Commerce Raider CSS NASHVILLE

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Nashville/Rebel. Pen and Ink Drawing. Samuel Ward Stanton, artist, ca. 1890-1910. The Mariners’ Museum 1988.0041.000446

The CSS Nashville was the first Confederate warship to be recognized by Great Britain when the commerce raider arrived in Southampton, Great Britain, on November 21, 1861. This caused a diplomatic estrangement between Great Britain and the United States simultaneously with the infamous Trent Affair. Virtually trapped in Southampton by USS Tuscarora, thanks to the British Foreign Enlistment Act, Nashville was able to escape and run through the blockade into Beaufort, North Carolina. The Nashville ended its commerce raiding career when it was sold to become a blockade runner at Georgetown, South Carolina. Nevertheless, CSS Nashville played an important role in the Confederate search for European recognition.

FAST MAIL STEAMER

The Nashville was built as a fast screw steamer constructed by William Collyer of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it launched on September 22, 1853.Commissioned as United States Mail Steamer, the sidewheeler Nashville maintained  a passenger run between New York and Charleston, South Carolina. The ship’s characteristics were as follows:   Read more

Gosport in Crisis

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USS Merrimack, ca. 1855. Lithograph after drawing by G.G. Pook. Courtesy of US Naval History & Heritage Command NH#46248

Tensions were rising throughout the South during the first week of April 1861. While the Upper South had yet to join the Confederacy, the Lincoln administration was alert to the threatening war clouds and the possibility of states, like Virginia, leaving the Union. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recognized that Gosport Navy Yard and the steam screw frigate USS Merrimack were tempting targets for pro-secessionist Virginians. Accordingly, on April 10,1861, Welles advised Gosport Navy Yard commandant Flag Officer Charles Stewart McCauley that he must show great vigilance in protecting the yard. He stated that it was important that one of the US Navy’s most modern warships, Merrimack, be repaired and moved to another navy yard. Welles added that McCauley was to do nothing to upset the Virginians and to use his best judgment in discharging his duties to protect Gosport. Welles concluded, it is “desirable that there should be no steps taken to give needless alarm.”

 Merrimack Readies for Sea

Gosport’s commandant responded by telegram on April 11, stating that it would take a month to revitalize Merrimack’s dismantled engines. Welles was shocked by McCauley’s reply, calling the yard commandant “feeble and incompetent for the crisis.” He sent US Navy’s chief engineer, Benjamin Franklin Isherwood, to Gosport to prepare Merrimack for sea. Isherwood estimated that it would take him a week to rework the ship’s engines. Commander James Alden was ordered to accompany Isherwood and assume command of the frigate. They arrived at Gosport Navy Yard on April 14, 1861. Isherwood immediately set to work restoring Merrimack’s  machinery.   Read more