A blog by Southern writer and historian Dale Cox, Civil War Florida shares information on and discusses the events of the Civil War in Florida. Topics of interest include troops, battles, skirmishes, campaigns, raids, forts, naval actions, ships, soldiers, officers, books and historic sites.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Explosion on the C.S.S. Chattahoochee - Blountstown, Florida
Florida's deadliest naval accident of the Civil War took place on May 27, 1863, when an explosion ripped through the Confederate warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee in the Apalachicola River at Blountstown.
The Chattahoochee was the most powerful warship to operate on the Apalachicola River during the war. Built in Early County, Georgia, and commissioned on January 1, 1863, she operated from a home port at Chattahoochee. The plan seems to have been for the vessel to steam down the river to Apalachicola Bay, break the blockade there and then engage in commerce raiding on the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead, shipbuilding delays put the launching of the vessel far behind schedule and by the time she was ready for action, the Confederate army had placed heavy obstructions in the river. The obstructions were designed to prevent the Union navy from steaming up the river, but they also prevented the Chattahoochee from reaching the bay.
In May of 1863, however, Lieutenant J.J. Guthrie aboard the Chattahoochee learned that a Union boat party had entered the lower Apalachicola River and captured the schooner Fashion which was being prepared for an attempt to run the blockade. Guthrie steamed the Chattahoochee down to Blountstown, but shallow water forced him to halt the trip. He went down in a small boat to see if there was anyway to get the vessel through or around the obstructions, but by the time he came back a rare early hurricane was blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. With no other option available, Guthrie ordered the ship to raise steam and return to its port at Chattahoochee.
As the engineers prepared to follow his orders, however, an explosion ripped through the ship. Super-heated steam scalded 16 men to death where they stood and others were injured. Panicked that the gunpowder in the Chattahoochee's magazines might explode, the crew pulled the bilge plugs and the ship sank to the bottom of the muddy Chattahoochee. It was a horrible accident, magnified in humanitarian terms by the severe storm sweeping across the area.