CSS Georgia - Something doesn't add up.
By Greg Bayne
The CSS Georgia was reluctantly purchased by James Bulloch in March 1863. Originally the Japan, she was designed and built in Scotland to complement the East Indies Tea Trade, but she had an iron-bottom design which Bulloch new would hamper her for any high speed chases and length of service at sea. It would also as we shall see lead to lengthy repairs. In need of raiders, Bulloch wasted little time and on April 1st she departed Greenock to rendezvous with her tender, the Alar, off the coast of France near Ushant. Her captain was to be Commander William Lewis Maury and his orders were simple, to seek out, stop and destroy Union shipping. To aid him, the Georgia was armed with 2 x 100 pounders, 2 x 24 pounders and a single 32 pounder.
From the outset, the Georgia was plagued with bad luck. She was a heavy coal burner and her sails could not fulfil the maximum speed expected of them. Many sightings of potential targets were made, but Maury could not achieve maximum speed to overtake them. In the month of April Maury had only one prize, The Dictator which he valued at $86,000. It was burnt and sank. Seeking better fare, Maury went west to Bahia and met up with the CSS Alabama. It was a welcome meeting and Lt Sinclair of the Alabama wrote, “We can straighten up now and put on airs, boast of the Confederate squadron of the South American Station.” Sinclair was almost correct as the CSS Florida was also on the rampage in the area.
However, neither Semmes nor Maury would have wanted a stand up fight with Union vessels and both parted. June 1863 was the most fruitful month for the Georgia. She stopped 5 Union vessels. The George Griswold on June 8, the Good Hope on the 13th and unfortunately the J W Seaver on the same day who came to the aid of the Union ship. Maury transferred the prisoners from the Good Hope to the Seaver. He bonded the latter and burnt the former. The Constitution was captured as well as the City of Bath at the end of the month.
July was a barren month and Maury turned south, perhaps following instructions from Semmes. In August outside of Cape Town she captured the John Watt. She put into shore and Maury realised that her iron bottom needed more attention than the Cape Colony could provide. On October 9th they came across the Bold Hunter and quickly captured her. A fire broke out on the Bold Hunter and the Georgia was damaged. After a brief encounter with a French ship off the Canaries, she limped into Cherbourg on the night of October 28-29th.
Whilst in Cherbourg, Maury’s health took a turn for the worse and he was relieved of his command. Her new commander Captain (called Commodore by Morgan) Samuel Barron oversaw repairs and in February 1864 she was able to slip out of Cherbourg. She went south to Morocco but apart from a brief fracas with some native Moors, no more captures were made. Bulloch had had enough of the Georgia and decided to transfer her armaments to the Rappahannock which had recently left her Thames anchorage. Unfortunately bad weather prohibited their meeting and the Georgia was forced to put into the Garonne. The USS Niagara and Sacramento soon arrived and the Georgia’s fate seemed sealed. Audacity favours the brave and Barron managed to sneak past the guard under the cover of darkness and returned the Georgia to Birkenhead.
On May 10th 1864 the Georgia was decommissioned and she was sold to a local businessman called Jones. Her story should end there but Jones had her quickly fitted out as a merchantman and secured a contract to run mail between Lisbon and the Cape Verde Islands. It was on her maiden voyage flying the Union flag that the USS Niagara caught up with her on August 15th, captured her and sent her to New York as a prize. The British Government did not make much of a protest.
No story is complete without a little confusion of facts. Most sources quote the Georgia as capturing nine ships. In Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, Midshipman James Morgan details the count as eight. He may be wrong as the J W Seaver was never captured, it came to the aid of the Good Hope and Maury refused to burn the ship as it had come to the aid of another ship in distress. So the problem remains as to what the other ship was. The Richmond Dispatch of October 14 1863 details the Georgia’s career and adds another victim - On the 16th of July the Georgia captured the ship Prince of Wales, of Bath, from Valparaiso, bound to Antwerp with guano.--The cargo being neutral, the ship was bonded.
It is interesting that Morgan makes no mention of it. So was seven, eight or nine?
The Georgia's officers were: W. L. Maury, Commander; Chapman, First Lieutenant; Evans, Second Lieutenant; Smith, Third Lieutenant; Ingraham, Fourth Lieutenant; Walker, Passed Midshipman; Morgan, Midshipman; Curtis, Paymaster; Wheedon, Doctor, and Pearson, Chief Engineer. Maury was relieved due to ill health and Captain Samuel Barron replaced him.