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U.S. Union warship that sank in 1800’s is the tomb of two unfortunate sailors

Ian Harvey
19th century print, depicting the sinking of Hatteras by CSS Alabama, off Galveston, Texas on 11 January 1863. Source

A ship that went down in Galveston, Texas during the U.S. Civil War has provided some interesting clues. Thanks to 3D sonar images, divers were able to catch a glimpse of the ship and what lies inside. That ship was identified as the USS Hatteras and what they found was not disappointing.

In the Union warship, the divers found that only two men had died when the ship went down. They were Irishmen William Healy and John Cleary. The remains of the two men are still inside the ship, entombed since the day the ship went down.

Apparently, the ship has not been visited since it sank in January of 1863. It is unclear whether or not the ship will ever be excavated or if anyone will put the men who died in the wreck to rest with a proper burial.

The leader and director of the maritime heritage for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Jim Delgado, said that this particular vessel acts like a time capsule, sealed by the mud and sand. He added that with the ship’s being so well preserved he and his team could bring that ship to life again. He mentioned that a person can go right through the wreck and view something that is unlike any other wreckage.

The ship played a major part in American history. It was the only United States Navy ship that sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War.

USS Hatteras.Source

USS Hatteras.Source

On January 11, 1863, the USS Hatteras had spotted and tracked down a ship that had identified itself as British and then open fired from 25 to 200 yards away. It was then revealed that it was actually the CSS Alabama, a notorious Confederate raider that had been credited with about 60 kills during the war.

About 43 minutes after this, the Hatteras was burning and started to take on water. Commander Homer Blake had surrendered and he and his crew were taken on board the Alabama as prisoners. The men and the Alabama ended up going to Jamaica for the duration of the war.

Out of the 126 men that were on the ship, two were lost. It is believed that they were trapped on the ship and eventually entombed in the wreckage. They were later identified as Irishmen Healy and Cleary. Healy was a 32-year-old coal heaver and Cleary was a 24-year-old stoker.

Delgado had said that those two men had paid the price exacted by war. The area where the ship went down is a place where history happened and people had died. They gave their all and had made the choice to follow their captain; they died trying to do their duty and serve their country.

19th century print, depicting the sinking of Hatteras by CSS Alabama, off Galveston, Texas on 11 January 1863. Source

19th century print, depicting the sinking of Hatteras by CSS Alabama, off Galveston, Texas on 11 January 1863. Source

Thanks to the new sonar imaging, researchers are finally getting a better look and understanding of the USS Hatteras than ever before. They could take images of the ship and investigate its documentation, but these new 3D images bring the whole ship to life.

The manager of historic properties, research, and special programs for the Galveston Historical Foundation, Jami Durham, said that it is very exciting to finally be able to get a better look at the historical ship. She added that they knew the ship was out there, but to finally see up-close, clear images makes it all the more real.

Here is a little history about the ship itself:

The first USS Hatteras happened to be a 1,126-ton steamer which was purchased by the Union Navy at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. The boat was fitted with guns and was assigned to the Union blockade of the ports and waterways of the Confederate States.

The Hatteras was formerly the St. Mary before being purchased by the U.S. Navy from Harlan and Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware on September 25th, 1861.

The wreck site is actually one of the few that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, because of its location. It is away from the destructive surf and, because of the ship’s side-wheel design, the vessel marks the transition between the wooden sailing ships and steam-powered ships.