Modern Greece

On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln announced a blockade of the Southern states that were in rebellion, namely Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Eight days later, he added the states of North Carolina and Virginia to this extraordinary blockade of a sovereign nation cutting off its own ports to put down an internal rebellion. To counter this measure, the Confederacy and private individuals began to use commerce vessels to transport war material and commercial products to the blockaded Southern states. These vessels came to be known as “blockade runners.” These ships soon became extremely specialized in design to take advantage of the shallow drafts of the Southern coastline, and employed camouflage and smokeless coal to disguise themselves from the growing federal blockading fleets. In addition, these ships would use latest naval engineering to generate speed to outrun the U.S. Navy ships stationed outside of Confederate ports.

N.73.12.30 - Courtesy of the  State Archives of North Carolina

N.73.12.30 – Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina

One of the most iconic images of the “blockade runners” is one that was identified as the Modern Greece, which was run ashore near Confederate Fort Fisher on 27 June 1862 after being chased by the U.S.S. Cambridge near Wilmington, N.C. The Modern Greece was one of the largest blockade runners at that time, and at the time of its grounding, contained roughly a ton of gunpowder, four Whitworth breech loading cannon, Enfield rifled muskets, and a large amount of commercial goods for Wilmington, NC. Roughly one hundred years later, the wreck of the Modern Greece was exposed by a storm, which allowed the excavation of artifacts from the wreckage site. The above painting has adored many book covers and a copy of the painting has also been viewed at the Blockade Runner Museum, which was formerly in operation in Carolina Beach, N.C. in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Recently, some doubt has been raised on whether the ship pictured above is actually the Modern Greece. The ship does resemble the Modern Greece in its size and it’s depiction as a screw propeller steamer. The ship is shown grounded on the beach like the Modern Greece with U.S. Naval Blockaders moving in to finish her off. One of the blockading vessels is shown to be a Canonicus-class monitor similar to the U.S.S. Tecumseh, which was sunk during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama on 5 August 1864. Unfortunately, none of the monitors of that class were present with the North Atlantic Blockading Fleet in the summer of 1862.

The State Archives of North Carolina was recently asked to determine the origin of the original painting through a patron wishing to use the image for her publication. Through contact with fellow scholars in the Wilmington, N.C. area, it was confirmed that a copy of the painting was displayed in the Blockade Runner Museum in Carolina Beach, N.C. Through additional research, the painting was identified as “The Blockade Runner Ashore” by David Johnston Kennedy dated 1864. The original painting now resides at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. According to historians at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, President Franklin D. Roosevelt purchased the painting at a bookshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1933. It is not known whether the artist David J. Kennedy had read accounts of the capture of the Modern Greece for his painting, but it is a possible venue for future scholars to explore.

Please join us for our next “Second Mondays” presentation at 12 noon on Monday, 11 August 2014, when Historian Andrew Duppstadt will speak on “Blockade Runners.”

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