Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Capture of the Fashion - Apalachicola River, Florida
In one of the strangest incidents of the Civil War, a small Union boat raid into the Apalachicola River in May of 1863 led to the explosion and sinking of the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida.
The unusual chain of events began when a party of 41 officers and sailors left the U.S.S. Port Royal in small boats on May 23, 1863. Commanded by Acting Master Edgar Van Slyck, they had been ordered to capture the Fashion, a Gulf sloop reported to be hiding somewhere in the lower Apalachicola River. The vessel was taking on cotton for a planned attempt to run the blockade.
The Union sailors rowed an estimated 45 miles up the Apalachicola River, slipping past Confederate sentries at Fort Gadsden during the night, but did not find the Fashion. It was not until they were going back downstream that they spotted a barge of the type often used to move bales of cotton down the river. Turning up Brushy Creek, Van Slyck and his men found the sloop and captured it without resistance in a heavy rainstorm.
Taking the Fashion back down the river, the sailors fired a single round of cannister into Fort Gadsden, but did not elicit a response from the Southern troops there.
News of the successful raid generated near panic in the valley of the Apalachicola River and Lt. J.J. Guthrie, captain of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee, started his warship down the river in hopes of capturing the raiders before they could reach the bay. The ship was the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida, mounting 6 heavy guns and carrying a crew of more than 100 officers and men, many of whom had served aboard the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) during its immortal battle with the U.S.S. Monitor.
Guthrie reached Blountstown, but was unable to continue his pursuit of the raiders due to low water. After the river did not rise the next morning, he ordered the ship to return to its home port at Chattahoochee. Water was allowed to pour into an overheated boiler prompting an explosion that resulted in scalding steam killing many members of the crew. The Chattahoochee sank in a blinding rainstorm, destroyed by a Union raid that had not fired a single shot in her direction.
To learn more about the capture of the Fashion, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fashion.