Sunday, June 2, 2013

Civil War Sunday -When the Civil War Saved Lives

Florida - May of 1863.

The Civil War was being fought in the United States.  Florida, a Confederate State, has been relatively untouched by the war (as compared to Confederate states Virginia and Tennessee, which bore the brunt of the fighting.

But Florida did play a role in the war, and a hurricane and a  Federal gunboat called the "USS Amanda" were about to play a role in weather history.

Because, in my Civil War posts, I like to concentrate on the "rest of the story" aspect of the war, I want to fast forward 150 years. 

A forgotten hurricane was recently discovered by historical research into the Civil War using aspects of a newish science called  "forensic meteorology". 

In 2013, we have weather satellites, weather computers, and various types of technology which allow us to track tropical storms from birth in the ocean, to landfall, to their eventual falling apart.  We take for granted that we have planes that can fly into these storms to take readings.  We name hurricanes, analyze their damage with precision and track their wind speeds at any given time.

But, in 1863, none of this technology existed.  The only way we knew about hurricanes in the ocean was if a ship ran across one. There was no communication device for such a ship's captain to relay this information to shore.  Weather savvy people could tell a hurricane (at least, a serious storm) was on its way, but there were no tools to know where the storm would make landfall or how strong the winds were. The main tool metereologists had, besides their eyes to observe clouds and their movements, was the barometer.  So, death tolls in hurricanes could be high.

The story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which killed around 6,000 people, is perhaps the most terrible example of good forecasting gone bad before the days of modern warning systems. (In those days, hurricanes were not named.)

Just imagine if such a hurricane had struck in the middle of a Civil War battle, siege, or troop movement.  This never happened, but a hurricane struck during the Union blockade in Florida.

This  hurricane, in May of 1863, has now been forensically studied.  We now believe this hurricane, named Amanda after the Union ship it grounded near Apalachicola, Florida, was the earliest hurricane on record to make landfall in the United States. Because of the turmoil surrounding the Civil War, it was basically lost from historical record until now.

"Amanda" (not to be confused with another Hurricane Amanda from about five years ago) made landfall on May 29, 1863.  It may have been considered a "Category three storm" (on a scale of one to five) and, during its land and sea lifetime, killed 110 people, making it the 27th most deadly hurricane in U.S. history.

Ironically, the Civil War probably caused the death toll to be less than it would have been during peacetime.  Many civilians had been evacuated out of the area due to the Union blockade of Confederate shipping.

But, in a war of over 620,000 casualties, this storm became a small forgotten incident.

And the Amanda?  It was grounded, and had to be destroyed so it wouldn't fall into Confederate hands.


  1. You always find the most interesting facts related to the CW. Very interesting. Also interesting link on the forensic meteorology.

  2. Fascinating post especially as we start hurricane season here in Florida. I really like your new site!

  3. Thanks, interesting story!

  4. Interesting post, thanks for the info. By the way, do you have a partner yet for the #Blog2013 guest exchange? I left you a message on the blogathon Facebook page. :-)


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