THE USS DAI CHING MEETS IT’S DEMISE
Posted By : manager
Posted : January 27, 2024
By Compatriot Michael Thomas
The USS Dai Ching, originally built in New York for the emperor of China, was purchased by the U.S. Navy in April 1863 and soon became a fixture in South Carolina’s coastal waters and rivers as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Fleet. She shelled Fort Sumter, Battery Wagner, and other Confederate positions in Charleston’s harbor in the summer of 1863. Armed with 2- 20 pounders and a 100-pounder, she had formidable firepower. However, her service ended on January 26th,1865 in perhaps the most shameful and dishonorable affair suffered by the U.S. Navy during the war.
The Navy, in support of General W.T. Sherman’s early advance into South Carolina, sent gunboats up the Ashepoo, Stono, North Edisto, and Combahee rivers to harass Confederate positions. Dai Ching sailed far up the Combahee escorted by the steamer tug Clover and, when within a mile of Tar Bluff, was caught by surprise when a battery of Confederate guns opened fire. Dai Ching’s captain immediately gave orders which would have placed the ship in a better position to exchange fire. However, moments later, he realized the pilot had deserted his post leaving the ship vulnerable to the winds and an ebb tide. Before the situation could be remedied, Dai Ching grounded hard.
Clover attempted to pull her away but the hawser broke. Instead of making another attempt to free Dai Ching, Clover simply sailed away. For about 7 hours, the Confederate guns said to be a pair of 7-inch Brooks Rifles and a smoothbore, played havoc on Dai Ching hitting her over 30 times. The ship was savaged by the hits and her 100-pounder was taken out of commission by a direct hit leaving her without a gun to return fire with. A boat with 5 men was sent downstream to gather assistance from other vessels several miles away but was captured by Confederate pickets. Dai Ching’s crew abandoned the ship and huddled in the marsh close to the hull for several hours until realizing help was not coming and then set the ship afire. With just one small boat available, most of the crew was forced to trudge over four miles through the marsh carrying several wounded sailors before being rescued. Union naval officers were aghast at the circumstances leading to the loss of Dai Ching. A major investigation leading to a court-martial was quickly conducted. The civilian pilot, “…a colored man who fled below into the fire room…” after the first shot, was specifically named for possible punishment as were two officers of the Clover. What actual punishment they might have received is not found but such gross dereliction of duty and obvious cowardice were charges that could not be easily excused or lightly punished.
In addition to those captured, the Dai Ching reported nine men wounded. It was later found that Dai Ching had burned to the waterline. No Confederate report on this action is found and the unit manning the battery involved remains unidentified. Certainly, the men in gray performed well.