On the morning of 31 March 1813, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Gallatin, a large two-masted schooner, was riding at anchor in Charleston harbor, having just returned from a cruise along the South Carolina coast. While part of the crew was cleaning muskets below deck, the vessel’s powder magazine exploded with terrible violence. The quarterdeck was blown into the air, and the stern was destroyed down to the waterline. Three men were lost and never found, and at least five were sustained serious injuries. Despite efforts to drag the burning vessel to shallower water, the Gallatin sank “stern foremost, a few yards from the head of Blake’s wharf.” Repeated attempts in 1813 and early 1814 to raise the vessel from the shallow water were not successful, and so the career of the USRC Gallatin was officially over.
To mark the bicentennial of the loss of the Gallatin, the U.S. Coast Guard is hosting a memorial ceremony in Charleston on Monday, April 1st 2013, and the public is invited. The event will take place on the pier at Charleston’s Waterfront Park (east end of Queen Street) at 11 a.m.
Many in Charleston are familiar with the present U.S. Coast Guard vessel stationed in our city, the USCGC Gallatin (WHEC 721), but few remember that the current vessel’s namesake met an unfortunate end here two centuries ago. We encourage all to remember the members of our Coast Guard, past and present, who form an important part of the shared history of Charleston.
Can the wreck of the USCG Gallatin be located and raised? South Carolina Underwater Archaeologist James Spirek and his colleagues are working with the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate that possibility. If you’re interested in learning more about this effort, we encourage you follow the story at the blog of the Foundation for Coast Guard History.