The Phantom Fleet

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The Phantom Fleet
“Ships from the Fourth Dimension!”

 

We are all familiar with the topic of ghost ships, stories that have persisted often through centuries of time, but haven’t you ever wondered if any of these stories are actually true.  The sailors among our numbers have certainly heard numerous ghost ship stories, far more in number then could be repeated outside of a set of encyclopedias.   There are a couple of examples among many that we could mention, which took place from 1795 and onwards!  The Flying Dutchman, a ship manned by a captain, who was condemned to eternally sail the seas, a story that has long been a legend and a favorite.

But did you know there are ghost stories that involve Southern pre-war as well as Confederate Ships?  Here is one example that comes to mind, which took place in1858, and continues unto this day!  The
Eliza Battle, a paddle steamer burned in 1858 on the Tombigbee River in Alabama, and is purported to reappear, fully aflame, on cold and windy winter nights to foretell of impending disaster.  However, our story involves what was to be a pleasant, relaxing trip enroute to the Grand Bahammas, when a most unusual event took place.  Had we spotted real ships or a ghost fleet, discover for yourself?

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“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”  {Joel 2:28-29}
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THE LADY Varina

A group of us were onboard a small but sea worthy craft called the Lady Varina, so named after Varina Banks Howell Davis, the ship was in route from Miami to the Grand Bahamas, when an unexpected storm blew us further out to sea, then we had anticipated.  We were not in immediate danger, but we had traveled beyond our limits. We had sufficiently regained our composure, and were about to reset our course, and turn back. We spotted an unusual and unexpected scene further out to sea!  The storm had subsided and the sky was changing to a beautiful blue, peppered with a scattering of white clouds.
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The ocean was mildly choppy; not at all rough, and the visibility was at least 20 nautical miles; just about the distance to the edge of the horizons.  It was turning out to be the kind of day any sailor would dream about, and an excellent time for a voyage.  We spotted a most unusual and unexpected naval fleet, numbering about 13 ships, and moving along at a leisurely 12 knots.  Each ship staying well within formation!  We decided to approach and see what we could see!

As our courses brought us closer together, one of the ships launched what appeared to be a high speed, advanced version of a hovercraft, and offered us aide and assistance.  Even invited us onboard! What we learned afterward would turn out to be unbelievable!  There were thirteen ships in this task force, each named after one of the member States of the Ole Confederacy.  Their position in formation was based upon their secession dates from the 'Union of States.

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'The exception was the C.S.S. Virginia (CSS 008) which held the middle position.  These ships sailed under what might be termed a 'Circle H' battle formation.  The C.S.S. Virginia took the middle position because she was assigned the roll of the Task Force Command Ship or Flag Ship and had the Fleet Admiral onboard, with his staff and the ship sailed under an Admirals Flag. The other ship in the middle was the C.S.S. South Carolina (CSS 001), which carried high tech communications, sonar, radar and computers equipment, of the highest caliber.

ORIGINS OF THE GHOST FLEET
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We found out these ships had been built in three of the world's busiest ports, scattered around the globe.  Places like Asian, South America and the South Pacific, with Japan providing much of the technology.  That this fleet sailed under the protection of a neutral nation, and their existence was the best kept secret, until the task force actually set sail.  In part because their construction, was made to appear, as no more then a work order for high priced, well designed pleasure craft.  Toys for the rich and famous!
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This was not to be the case, for these ships were equipped with the best technology available anywhere upon the earth, and quite capable of defending themselves within a 1,000 nautical mile range, and beyond if necessary.  What kind of fleet was it that we happened upon?  It was termed The Confederate Task Force One" and sailed under the official colors of the Confederate States of America.  Flying the Current or Third National Flag, commonly known as the Blood Stained Banner, as well as the Confederate States Navy Jack.

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Each ship was classified from "CSS 001" upward to "CSS 013" numbers acquired from their secession precedents.  While these ships were quite capable of self-defense, they were not aggressive.  Their mission and purpose was public relations, as well as training for a future Confederate States Navy.  Their immediate sailing orders, called for ports of call on every continent and across the seas of the world.  Quite simply, show the Colors of the Confederacy!  This fleet would carry out its mission, above and beyond the call of duty.

The Task Force Command Ship was also equipped with a Presidential Conference and Stateroom.  This official looking stateroom we were told is used for meetings and conferences, and contained a long conference table. At one end was a chair, which remained vacant!  Above this vacant chair was the Great Seal of the Confederacy.  Only the President Confederate States of America could sit in this chair, when that office was eventually filled.  The presence of such a State and Conference Room was to send a message, and it certainly fulfilled that mission, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

ONBOARD THE C.S.S. VIRGINIA


The Conference Room was equipped with the Confederate States Great Seal, Current Confederate States National Flag, Navy Jack and a Presidential Flag, designed from a Second National, often called the Stainless Banner, with the Great Seal in the white field.  These flags were made of the finest material, edged in gold and mounted on stands befitting the Confederate States President.  Several pictures hung about the bulkheads, which depicted the Generals and Admirals of the Confederate States of America's General Staff, as well as heroic scenes of valor.
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The air about these spaces made one's mind drift back to another time and place!  Back to the War for Southern Independence!  One almost expected Jefferson Davis himself to walk through the Stateroom door.  The Wax Works of London England, had been contracted to produce an exact replica of President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Admiral Raphael Semmes, clothed in their period attire, weapons and accoutrements.  They were so stunning, they looked exactly like the actual individuals depicted!
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These figures were mounted behind shatter proof, bulletproof glass!  The intent was to make this fleet, this ship, as well as its Presidential Conference and Stateroom, look totally official in every way.  And they succeeded beyond all expectations!  The other ships of the fleet, beginning forward of the formation, and moving circular to starboard;
C.S.S Mississippi (CSS 002), C.S.S. Florida (CSS 003), C.S.S. Alabama (CSS 004), C.S.S. Georgia (CSS 005), C.S.S. Louisiana (C.S.S. 006), C.S.S. Texas (CSS 007) and the C.S.S. Arkansas (CSS 009).

Then there was the C.S.S. North Carolina (CSS 010), C.S.S. Tennessee (CSS 011), C.S.S. Missouri (CSS 012),
and the C.S.S. Kentucky (C.S.S. 013).  Those familiar with naval ship numbers know these are odd numbers for a battle fleet.  However, it must be remembered, technically this is no military task force, but rather, a public relations memorial fleet.  Earlier it was ask, what kind of fleet we saw anyhow?  Well, a portion of the answer laid in its description, as public relations, memorial, and training fleet.

What kind of ships constitutes such an unusual fleet?  They were all, the largest 'Man a War' Sailing Ships' ever built, every one of them.  This could be seen as their five huge masts arose high into the sky.  The largest masts ever constructed for a sailing ship!  These ships had been designed, using extremely advanced knowledge, design, technology and material.  The outward appearance was at the same time same time, quite similar as those of the 'Ole Ships of
the Line.’

FIREPOWER OF THE FLEET

We could see nothing of the enemy, until an explosion was spotted high in the air, at a long distance off. First in one location, then coming from various directions! It turned out that a terrorist group, with the support of one of their allied nations in the middle east, had launched what they thought would be a sneak attack, using both aircraft and missiles.  None got close enough to penetrate the fleet's defensive circle. Likely the terrorist believed the appearance of these ships to be their true nature, that they were only ancient sailing ships.

As quickly as it began, it was over and conditions were relaxed. We finished the tour and kindly gave our thanks to the Chief Boatswain's Mate.  But my short few hours in a Confederate Combat Zone, is one I shall never forget. Particularly with our side being the unquestioned victor; finally!

PORTS OF CALL

These ships are expected to anchor in England, France, Germany and Italy!  Then onward to Asia, before heading to their homeport, which for security reasons is not yet the Southland.  The Confederate Task Force One remains for the present, a nomadic Confederate States Naval Fleet in exile.  Their long voyage home will not end, short of the liberation of their own homeland, the Confederate States of America.  On that great and wonderful day, we shall all welcome our boy’s home, with parades, celebrations, cheers, bands, and a few stanzas of Dixie.  In the meantime, we were not told in advance of our present heading, until we came within the 25 limits of the Biscay Bay, then we knew.

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The Ship's Captain came over the intercom! Confederate Task Force One will lie at anchor in Biscay Bay, and our port of call will be Bordeaux France.  An official delegation will meet our Command Staff and a French Salute will be rendered to our assembled naval personal as well as the ships of our fleet.  As we rounded the Northwestern tip of Spain, we were surprised at what greeted us.  A long line of French Yachts and Pleasure Boats were giving us a pass and review, with a formal salute.  Cheers could be heard over the loud speakers coming from the French vessels.

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We discovered later, the crowds, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands, already lined the piers awaiting our arrival.  An even larger number, approximately 1.5 million, awaited us in town!  A formal ceremony was arranged for us in the City of Paris, which we were obliged to attend, and happily so.  The parade through Paris was reminiscent of the victory parades during the closing days of the Second World War, as allied troops liberated Paris.  Long columns of French Army, Navy and Air Force troops, gave a pass and review, in our honor.  Could this be really happening, or would I wake up and find it was all just a pleasant dream?

SETTING SAIL FROM FRANCE

The outward appearance of these ships, effectively masqueraded their true capabilities.  They could hoist down those huge masts in record time, and engage their powerful turbines.  These turbines, could easily power these ships at record speeds.  Their weaponry included the first true functional laser cannons, capable of penetrating battleship steel at the edge of the horizon, in seconds.  When bounced off satellites, these weapons could reach across continents, with devastating accuracy.  These weapons were controlled by the best and most advanced computer technology, with back up provisions.

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And these ships could shoot as far as they could see which was about any distance; thus their intelligence and firepower was awesome.  Though few people upon earth suspected as much!  One could not comprehend their firepower by their appearance, which took on the spectacle, of Grand Ole Ships of the Line sailing across the seas in honor and glory; innocent and harmless in a modern setting.  This view was precisely how they were designed to appear!
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A certain percentage of their weaponry was conventional, but these were deemed cumbersome and outdated, which were stocked primarily for training and display purposes.  The means by which these ships came into being has been closely guarded, as beyond top secret.  But it is sufficient to say, given their awesome firepower; they have no equal upon the earth.  Their appearance seemingly so unlikely, for modern ships of war! This magnificent ship seemed to leisure along at 12 knots under full sail, heading for the finest ports of call in the world.

TOUR OF THE SHIP

The Ship's Captain commanded his Chief Boatswain's Mate to give us a tour of the ship, so our entire Lady Varina crew follows him about.  Our tour was a trip back in nautical time, and yet it was difficult to remember, these ships were the most technologically advance upon earth. While at the same time, they were floating museums, right out of the pages of history!  We heard commands given, which I had not heard since an Ole Chief Warrant Officer gave historical lessons, when I was but a young sailor.  These modern Confederate Sailors were learning the true art of seamanship.

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The best of the old, along side the finest of the new; oddly enough, even out on deck, we could see little outward signs of modern weaponry. However we were about to find out in no uncertain terms, when a drill was called; Man your battle stations, this is no drill came over the intercom. It was none-the-less pleasant to hear the command given with a distinct Southern Accent.   Men began rushing about the decks, and the Chief Boatswain's Mate directed us aside, and out of the way, as he himself began shouting orders.  Certain portholes and hatches began opening at various points about the deck!

In at least two locations, both forward and aft, elevated laser cannon ascended from the deck, on a circular platform.  The gun mount crew stood present and ready on the platform!  We eventually departed France, in route to England, and as I look back on the voyage, it still appears as something out of a fairy tale, yet it happened.  We had set sail form Bordeaux France, and our crew from the Lady Varina decided to turned in for the night, in the small staterooms provided by the ships
Executive Officer.

Soon we passed off into a deep but needed sleep!  When suddenly we were awakened, and found ourselves back onboard the Lady Varina. Once we regained our composure, we realized we were just east of the Grand Bahamas, and could even see the main island off in the distance, so we quickly set our course.  Still we were stunned to say the least! If it hadn't been that I personally experienced these events, and someone had told me such a story.

I would have thought them lacking of their necessary mental faculties. How did we go to sleep aboard the C.S.S. Virginia (CSS 008) off the coast of France, and suddenly waken east of the Grand Bahamas, onboard the Lady Varina?  How such a fleet could be out there, yet so few people stateside knew of its existence.  These are not ghost ships, they are real and tangible, or are they?  Did we imagine the port of call in France, or did it happen?  My attempts at relating the story to friends, relatives and co-workers proved a total failure.

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So I finally just gave up, and considered it one of those wild stories one tell their grandchildren!  The Ghost Fleet called The Confederate Tasks Force One, or was it a ghost fleet?  Maybe I shall never know!  In the meantime, should you find yourself far out at sea some beautiful evening, under clear starry skies, with good visibility.  Look closely toward the horizons, and see if you can spot The Confederate Task Force One passing in the night.  Then file your report, if it were real, or just an imagined Ghost Fleet!

God save the Confederacy

 

 

 
"Without God's blessing I look for no success, and for every success my prayer is, that all the glory may be given unto Him to whom it is properly due. If people would but give all the glory to God and regard his creatures as but unworthy instruments my heart would rejoice. Alas too frequently the praise is bestowed upon the creature. " --- Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, 31 July 1862.

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