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The "Bold Rascal"

Denbigh’s owners now turned their attention to Galveston. At the beginning of the war Galveston had been a small but growing Gulf port, handling increasingly large volumes of cotton annually. But the Union blockade of Galveston, which began with the arrival of U.S.S. South Carolina on July 2, 1861, abruptly changed Galveston’s prospects. With hopes of resuming a normal trade gone, and anticipating a Federal invasion at any time, a large segment of the population left the island for places inland. Union forces succeeded in taking possession of the city in the fall of 1862, only to be driven out again on New Year’s Day, 1863, but that Confederate victory did little to change the overall strategic situation; the blockade continued, and Galveston was too far removed from the center of the main conflict to be of much use as a port for blockade-running.

The Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 changed that situation almost overnight. With Mobile no longer accessible, Galveston was now the only remaining Confederate port of significance on the Gulf of Mexico. Only a dozen steam blockade-runners had come into Galveston during the first three years of the war; after August 1864, another runner entered the port almost every week.

Denbigh made a total of six successful round voyages between Havana and Galveston. As at Mobile, Denbigh managed time and again to slip past the Federal blockading fleet at Galveston, even though the latter at times consisted of ten, twelve, or more vessels. And as at Mobile, there was at least one close call. On the evening of April 19, 1865 – ten days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and five after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – Denbigh ran aground on a shoal while trying to pass through the blockading squadron with a load of cotton for Havana. Her crew managed to get her off the bar by heaving overside 200 bales of cotton, most of which was picked up by ships from the blockading fleet. Denbigh returned to the protected waters of Galveston harbor, and successfully ran the blockade for Havana nine days later.

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An 1864 map of Galveston shows Bird Key (white arrow, upper right), where Denbigh ran aground on the night of May 23-24, 1865.  The Denbigh Project team believes that the blockade runner was attempting to run through the swash channel behind Bird Key (blue arrow) to evade the Federal blockading fleet, a maneuver she'd often used at Mobile.  Image from National Archives. 

On the night of May 23-24, 1865, while trying to enter the harbor at Galveston, Denbigh ran hard aground on Bird Key, a sand shoal just off the Bolivar Peninsula shore, to the north and east of Galveston. Bird Key was a hazard to local navigation, but between it and the Bolivar shore ran another narrow but relatively deep swash channel which was well-suited to a blockade-runner’s purpose.

ftjacksn.jpg (6964 bytes)At daybreak a lookout aboard the Federal flagship Fort Jackson (left) spotted the stranded blockade-runner, and Captain Benjamin F. Sands ordered the gunboats Cornubia and Princess Royal to open fire. Simultaneously, Sands ordered boats from the blockaders Seminole and Kennebec to board and destroy Denbigh. That vessel’s crew, seeing that they had been spotted, took to their own boats and successfully reached the Bolivar shore. The two shelling gunboats between them fired forty rounds at Denbigh, although it is not recorded how many shots hit the stranded vessel. The boat’s crew from Seminole boarded the blockade-runner and, after seizing the ship’s papers, set fire to her. The only casualty of the operation was a seaman from Seminole, who was killed instantly when his own firearm accidentally discharged while he was leaving the wreck. The entire episode was over by 7 a.m.

The same morning that Denbigh went aground on Bird Key, the Laird-built blockade-runner Lark managed to slip past the Federal fleet and into Galveston harbor. At the wharf she was swarmed by civilians and soldiers alike, all desperate to seize anything of value. Even after Lark’s master had the vessel warped away from the wharf and out into the anchorage, people still tried to clamber aboard from small boats and improvised craft. Once the ship had been stripped of virtually everything removable, Lark’s master stopped briefly at another wharf to pick up Denbigh’s crew, just arrived from the Bolivar Peninsula, and then slipped back out to sea, becoming the last blockade runner to clear a Confederate port.

Denbigh’s destruction, along with the rescue of her crew by the blockade-runner Lark, both literally and figuratively closed the final chapter in the story of blockade running during the Civil War. The best epitaph for Denbigh might well be that offered by the well-known blockade-running master William Watson, who wrote:

I may safely say that one of the most successful, and certainly one of the most profitable, steamers that sailed out of Havana to the Confederate States was a somewhat old, and by no means a fast, steamer, named the Denbigh. This vessel ran for a considerable time between Havana and Mobile; but when the latter port was captured by the Federals she ran to Galveston, to and from which port she made such regular trips that she was called the packet. She was small in size, and not high above water, and painted in such a way as not to be readily seen at a distance. She was light on coal, made but little smoke, and depended more upon strategy than speed. She carried large cargoes of cotton, and it was generally allowed that the little Denbigh was a more profitable boat than any of the larger and swifter cracks.


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What's New?

new.gif (977 bytes) John Newland Maffitt and the Galveston Blockade | Chasing a Fox new.gif (977 bytes)
new.gif (977 bytes) 2001 Field Crew | In-Kind Contributions  | How Much Coal? new.gif (977 bytes)
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"An Extremely Fast Boat" | The "Mobile Packet" | A "Bold Rascal" | Denbigh Today
Denbigh's Crew | The Erlanger Loan | Birkenhead-Built: An Unrivaled Legacy
Denbigh Primary Source Documents | Galveston During the Civil War | Denbigh, Clwyd, Wales
The U.S. Coast Survey and the Blockade, 1861 | The Ship's Library: Recommended Reading
Running the Blockade Into Galveston: A Personal Narrative | Denbigh Day-by-Day
Denbigh Portrait | Official Number 28,647 | Valve Chest Animation (300kb) | Investors
Links of Interest | Denbigh F.A.Q. | Denbigh's Engines | Denbigh's Boiler
Feathering Sidewheel


April 27-28 Side Scan Survey | May 7-10 Site Mapping
June 16-17 Sub-Bottom Profiling | Site Mapping, July 9-12, 1998 | Dive Trip, October 18-30, 1998
Underwater Images | 1999 Summer Field Season | Denbigh Site Plan
Jerry Williams Speaking Tour | Denbigh Project Benefit Dinner |
Denbigh Artifacts | 2000 Field Crew | 2000 Field Crew Photo Album |
The Denbigh Wreck Site: A Quicktime VR Panaorama
Connecting Rod Recovery, July 22-24, 2000 | Modeling a Shipwreck
Credits & Thank-Yous

J. Barto Arnold et al. 1998-2000, The Denbigh Project, World Wide Web,
Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, E-mail: (  
Sunday, July 16, 2000 Revision.

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