
Nashville. Whittle wrote that the Gilfillan's commander
" . . . could not have looked more surprised. He turned pale
and yellow and green and finally said 'It's darn hard.'. . . I
told him to strike his flag which he did. And she [the Gilfillan]
was fired as soon as they got out all their personal effects."
From "The English Voyage of the Confederate Steamer Nashville,
an unpublished thesis by Pegram Harrison, Dartmouth College,
From "The English Voyage of the Confederate Steamer Nashville,
an unpublished thesis by Pegram Harrison, Dartmouth College,
Despite repeated attempts by the U.S. Navy to track
and capture or sink the Confederate ship, the C.S.S. Nashville,
successfully ran the Union blockade of Beaufort, North Carolina
to deliver its three-million dollar cargo to safe harbor on February
28. A flurry of dispatches and reports were exchanged among Union
leaders trying to explain the success of the Confederate naval
vessel. The explanations varied from the use of deception as well
as speed. Nonetheless, the vessel was soon to end its career with
the Confederate Navy.
As Union armies approached the area and the Union blockade was
strengthened, the Confederate government struck a deal with private
parties in Charleston, S.C. to sell the vessel. Their plan, to
outfit the ship as a privateer, was set in motion with the departure
of the ship in March. Again successfully running the North Carolina
blockade, the ship found the Charleston harbor blocked by sunken
vessels and heavily guarded by Union vessels. The vessel escaped
into Georgetown, S.C. harbor. The sale was completed and the vessel,
now the Thomas L. Wragg, again successfully escaped the
The Thomas L. Wragg continued to run blockades
carrying cotton out of Southern ports and bringing needed supplies
into Confederate hands. Again, official Union correspondence reflects
the frustration her success generated. In June, attempting to
escape chase by the federal Keystone State she successfully
maneuvered into the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia.
Anchoring at the railroad bridge at King's Ferry upriver, the
ship was the subject of rumor and conjecture. Fearing that she
was to outfitted as an ironclad, the Union blockade of the Ogeechee
At twenty-two minutes after seven we landed a fifteen-inch
shell close to the Nashville, and five and one-half minutes
later we sent another-it was our fifth shot-smashing into her
hull, just between the formast and paddlebox. Almost immediately
followed the explosion. Acting Master
Pierre Geraud was working both guns finely, considering that from
his position in the turret below only the masts and smokestack
of the vessel could be seen. We were proud to show the enemy that
we had a gunner, too. They gave us up, presently, and directed
their fire at the
wooden gunboats. Smoke settled about us, and after the eigth shot
we ceased firing, to let the air clear. Presently a breath of
the drift aside, and we say to our great joy a dense column of
smoke rising from the forward deck of the stranded vessel. Our
had set her on fire. A few minutes more, and flames were distinctly
visible, forcing their way up, gradually creeping aft until they
had reached nearly to the base of the smokestack.
Hence, the Nashville had finally been stopped.
As the ship settled to the bottom of its grave in the Ogeechee
River within sight of the Fort that still stands silent guard
over her, her story seemed to have ended. Yet, the vessel that
had performed so effectively for the Confederacy as naval vessel,
blockade runner and privateer brought in death the grudging respect
of at least one victorious member of the Montauk crew:
"As these silent witnesses of the havoc
drifted past us, they seemed to show a
determination that, if we would not allow the NASHVILLE to run
as a whole, she was going to run the blockade in pieces."
The evolution of a vessel and its special adaptation to its times and
fortunes is ably illustrated by the Nashville, as it is most often
known. Over the course of the American Civil War, the vessel would change
its name, structure and armament and function.
Originally built in 1853 as a privately owned ship with both steam and
sail capacity, the S.S. Nashville operated the coastal waters of
the Atlantic as well as trans-Atlantic crossings. She was a 1235-ton Foretopsail
schooner, 216 feet long and 34 feet in beam. Her white oak, chestnut and
cedar frames were square and fastened with copper. Although she was capable
of sail with two large masts, she also was powered by steam and fitted
with a large side-mounted paddle wheel.
Thirty-two feet in diameter, her water wheels
were designed with twenty-eight blades, each ten feet long and twenty
inches deep. Her iron bunkers were capable of carrying 185 tons of anthracite
coal. Her smoke pipe was 38 feet tall and six feet in diameter. Her engine
was a single-lever type driven by one cylinder having an 86-inch bore
and an 8'0" stroke. The cylinder stood vertically and had one piston
rod. Its stroke raised and lowered the aft ends of side levers, which,
in turn, imparted rotation to the paddle wheels. The result was a speed
in excess of 13 knots in a calm sea. She was soon reputed to be the finest
and fastest passenger liner and mail carrier on the Atlantic coast.
Journal of the