Saturday, February 11, 2012

Steamer Nevada ~ 6 Jun 1868

“As near as can be ascertained, the disaster was caused by foggy weather, a strong current, the compass being in error, and the negligence of the master in not taking soundings.”

The 914-ton wooden-hulled steamer Nevada was built in Connecticut for Wakeman, Gookin and Dickerson and launched on September 5, 1864. She had a large vertical single cylinder steam engine that turned a single screw propeller but she also carried the sail plan of a Brig. She was immediately put into service hauling materials for the Federal Government in support of the Union Forces fighting the Civil War, for which she earned $411 per day for her owners. This service continued until the end of the war and then the Nevada made regular runs between New York and Savannah, GA carrying general cargo.  

The New York and Mexican Mail Steamship Line acquired the steamer in 1866 and operated her until she was sold to the company of Francis Alexander and Sons on April 24, 1868. No doubt the new owners had great plans for the future of the Nevada and expected to make a good profit from operating her.

The Nevada left New York City on June 3, 1868, bound for Vera Cruz via Havana, Cuba, with a full load of general cargo and several passengers. Her route from New York would take her South along the coast and eventually past Cape Hatteras. On June 4, she was sailing along in a thick fog when at midnight she suddenly grounded on the Diamond Shoals, just off the Cape Hatteras shore. During the night the ship pounded hard on the shoal due to the heavy swell that was running. It became apparent to the crew that the ship was no longer a safe place to be—the boats were lowered and the passengers landed on the nearby beach. In an effort to keep the ship free of the sandy shoal, the crew ran out the anchors and attempted to lighten the ship by tossing much of the cargo overboard. The seas had not subsided and the crew soon discovered that the ship was leaking badly. With a great deal of water in the hold, they abandoned their attempts and made for shore. Newspaper articles in the Norfolk Journal on June 10, 1868, republished by the New York Times on June 12, reported that during the ordeal one of the seaman had lost their life by the upsetting of a boat, but all 6 passengers and the 19 other crewmembers survived the stranding. (View the NY Times article here).

The Wrecking Steamer Resolute, commanded by Captain Stoddard, was immediately sent down from Norfolk, VA to save the Nevada. However, the rising seas forced the abandoned Nevada across the shoals into deeper water the next day. She floated to the South for several miles, but with her bilges broken open she sunk to the bottom leaving only the tops of her masts showing. This was the condition that the Wrecker Resolute and another Wrecking Steamer, the Winants, found the Nevada when they located her due South of the Hatteras Lighthouse.

The wreck and her cargo was declared a total loss and this loss was recorded in the American Lloyd's of London wreck registry for the year of her sinking as valued at over $200,000 (in 1868 $s). An investigation into the disaster determined the shipwreck was caused by foggy weather, strong current, an error in the compass and the negligence of the master for not taking soundings. The master of the Nevada, Captain W. Megill, had his master's license revoked "for want of due precaution" and the new owners of the Nevada lost the use of their just purchased vessel.  

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