The ship was built in 1862 as the fast merchantman Japan. She had a round stern, iron frame, fiddle-bow figurehead, short, thick funnel and full poop. Being an iron hull, she was clearly unsuited to long cruises without drydocking during a period when antifouling under-body coatings were yet unknown. Commander James Dunwoody Bulloch, a key Confederate procurement agent overseas, would have nothing to do with iron bottoms, but Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury settled for Japan because wood (which could be coppered) was being superseded in Great Britain by the new metal; consequently wooden newbuilding contracts were not easy to buy up in British shipyards.
The Confederate States Government purchased her at Dumbarton, Scotland, in March 1863. On April 1, she departed Greenock, reputedly bound for the East Indies and carrying a crew of fifty who had shipped for a voyage to Singapore. She rendezvoused with the steamer Alar off Ushant, France, and took on guns, ordnance and other stores. On April 9, 1863 the Confederate flag was hoisted and she was placed in commission as CSS Georgia, Commander William Lewis Maury, CSN, in command. Her orders read to prey against United States shipping wherever found.
Calling at Bahia, Brazil and at Trinidad, Georgia recrossed the Atlantic to Simon's Bay, Cape Colony, Africa, where she arrived on August 16. She sailed next to Santa Cruz, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, thence up to Cherbourg, arriving October 28. During this short cruise she captured nine prizes.
While she was undergoing repair at Cherbourg in late January 1864, it was decided to shift her armament to CSS Rappahannock. The transfer was never effected, and Georgia was moved to an anchorage three miles below Bordeaux. On May 2, 1864 she was taken to Liverpool and sold on June 1 to a merchant of that city over the protest of Charles Francis Adams, Sr., United States Minister to Great Britain. The steamer again put to sea on August 11, and four days later was captured by the frigate USS Niagara off Portugal. She was sent into Boston, Massachusetts, where she was condemned and sold as a lawful prize of the United States.
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