|Gulf of Mexico from St. George Island|
What seems to have been an early hurricane struck the northern Gulf Coast that day, not only contributing to the sinking of the Chattahoochee but also driving two Union blockade vessels ashore near Apalachicola. I've been aware of this storm for some time, but recent research has revealed new details that show it was far worse than I had ever realized.
On June 8, 1863, for example, the Richmond Daily Dispatch carried a brief early report on the severity of the storm:
|Fort St. Marks or San Marcos de Apalache|
Where the water rose "five feet deep."
|Cape St. George Lighthouse|
...We have had a heavy blow here the past week - the heaviest I ever witnessed in Florida at this season of the year. From the coast there are various rumors of loss of life and property. I have just heard that from the Ocklockonnee to Peurifoy's Landing, twenty-one bodies of persons drowned were recovered on Friday, and eleven from Goose Creek, making thirty-two.
The surge from the storm apparently reached several miles inland in the St. Marks area. Additional detail appeared in the Columbus (GA) Times on June 3:
...We learn that on last Wednesday and Thursday, a most terrific gale swept along the south coast of Florida, destroying the entire Salt Works near St. Marks and Bay Port, large quantities of salt, and drowning some forty white men and negroes. So strong was the gale the water from the gulf was driven out of its banks along the line of the St. Marks railroad, completely inundating the track for several miles back into the country.
The newspaper writer went on to express hope that "some portion of the shipping of the United States was caught in the gale, and driven ashore." His hopes were realized. The following account datelined Key West on June 12, 1863, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer six days later:
|Indian Pass and the Gulf of Mexico|
|USS Port Royal (Center) as sketched during the war.|
...At West pass the damage by the gale was also considerable. The barkentine Andrew Manderson, of Philadelphia, loaded with coal for the squadron, ran ashore on Sand Island. Her masts were cut away after she struck. Several small prize vessels lying at anchor inside the pass were driven to sea or sank at their moorings. The United States gunsloop Brockenborough broke from her moorings and was run on shore at St. Vincent's Island. She will be saved. The Port Royal and Somerset rode the gale out without damage.
A letter dated Thomasville, Georgia, on May 31, 1863, appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph four days later:
The gale of Thursday is said to have done much mischief among the salt boilers on the Florida coast - One report says 150 lives were lost - many animals, much stock and salt. Hope it is not so bad - some, though, have certainly perished.
The storm must have been a hurricane, even though hurricane researchers do not list a May storm in their data for 1863. The total number of lives lost will never be known. If the figure of 150 given by the Thomasville writer was accurate, then the storm should be ranked as the 22nd deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. (or in this case, the C.S.) coast. Hurricane Andrew, by comparison, claimed 61 lives.
|CSS Chattahoochee Monument|
Read more about the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee during the storm of May 27, 1863, at http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/csschattahoochee.