Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NC: C.S.S. Advance

 CSS Advance (1863)


When it comes to reputation, the Confederate gunboat Advance knows no peer. During any retelling of the blockade runners, this North Carolina vessel has been more romanticized than any other.

In actual fact, the blockade runner Advance commenced her famous career as a schooner-rigged, side-wheel steamer built at Greenock, Scotland, by Caird & Co. Launched on July 3rd 1862 as the Clyde packet Lord Clyde, the vessel was jointly purchased by the State of North Carolina and firm of Lord, Power & Co., to serve as a blockade runner during the Civil War. With a displacement of eight hundred and eighty tons, a length of two hundred and thirty feet and beam of twenty six feet, she was built for speed. Powered by two, 2-cylinder oscillating side-lever steam engines with six boilers, two funnels and two sail bearing masts, her side-wheel paddles could achieve and maintain speeds in excess of twelve knots. Upon ‘delivery’ she was renamed Advance in honour of the Governor of North Carolina, Zebulon B. Vance. Governor Vance was dedicated to North Carolina having its own ‘navy’ and although loyal to the southern cause, often reminded the Confederate authorities that all cargoes shipped on his vessels were the property of North Carolina first and foremost.

Following completion, her new owners quickly fitted their new vessel with a single 20-pound rifle and four 24-pound howitzers. Advance also carried an impressive number of small arms for use by her crew in the event of being boarded. During Advance’s ensuing career, she would complete more than twenty, highly successful voyages and enjoy many more close encounters with Union blockading forces. Governor Vance appointed Thomas M. Crossan as Captain. Crossan, who unlike his contemporaries Wilkinson and Maffitt, was an officer of the North Carolina Navy rather than the Confederate Navy, played an integral part in the purchase of the vessel on behalf of the State; and following his appointment, ran the Advance through the blockade on twenty two occasions in little more than a year. His arrivals and departures from Wilmington and Bermuda were eagerly awaited and celebrated for their time-table regularity.

On more than one run, Crossan boldly took Advance through the blockade in broad daylight and on occasion, catching the Federal blockading fleet completely unaware of his presence. In late 1864 however, he was captured when the Advance, burning poor-quality coal and unable to sustain speed was overhauled by the Union cruiser USS Santiago de Cuba. Following Advance’s capture on September 10th, 1864 she was subsequently ‘condemned’ by the New York Prize Court and purchased by the US Navy that same month. After some refitting and repair, Advance was then commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on October 28th, 1864 with Lt. Cdr. John H. Upshur in command.

USS Advance departed New York City on October 30th, arriving off Wilmington, North Carolina on November 14th to join the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In addition to her newly reversed role, that December she participated in the two abortive expeditions against Fort Fisher located on Confederate Point at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Advance resumed duty on the blockade on January 13th 1865. With the last deep-draft Confederate port closed, few runners continued to attempt making the ‘run’. Those that did were shallow draft vessels with limited cargo capacity, a fact alone that made blockade running less profitable, considering the danger involved. As a consequence, Advance participated in no captures during her duties there. In February, Advance put into Norfolk for a month of repairs before embarking passengers and sailing for New York City on March 13th. Three days later she was withdrawn from active service until the end of hostilities when she was renamed USS Frolic, the second U.S. Navy ship of that name. On June 12th 1865, she was re-commissioned under her new name with Lt. Cdr Upshur once more in command.

The USS Frolic was then assigned to the European Squadron as a dispatch vessel, a mission for which she was well suited by virtue of her small size and good speed. Arriving at Flushing, the Netherlands, in July 1865, she operated in northern European waters and in the Mediterranean until 1869. Again out of commission from May to September 1869, Frolic's next active service was patrolling the North Atlantic fishing grounds in April-October 1870. Following another period in reserve, she operated off New England for several months in 1872 and was then station ship at New York. In 1875-77, she cruised in South American waters as a unit of the South Atlantic Squadron. Decommissioned for the last time in October 1877, USS Frolic was sold in October 1883. She was a civilian ship, retaining the name Frolic, for a few years after that.

Ian Dewar

Charles Priestley kindly submits this addition:

Cherbourg Cemetery: The “ancien cimetière” contains the graves of George Appleby and James King of the Alabama and William Gowen of the Kearsarge. With them is the grave of Passed Assistant Surgeon James J. Allingham of the USS Frolic, who died on October 13, 1865. He had spent most of the Civil War on the USS Conemaugh, which formed part of Farragut’s fleet before Mobile. The Frolic was originally the North Carolina blockade-runner Advance (or A. D. Vance) and was captured in September, 1864 by the USS Santiago de Cuba; it began a European cruise in July, 1865.

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