Shipwreck and Treasure of the S.S. Republic
SS Republic Gold Coin
She has been called the "Forest Gump" of Civil War steamships. She survived multiple hurricanes, participated in attempts to overthrow Central American governments, and served on both sides in the U.S. Civil War.
The SS Republic had quite a storied history before fate finally caught up with her off the coast of North Carolina in October 1865. A treasure of gold and silver coins worth an estimated $75 million today went down with her and would remain there for the next 140 years.
The SS Tennessee
Built in 1853, the SS Republic was a side-wheel steamship originally named the SS Tennessee. For the next 2 years she was a packet ship between Baltimore and Charleston.
By 1856 the SS Tennessee had became the first steamship to regularly sail to South America when she started a route between New York and Venezuela.
For over half a decade, the California Gold Rush had drawn adventurers seeking their fortunes out west. One of the more popular routes to California included a short land trip across the isthmus of Central America.
The value of these land routes soon became evident and in 1855 an American named William Walker decided to overthrow the Nicaraguan government with the idea of adding it to the United States. He led a band of mercenaries known at Walker’s Filibusters.
During this time, the SS Tennessee was refitted as a troop ship and soon began ferrying these Filibusters to Nicaragua. Eventually Walker’s Filibusters were defeated and in 1857 the ship was used to ferry the decimated army back to the U.S.
The Civil War
After war broke out between the states, the Confederate Navy acquired the SS Tennessee and planned to use her as a blockade runner. But before those plans could be implemented, New Orleans fell to Union forces and the SS Tennessee with her. The United States Navy soon rechristened her the USS Mobile.
19th View of New Orleans
When the war ended in 1865, the USS Mobile was rechristened as the SS Republic and she began service on the New York to New Orleans route as a passenger ship.
The SS Republic left New York’s Staten Island for the last time on October 19, 1865. She was headed to New Orleans with a cargo of commercial goods that included bolts of silk, ingots of tin, liquor, and various glass and porcelain religious items such as candlesticks and figurines of angels and saints. She also reportedly carried a fortune in gold and silver coins.
Four days into the trip she sailed into a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. For two days passengers and crew fought the storm by bailing water and tossing cargo overboard. Finally the Captain ordered the ship abandoned and lifeboats and a makeshift raft were launched.
At around 4pm on October 25, 1865, the SS Republic disappeared beneath the waves.
"The ship had 300 tons of coal, and as she lurched from side to side, the roar of the coal and water sounded like Niagra," wrote passenger William Nichols to his wife in a letter quoted in Priit Vesilind’s book Lost Gold of the Republic.
Colonel William Nichols was a veteran of the Civil War. He was among the Union soldiers who fought off Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg and was now traveling to New Orleans with his brother Henry.