U.S. Coast Guard Awards
William P. Chadwick
Tylee C. Pearce
Abram J. Jones
Charles W. Flemming
Demarest T. Herbert
William L. Chadwick
David B. Fisher
David B. Clayton
Abner R. Clayton
Britton C. Miller
William H. Brower
Awarded 10 June 1881
On 3 February 1880 the schooner George Taulane of Camden, NJ, with a crew of eight, was bound from Virginia to New York with a cargo of cordwood when it wrecked on the Jersey shore. This wreck produced the most protracted suffering for those on board and involved loss of life. It also became an occasion for perseverance so noble and loyal under the most discouraging hardships and trials for the lifesaving crews engaged. In this they displayed the highest level of heroism without taking into account the dauntless courage which accompanied it. The evening before the vessel was off the Highlands of Navesink in 11 fathoms of water, with every prospect of soon reaching her destination, when a snowstorm began. The weather so thick it became dangerous to attempt a run for Sandy Hook.
The captain, therefore, stood off shore, getting the vessel into 15 fathoms of water. Gradually the storm grew into a furious gale. The schooner labored heavily. At two o’clock in the morning, the deck-load started plunging and staggering vessel. To make matters worse, the schooner was soon on fire communicated from the forecastle stove. The flames spread to her deckload and it was thought that she would have to be abandoned. At length, however, the fire was quenched with great difficulty. During all these troubles the vessel drifted toward the beach. Hoping still to save her, the captain let go both anchors when about a mile from land. This step proved disastrous and made the rescue of those on board a task of stupendous difficulty.
The anchors at first clawed the bottom and brought the vessel head to the wind; but immediately after, the strong current setting to the southward, and the force of the storm, made them drag without holding. The vessel, broadside to the gale, swung helplessly in the trough of the tremendous sea. The water swept everything off her deck and did not give the men time to slip the cables. They could only scramble aloft for their lives. The result was three of them in the fore rigging and four in the main. The violent swaying of the hull almost jerked them from their hold. Going along with the current, they plowed through the breakers. Drawing nearer to the beach they saw the life-saving crew of Station No. 11, Fourth District (NJ).
The crew followed along the shore with lines and heaving-sticks in their hands intent to render assistance. The captain afterwards said that the very fact of seeing this determined squad gave new life to his despairing men. The life-saving crew had seen the vessel nearing the beach. When she dropped her anchors and began to drag along the coast, over two miles south of Station No. 11, they followed joined by a few fishermen who were on the beach. Knowing that no boat could get out in such a sea, they took only heaving-sticks and lines. Furthermore, they wisely calculated that the vessel would ground near Station No.12.
The patrolman of No. 12 had, meanwhile, seen the vessel something over a mile north of that station when she dropped her anchors and hurried back to notify the keeper, Captain. William P. Chadwick. At once he ordered out the mortar-cart with the apparatus and started for the wreck with the crew. The tide was unusually full, being four feet higher on the beach than at ordinary high tides. The beach consequently was covered with a frothing flood and the only road to the wreck was across the skirting beach hills of sand. A number of these hills had been split by the sea and sluices had formed. The water rushed into these every minute under the pressure of the surf and poured back again. In these rushing streams debris soon increased and menaced the adventurous crewmen .who often had to wade hip-deep across these ugly fords.
Soon a man from No. 11 joined the crew of No.12. The conditions of travel over the inundated waste made hauling by hand necessary for at least portions of the distance, but a team of horses, taken along by Chadwick, followed the cart. It was half-past eight when the journey began. The wind was then blowing hard and the sleet came down furiously. On every other side was a dismal stretch of interlocked knolls of sand. The loaded cart thus plodded on for about a quarter of a mile. The horses were then hitched to the cart and got half a mile further. When they reached a deep sluiceway, they refused to pull. The men again took hold and hauled the load across the beach, waist-deep in water. The team was again used until another sluiceway intervened. Once more the men dragged the mortar-cart. The horses were then put on again, but the water got so deep that they could no longer draw. The men took the burden in hand and tugged until they came abreast the wreck between nine and ten o’clock. There they met and were reinforced by Keeper Britton C. Miller and the crew of No. 11. With six additional volunteers the rescue party now numbered nineteen men.
A singular and memorable struggle was now entered upon. The vessel drifted and rolled fearfully. Her hull almost submerged in the foaming seas which fled across it. She was about 400 yards from shore. The crewmen were in her rigging. One of them hung by his arms over a ratline with one leg through below and Keeper Chadwick at once remarked, "There is one man gone; we will never save him." Without delay the Lyle gun was planted on the summit of a sand hill and fired. The line leapt from the muzzle across the flying jib-stay. It could not, unfortunately, be used by the men on board and it had to be hauled back. The vessel continued to drag her anchors to the south and the heroic march along her flank and through the floods and sluices began.
The clefts in the hills had increased and the way was trenched with tide-filled runnels of various depths and breadths. The men splashed and staggered through these with their load. With great labor and difficulty 200 yards were made and a sand hill was reached. From here they fired another shot. The line, however, was now heavier and the firing point was further from the vessel. This shot fell short. The cart was reloaded and the men got on about 400 yards to another unflooded hillock, from whence a third shot was fired. The line parted. The vessel was still reeling along shore in a southerly direction.
The devoted crews again loaded up the cart and resumed their mission. From first to last their difficulties and the perils that beset them never slackened. The wheels of the cart "sanded down" so rapidly that the conveyance had to be constantly kept on the move lest it should be lost. Often, in order to lighten it, the cart had to be partially unloaded and portions of the apparatus carried by the crews. At other times the men would have to fling themselves upon the wheels and hold them with all their strength to prevent the cart from being capsized by the overwhelming rushes of the sea over the axles. All the time, moreover, the ocean tore off and smashed the upper works of the vessel, scattering the pieces. This continued and the surf was full of debris that constantly hurled over the sand hills in the paths of the advancing lifesavers.
On the less inundated ground several men were knocked down by flying pieces of wood. Others suffered bruises and contusions. Four months afterward, Keeper Chadwick’s .right arm was still lame from one of the blows. The escapes were numerous. It was with great difficulty that the men could keep their feet in these conditions. But not a man fell away nor flinched from the work. The volunteers, like the crews, bore the labor with indomitable courage and composure and obediently followed the direction of the leader.
The care and patience observed by the men in their operations were no less remarkable. Not the least difficult of their tasks was keeping the lines and the powder dry. Aside from the number of actual firings, at least a dozen times the cart was hurriedly unloaded on the nearest eminence, the gun planted, and the shot-line arranged for the effort when the wreck would suddenly roll away upon her course. The men would then have to reload the cart and toil on again after her. In this way they worked down along the beach to No. 12 and a quarter of a mile beyond it. When chance offered another shot, the line parted. The crew again moved on stubbornly.
It was now noon, suddenly the man long seen hanging in the rigging, fell into the sea and was gone. The crew still followed the vessel. Half an hour later, they saw another man drop lifeless from the ratlines. Laboring forward now for the rescue of the remaining five, they suffered a misfortune. In staggering and floundering through one of the worst sluiceways with the cart, the gun toppled off into the flood and was lost. A desperate search was at once made, and finally the gun was found in four or five feet of water. Fished up and wiped dry it was, thenceforth, carried by the stout keeper on his shoulder.
A man was dispatched back to No. 12 for a dry shot-line, while the crew moved on to a point three-quarters of a mile below the station. Here they got another chance to fire a shot that fell short. The tide had forced the firing party farther and farther back on the hills and the line was too wet and heavy. The cart was again reloaded and the march resumed. A mile below the station, the man overtook them with the dry shot-line and chance for a sixth shot was offered. This time it was a success. The line flew between the foremast and the jib-stay. The sailors got hold of it and fastened it to the fore and main rigging.
As the schooner still continued to drift and roll nothing could be done, but while crewmen loaded the cart, three or four kept fast hold of the shore end of the shot-line and kept pace with the wreck. At the end of another quarter of a mile, the vessel suddenly stopped and the time had come at last. The whip line, with its appurtenances, was bent on to the shot line, hauled aboard, and made fast by the tail of the block to the mainmast head. The wreck now rolled frightfully. The hawser followed the whip-line on board and the breeches buoy was rigged on. The vessel, however, rolled so that it was impossible to set the hawser up on shore in the usual manner. So it was hove through the bull’s-eye in the sand-anchor, while several men held on to the end to give and take with each roll of the vessel. The work of hauling the sailors from the wreck was now begun with electric energy.
After two men were landed the vessel took the ground, but the circumstance increased her rolling. In fact the breeches buoy with a man in it, swung in the offshore roll fifty feet in the air. The strain and friction upon the hawser were so great that the lignum-vitae bullseye, through which it ran at the sand anchor was worn fully half an inch deep during thirty minutes of use. Within those thirty minutes, however, the five men were safely landed, the last man getting out of the buoy at 2:30.
The distance the life-saving crews followed the vessel with the loaded cart appears to have been over three miles. The time rescue also occupied no less than six hours. When the various conditions of the enterprise are considered, it is nothing less than marvelous that the heroic courage and the lofty endurance of these men were not fruitless, but resulted in a successful rescue. The most experienced beachman said that he never saw a time when the chances of rescue seemed so improbable. That those chances were outweighed is due to the noble pulses that beat so strongly that wild February day in the generous blood of nineteen men, of whom their country have reason to be proud. No commentary can add to the plain record of what they did and suffered for the five men they saved.
The names of the six gallant volunteers assisted with this rescue were William L. Chadwick, Isaac Osborn, David B, Fisher, David B. Clayton, Abner R. Clayton, and Abner Herbert. The crew of No. 11 included Keeper Britton C. Miller and Surfmen William H. Brower, Louis Truex, Abram J. Jones, Charles W. Flemming, and Demerest T. Herbert. Those of No.12 included Keeper William P. Chadwick and Surfmen Peter Sutfin, Benjamin Truex, Tyler C. Pearce, William Vannote, Charles Seaman, James Numan, and John Flemming. The vessel was a total wreck.