USS Water Witch

The USS Water Witch, part of the Union fleet assigned to carry out a naval blockade of the Georgia coast during the Civil War (1861-65), was captured by Confederate naval troops in 1864. This rare Confederate naval victory ultimately had minimal significance, however.
Constructed in 1852 in the Washington Navy Yard at Washington, D.C., the USS Water Witch, a wooden-hulled, side-wheel gunboat, spent years surveying South American rivers before being called to duty in 1861 for the Union blockade of the Confederacy. In 1863 the vessel joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which operated mostly in Georgia waters around Ossabaw Island.
In June 1864, while anchored in the placid waters south of Savannah, the Water Witch was surprised in the early morning hours by a Confederate raiding party comprising 11 or 12 officers and 115 men from the crews of the Georgia, Savannah, and Sampson. Led by Lieutenant Thomas Postell Pelot and Moses Dallas, an ex-slave paid a salary for his service as a ship pilot, the Confederates boarded and, after winning a pitched battle on deck, captured the Union ship. The Confederates lost both of their leaders, however, and without a pilot the surviving troops had difficulty navigating the Water Witch to shore.
During the attack, a former slave in the Union ranks leapt overboard, swam to shore, and warned other solitary blockaders that the Water Witch was no longer a friendly craft. Before the Confederates could pick off the ships one by one in the guise of a Union sloop, the Union mobilized its vessels and went on the offensive, forcing the Confederates to hide their new ship beneath a bluff on the Vernon River. In December 1864, as Union general William T. Sherman's troops bore down from the west on their march to the sea, the Confederates cut their losses and burned the Water Witch so that it would not fall back into enemy hands.
In 2007 a team of researchers, led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, found what is believed to be the Water Witch shipwreck off the coast of Savannah beneath approximately fifteen feet of sediment. In 2009 the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus completed a full-scale replica of the Water Witch, which sits anchored in full view along Victory Drive in Columbus.


Further Reading
W. Craig Gaines, Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), s.v. "CSS Water Witch (USS Water Witch )."

Mills Lane, Savannah and the Civil War at Sea (Savannah: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, 2001).

Raimondo Luraghi, A History of the Confederate Navy (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1996).

The USS Water Witch: A Collection of Orders and Reports Concerning the Capture and Destruction of This Vessel (Savannah: Georgia Historical Society, 1974).
Cite This Article
Wood, Brad. "USS Water Witch." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 10 January 2014. Web. 20 January 2017.
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