The next fatal wreck of the year, relevant to the operations of the service, was that of the stanch ship A.S. Davis, which took place in the memorable gale of October 22 and 23, a mile and a half north of Life Saving Station No. 2 (6th District), North Carolina. A brief reference to this singular and terrible disaster was made in the last annual report, and also to the storm in which it occurred; one which will long be remembered in the middle region of the Atlantic seaboard, along which its track was marked by peculiar havoc.
“The surf was the biggest I ever saw, and ran full with the hills. I have been on this coast all my life and had to do with the surf since I was old enough, and I know I never saw such a night or such a surf before.”
It was at the height of all this fury that the A.S. Davis drove ashore. The ship had sailed from Callao, Peru, on the 23rd of July, for Hampton Roads, VA, with a cargo of guano. She was quite a large vessel, her burden being 1,399 tons; was nearly new, her age being three years, and was very strongly built. Of the 20 men on board, comprising her captain and crew, her wreck left only one survivor, William H. Minton. It is from him that the particulars of her loss are derived.
After the tempest began she sailed under only her upper canvas until the wind blew a whole gale. By midnight her lower main-topsail, which was new, was blown out of the bolt-ropes and the mizzen lower topsail was taken in. Finally, with only her fore-topsail and fore-topmast stay-sail set, she was racing through the darkness with headlong velocity, amidst the roar of the hurricane, when suddenly, with a shivering shock, she plunged aground. It a moment all was over with her. “There was time for nothing after the ship struck,’ says the witness, “except for all hands to get into the rigging.” The unhappy men sprang for the main and mizzen shrouds. At once, behind the vessel, held by her bow as in a vice, the sea arose like a mountain and fell down with a stunning crash upon the stern, which it stove in at one blow, filling the vessel and sweeping over her end to end. A few moments of horrible confusion and uproar, and the ship was torn to pieces.
Those who saw the fragments marveled at a destruction which had been as utter as it had been speedy. “I visited the scene of the wreck about sunrise on the morning of the 23d,” says the wreck commissioner of that region,” and could not conceive it possible that a ship could be so completely broken up.”
The surviving witness sets the hour of the striking of the vessel at two o’clock. Little more than an hour later the beach patrolman found her scattered in pieces for a mile along the shore. In the utter gloom which enveloped the whole scene of convulsion, no eye could have descried from the beach the brief and dread dismemberment, nor, had an army of men been gathered there, could any help have been afforded to either vessel or crew. From one of those on board, the survivor, the sea tore all his clothing, save the fragment of a shirt, and threw him, bruised and bleeding, upon the shore. Of the other 19 men there were only found, within 40 hours later, the dead bodies of 17, grotesquely clad in tatters of their former garb, and horribly mangled by the wreckage. They had voyaged for 3 months, and over 10,000 miles, to perish within 3 hours’ sail of their haven.