Museum guests honor Harvest Moon sinking, maritime tradition

by Taylor Griffith South Strand News

One hundred fifty years ago last Sunday, March 1, 1865, there was an explosion out on Winyah Bay. The USS Harvest Moon, a sidewheel steamer gunboat, hit a mine in the water and sunk, killing one.

On March 1, 2015, S.C. Maritime Museum patrons and boating enthusiasts gathered at the museum to honor the anniversary of the sinking of the Harvest Moon.

“It won’t happen again,” said Mac McAlister, museum member and local historian.

He explained the history of the ship, which is still out in the water and can be spotted at low tide.

It was one month before the end of the Civil War and the ship was here in Georgetown after the fall of Charleston, McAlister said. The USS Harvest Moon’s Admiral J. A. Dahlgren visited the fallen Battery White on Feb. 28 and spent the night anchored near Belle Isle. The next day, the ship set off for Charleston when it hit a floating mine in Winyah Bay.

Capt. Thomas West Daggett of the S.C. Militia built the mine. “It was a barrel with explosives in it,” McAlister said. “They put it somewhere in the outgoing tide.”

The mine blew a hole in the starboard side stern quarter of the ship, he said. The Harvest Moon was only in 15 feet of water, and it took only five minutes to sink.

Of the 100 men on board, John Hazard was the only man killed in the incident from drowning. He was buried on land, McAlister said, “but no one knows where he’s buried. And then the war was over. It was the only flagship the Union lost in the whole war.”

There has been an interest in recovering the ship from its watery grave, but McAlister said none of the efforts were successful because it had a wooden hull, which has deteriorated over the years.

Museum guests drank a toast to the ship at the March 1 event. The party also celebrated another maritime tradition: sock burning. The tradition began in the 1980s in Annapolis, Maryland, to celebrate the coming spring and put winter’s hard work — represented by the socks — to bed.

“Because we’re a coastal community, and the burning of the socks is a tradition on the coast, we wanted to do this as something fun in the spring with museum members and potential museum members,” said Sally Swineford.

She said next year the event will take a new twist when in addition to bringing socks to burn, the museum will ask patrons to also bring socks to donate to St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church, which collects the pieces of clothing for those in need.