CSS ARKANSAS: THE YAZOO CITY IRONCLAD

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CSS Arkansas. Sepia wash drawing, R.G. Skerrett, 1904. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory immediately recognized the need to construct ironclads to defend the South’s harbors and the Mississippi River watershed. By October 1861, there were five ironclads under construction in New Orleans, Cerro Gordo, Tennessee, and Memphis. It would be an extreme challenge to place these ironclads in the water as effective warships with limited industrial infrastructure. It was all about the questions of time, iron, workers, and engines!

CONTRACT SECURED 

Mallory knew that it was imperative to block the Union gunboats’ ascent down the Mississippi River. As Mallory grappled with starting ironclad construction projects, prominent Memphis riverboat constructor and businessman John T. Shirley traveled to Richmond to meet with Mallory to obtain a contract to build two ironclads at Memphis. These boats were to support Confederate fortifications defending the river. Shirley’s contract entailed building the CSS Arkansas and Tennessee at the cost of $76,920 each. Before leaving Richmond, Shirley consulted with Chief Naval Constructor John Luke Porter to gain knowledge of casemate design. [1]   Read more

ROLL, ALABAMA, ROLL! – SINKING OF CSS ALABAMA

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CSS Alabama, ca. 1961. Rear Admiral J. W. Schmidt, artist. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 85593-KN.
Larry Beldt, “Roll, Alabama, Roll!” June 22, 2012. Educational video, 2:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ydhI1G9rYk.

The CSS Alabama, commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, had spent nearly two years capturing and destroying 65 Northern merchant ships and whalers. There were seven different expeditionary raids from the Eastern Atlantic to the Java Sea and back near where the vessel had been built. The commerce raider had become legendary and captured the imagination of most of the world. Many, however, considered Semmes and his ship piratical and it had to be destroyed.

GOD HELPS THOSE THAT HELP THEMSELVES

The Alabama arrived off Cape Town, South Africa, in late July 1863 in a dramatic fashion. The cruiser captured the bark Sea Bride within sight of Cape Town. Semmes sold that merchantman and it’s cargo to a South African citizen. By September 24, 1863,  Semmes set a course across the Indian Ocean, sinking several ships, reaching Singapore on December 21, 1863. There he viewed more than 20 Northern merchant ships rotting unemployed at anchor. He knew that his ship and the other Confederate commerce raiders had been very successful in disrupting US shipping.[1]   Read more