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Friday, March 19, 2010 03:03PM

Daily TWiP – The SS Georgiana is lost and found today in 1863 and 1965 respectively

Week in Preview

Welcome to Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays, historical observances, etc., we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.

Today (March 19th) in 1863, the SS Georgiana, reportedly the most powerful cruiser built for the Confederate Navy, failed to make it past the Federal Blockading Squadron and into Charleston, SC. The ship’s desperate crew was forced to beach the Georgiana and flee, after which the Union forces set the wreck on fire. As this was the ship’s maiden voyage, the Confederate forces were less than encouraged by this outcome.

By all accounts, the Georgiana was a beautiful ship, outfitted not only for war but for the raiding of enemy merchant vessels (a practice known as privateering). She was 226 feet long, with space for up to 14 guns, and powered by a steam engine that turned a propeller 12 feet in diameter. Her cargo holds were extra roomy, able to accommodate more than four hundred tons of cargo.

For her maiden voyage today in 1863, the Georgiana was loaded up with merchandise, munitions, medicines, and (supposedly) 350 pounds of gold. None of the cargo made it to its intended destination, with everything but the gunpowder sinking to the bottom of the sea along with the Georgiana.

The gunpowder, as you may imagine, was consumed when the ship was set on fire by the Union forces. There was so much gunpowder on board that the Georgiana burned for three days (punctuated by intermittent explosions) before it finally sank.

Exactly 102 years later in 1965, 18-year-old E. Lee Spence discovered the sunken Georgiana while diving. He didn’t have to go very deep – the ship’s boiler is a mere five feet under the surface.

Spence (who would go on to discover many other Civil War shipwrecks and make significant contributions to underwater archaeology and maritime history) was able to recover a substantial amount of the ship’s cargo. His finds have been valued at 12 million dollars.

Spence was not able to locate the gold that the Georgiana had supposedly been carrying, which would be valued at roughly 15 million dollars today. If the ship was indeed carrying gold as reported, it’s possible that it’s still on board today.

According to our research, the Georgiana remains underwater off the coast of South Water and is accessible to divers. Because of the depth at which the wreck is located, you can explore a considerable portion of it without the use of scuba gear. Sounds like a lovely way to spend a summer vacation.

Daily TWiP appears Monday through Friday courtesy of The Week in Preview. Check out The Week in Preview online in our Columnists section or read it in print on Mondays in our Nashua and Region section.

Keep track of Daily TWiP, The Week in Preview, Tete-a-tete, and Teresa’s general ramblings at http://twitter.com/TeresaInPreview.

- Teresa Santoski