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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!


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

Way Back Wednesdays

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1971, Building of the Gibbs Gallery

This first picture shows construction on the Gibbs Gallery in 1971.  It was built to commemorate the achievements of William Francis Gibbs, probably best know for designing and supervising the building of SS United States.  In 1922, he and his brother, Frederic Herbert Gibbs began the company that would eventually become known as Gibbs & Cox.

Here we have the Junior League of Hampton Roads in 1961 who acted as tour guides for our visitors.  And behind them is our beautiful eagle figurehead from USS Lancaster.   Read more

Learning to trust Wikipedia

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USS Lancaster Eagle
USS Lancaster Eagle

Coming up with ways to allow the public better access to our collection is something we constantly think about. After all, that’s the main reason we created this blog. Besides this blog, I also try to post an object a week on Twitter for our followers to see. Here’s our Twitter handle if you don’t already follow us, @MarinersMuseum. Another activity I became interested in this past summer was editing Wikipedia. We’re conditioned to believe that Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source and we should not look there for answers (yet we all do anyway), but I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily the case. There are a great many people working to make sure that the articles are well-written and, more importantly, use proper sources. I tend to use Wikipedia as a place to start when I begin researching something. I can usually find a few major details and then some resources that I can turn to for more information.

Knowing that people come to Wikipedia so frequently, whether they admit it or not, I believe it is important for us, the museum, to use the site to let the public know what we can offer them. I have gradually been working on adding our objects to various pages, especially examples from various artists. Some of my favorite additions include a picture of our music box model on the page for the PS Commonwealth, an anchor on the SS Christopher Columbus and a painting for John Cleveley the Elder.   Read more