USS Housatonic Canvas Relic, Recovered from the Naval Assault on Fort Sumter, 1862

Piece of canvas, approx. 9.5 x 15 in. Part of an awning from the Housatonic recovered by William Mason Smith. Stenciled with text reading, "HOUSATONIC. / WHALE BOAT. / AWNING / J.F.B. / NYC / MARCH, 1862." Lieutenant Smith (1843-1864), of Gaillard's Regiment, the 27th South Carolina Infantry, recovered the awning in the aftermath of the attack against the Housatonic in February of 1864. He was mortally wounded months later in the Battle of Cold Harbor, VA and died at the home of William Porcher Miles in Richmond.

The Housatonic was finished in November 1861 but did not see her first battle until 1863 when Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont attempted to take Fort Sumter. She retreated with significant damage, but in subsequent battles she managed to capture many Confederate ships. On a dark night in February 1864, the crew spotted a curious floating object in the distance. Suspecting it was a log or a porpoise, they paid little attention to it. As it came closer, they suddenly realized it was an enemy submarine, the H.L. Hunley. The crew tried to defend itself against attack, but the ship’s size did not allow it to sink low enough to fight effectively against it. The Hunley rammed an explosive charge into the ship’s starboard side. The Housatonic sank within ten minutes. It was the first and only attack made by the Hunley as well as the first successful submarine attack.

Provenance:Deaccessioned by the South Carolina Historical Society and given to Joseph T. Holleman, 1984. Later sold at auction.

Estimate: $1,800 - $2,500

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