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The Liberty Ship The James Longstreet
The Restricted Zone. "Restricted because of the James Longstreet, a Liberty Ship grounded on the Eastham [Cape Cod] flats in 1944 and known ever since as the Target Ship. For thirty years military fliers had bombed, rocketed and sandbagged the old hulk, but she never sank...." From the novel Cape Cod by William Martin.
Yes, there really is such a ship, or at least there was. Built in Houston and launched in October 1942, the SS James Longstreet was one of 2,708 cargo ships built to move supplies overseas during WWII. The ship was in active wartime service for less than one year and made three voyages abroad with stops in Australia, India, Ceylon, Liverpool, Halifax and Wales. When back in the U.S. it passed through harbors in Savannah, New York City and Boston.
Being a cargo ship was not easy duty. Fear of enemy attack required that the ship keep its guns in good working order. And on its third and final voyage in the fall of 1943, the SS James Longstreet collided in heavy fog with the British ship names West Point, setting off a round of lawsuits and counter suits. Later that year, the SS James Longstreet was one of four ships run aground while off Sandy Hook New Jersey during a severe storm. Enough damage was done to her hull that she as declared a "constructive total loss" and was assigned to a ship graveyard.
In January 1944 the ship was towed to a Brooklyn shipyard to have its machinery removed. Soon after, the Navy aquired the Longstreet as a target ship to test its air-to-surface missiles for its Pelican Project. During the summer and early fall of that year the ship stood up to the Navy's worst. But during a storm in November of that same year, the Longstreet broke loose from its moorings and drifted away. Once found, it was towed to Norfolk, VA where it sat idle on the Chesapeake.
This time it was the Navy's guided missile project Dove which called the ship to service. She was moved under tow to the New Found Shoal of Eastham Massachusetts where the ship stood up for many years to frequent and aggressive target practice. In 1970 the rain of bombs, rockets and bullets stopped and it was decided to leave the riddled and rusty vessel to sit in place in peace. For all these years, the ship kept residents company and visitors confounded.
In 1978 the Longstreet Preservation Society was formed to dedicate itself to "...the collect and dissemination of both historical fact and native folklore about the derelict old Liberty Ship, for as long as the old girl stays around...." That year they reported on Mrs. Helen McAllister Brown Schwind, a Virginia native whose great-grandfather served in Jeb Stuart's cavalry. Mrs Schwind characterized the ship's use as a Navy target ship as "...Yankee pilots still beating the heck out of the South--even though the Civil War is over!" She also wanted the ship to be referred to as the SS General James Longstreet stating "That's the least they could do."
Noel Beyle, LPS's Executive Director tells me that the much distress hulk of the Longstreet sank during an April snowstorm in 1996. And although the citizens of the area may not know too much about the General whose name the ship bears, Mr. Beyle assures me that "...the name Longstreet on Cape Cod evokes very warm feelings...." Even though the ship is gone from view, it's good to know that others are looking after the General's namesake.
All information used in this report is from The Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay and The Target Ship Goes to War! by Noel Beyle. Both publications are in the Longstreet Society's Matthew Reynolds Memorial Library at the Piedmont Hotel. Please stop by and read about the ship.