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

IRONCLADS STRIKE: CSS PALMETTO STATE AND CSS CHICORA

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Map, “The Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, SC, August 1863.”
Robert Knox Sneden, artist, 1832-1918. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Something unusual occurred in the early morning darkness of January 31, 1863, when the Confederate ironclad rams, CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, crossed the Charleston Bar and struck the Union ships guarding that blockade runners’ haven. It was the first time that Confederate ironclads had entered the open sea and, in the opinion of Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, had broken the blockade. While the Federal gunboats were quickly back on station, it was a great boost to the defenders of Charleston who were expecting a Union ironclad attack on their harbor.

When General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia on September 24, 1862, he immediately realized the need for active support of the Confederate navy in order to defend harbors like Charleston and Savannah. Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and the Battle of First Manassas, knew that ironclad rams armed with rifled cannon offered the best opportunities not only to protect harbors; but also, to perhaps break the Union stranglehold on Confederate commerce — the cotton for cannon trade so important for the Southern war effort.   Read more

Battle of Port Royal Sound

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Samuel Francis du Pont, ca. 1863. Carte-de-visite. Mathew B. Brady, photographer. National Library of Brazil/World Digital Library online. wdl.org. Accessed October 27, 2020.

The Civil War’s second major amphibious operation was the capture of Port Royal Sound on  November 7, 1861. Flag Officer Samuel Francis Du Pont was the newly minted commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He needed to capture Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, to use as a base for his squadron. Du Pont placed his warships on an elliptical course and forced forts Walker and Beauregard to surrender. The Sound enabled the Federals to maintain a blockade of Charleston and Savannah. The Union’s occupation of South Carolina’s Sea Islands resulted in the Port Royal Experiment. Abolitionists toiled to assist these formerly enslaved people become literate and self-reliant wage earners. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was made law, this coastal region became a recruitment center for African American soldiers.

Blockade Strategy Board

When Fort Sumter fell to the Confederates on April 14, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the southern coastline from Virginia to Texas. Winfield Scott, then general in chief of the US Army, suggested the Union’s primary war aim be a blockade of southern ports, including the capture of the Mississippi River. Scott knew that  the closure of  these ports would end the cotton for cannon trade which was so necessary for the South’s survival. A commission was formed known as the Blockade Strategy Board, also known as the  Du Pont Board.   Read more