The Confederate blockade runner Run'Her (1864)

Paulo Monteiro


    The Run'Her was the second shipwreck to be located inside the survey zone. Situated almost 20 meters to the north-east of area E9, the only visible remains of the wreck were an iron structure - tentatively identified as an annelar super heater, part of the boiler-steam exhaust system structure - and an iron structure that protruded from the sand, apparently part of a side wheel.

    By archival research, it is know that only two iron ships have been wrecked in Angra bay. The brazilian steam ship Lidador, sunk in 1878, has been located, identified, and archaeologically characterized. The Lidador still retains hull integrity and is lying more than 300 meters from the area where these debris have been found, which rules out the possibility that the iron structures found are from the brazilian steamer.

View of Angra bay, circa 1865    Extensive excavation on all of the north-west area of Angra bay has revealed iron plates and structures and odd-dimensioned artifacts that seemed to belong to the cargo of the ship, evidence enough that the wreck had been flattened out and that its parts were strewn in a debris field, covered up by up to 1,5 meter of sand and fine silt, at an average depth of -6 meters.
    At first, the archaeological potential of these debris was not realized since the team thought that the Run'Her was an english ship that had sunk on her maiden voyage. It was not until January, 1997, that we realized that we had found out the remains of a Confederate blockade runner.

View of Angra bay, circa 1865

    The Run'Her was built by the John & William Dudgeon, Isle of Dogs, in London. Although there are no register of this particular ship at Lloyd's, the builders had a register of her sister ship, the Mary, also a blockade runner. She had an overall length of 230 feet, with a breadth of 27 feet, a depth of 14,06 feet and a draft of 10 feet. The ship was one of a series built for the William G. Crenshaw Company, a British company with joint British and Confederate shareholders. The Run'Her was built to meet a Confederate Government contract to carry CSA military, medical and commissary goods into the Confederacy.

    She departed London, with a crew of 50, and took 4 days to reach Terceira Island, Azores, en route to Bermudas. According to local sources, the ship reached Angra roads on the 5th of November, 1864, a Saturday,
at noon. The captain proceeded, full speed ahead, straight into the harbor of Angra Bay. Refusing to take aboard
a local pilot, captain Edwin Courtenay ended up running the ship aground on the sandy bottom of Angra bay, quite close to the shore, near the Custom's wharf. The captain then tried to free the ship from the bottom's grip - which leads us to believe that she was a side wheeler instead of a twin screw - but all efforts were in vain.

    On the 18th of November 1864, twelve days after the grounding of the steamer, the majority of her crew - 35 seamen - embarked to Lisbon, via Saint Michael Island, aboard the portuguese steamer Maria Pia. Aboard this ship was also going an american citizen, Hunter Davidson, which we believe was the southern navy captain assigned to aid Run´Her's British merchant captain, Courtenay.

    Hunter was born in 1827 and was appointed a midshipman on December, the 29th, 1841. We was a member
of the second class to complete their studies in Annapolis. He resigned from the US Navy and joined his native state of Virginia when it seceded from the Union and was then appointed a First Lieutenant in the CS Navy, in June 1861. He was aboard the CSS Virginia where he helped fight the battle with the USS Monitor. He then worked with the naval scientist Matthew Fontaine Maury during his experiments to develop an effective system of defensive explosives for Southern harbors, better known as submarine torpedoes.

    He then formed the Submarine Battery Service which sank dozens of Union vessels. In 1864 he was promoted to Commander after he personally guided a small semi-submersible spar torpedo boat attack which damaged the steam frigate USS Minnesota. By 1864 Davidson had developed a sophisticated, electrically detonated submarine system. Unable to obtain needed materials in the South, he was assigned to special duty in Great Britain.

    He then worked with several english explosives and underwater telegraphy experts to further refine his ideas. Once he had a working system, Davidson ordered huge quantities of materials from British manufactures. Materials included several varieties of electrical storage batteries, insulated submarine cable, ebonite machines to assist in waterproofing mines, telegraphy switches, testing apparatus, detonators and empty mine cases. These submarine mining supplies were sent to the Confederacy as the primary cargo of three new blockade running steamers, including Run'Her, and a sailing ship.

    After the grounding, the ship was probably declared a total loss because on December the 8th, 1864, she was auctioned for 800$00 reis. This value covered everything, except the steam engine and a box full of platinum that was still in the hold of the ship. On December the 19th, a new auction took place in order to sell the remaining goods. Unfortunately for the buyers, a tremendous south-east storm hit Angra, on that very night, and the ship was badly beaten against the rocky shoreline, where it broke in several pieces. Those pieces were, afterwards, swept offshore.

    We believe that the military cargo was still aboard the ship, awaiting either for the Whisper or the Rattlesnake, two blockade runners that arrived long after the storm had completely wrecked the Run'Her. No mention of it has been made on local press. Part of her cargo was, anyhow, rescued as can be attested by the purchase, by an english ship returning from Mexico, of several boxes with salted meat that were part of the Run'Her's cargo. The boxes were sold on the 9th of April 1865.

    Davidson returned to England where he gained command of another blockade runner carrying mine supplies, the City of Richmond. This steamer was diverted from her maiden voyage to supply the ironclad ram CSS Stonewall. The delay and a subsequent mishap kept the blockade runner from reaching a Confederate port before the war ended.

    We are very grateful to Dr. Kevin J. Foster, Chief, Maritime Heritage Program,(United States) National Park Service, for passing to us the majority of the information regarding this wreck.