USS Mississippi: Ship of the Manifest Destiny    

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Battle of Port Hudson, J.O. Davidson, artist. Facsimile print by L.. Prang & Co., 1887. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

When Matthew Calbraith Perry joined the U.S. Navy in 1809, he entered a service of sailing ships and smoothbore cannon. Yet, by the time of his death on March 4, 1858 — from rheumatism, complicated by gout and alcoholism — Perry was known as the “Father of the Steam Navy.”

Perry guided the US Navy’s transition from sail to steam and shot to shell. It was he who recognized how these new tools would ensure the Navy’s ability to project American trade and power throughout the world. His creations became a symbol of America’s industrialization and the Manifest Destiny.   Read more

The First Ironclad Emerges: Battle of the Head of Passes

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Confederate 6.4-inch banded rifle, 1862. This is the weapon type used as the bow pivot gun on CSS Ivy. Note the 100-pound conical projectile at the right rear of the gun carriage.  Courtesy of Library of Congress, CWPB 01053.

When the Civil War erupted, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory knew that the South could only counter and defeat the larger US Navy if ironclads were employed.  Mallory immediately ordered the construction of ironclads. The first project was the conversion of USS Merrimack into CSS Virginia at the Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia. Mallory then ordered two ironclads laid down in New Orleans, and another two built in Memphis, Tennessee. These vessels could not be built fast enough to stem the Union’s advance against Confederate ports.

Ironclad Imagined

The urgent need for ironclads was recognized by New Orleans Commission Agent Captain John Stephenson who also served as secretary of the New Orleans Pilots’ Benevolent Association.  Stephenson went to meet with President Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Alabama, to ask for the use of a heavy tug, altering it to make it “comparatively safe against the heaviest guns afloat, and by preparing … bow in a peculiar manner … rendered them capable of sinking by collision the heaviest vessels ever built.” With Davis’s approval, Stevenson returned to New Orleans to build an ironclad privateer, quickly raising more than $100,000 in subscriptions.   Read more

April Artifact of the Month – Baseball Series

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Baseball autographed by Yogi Berra. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Baseball autographed by Yogi Berra. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

In honor of America’s pastime and the recent start of the baseball season, this month’s artifact is a collection of baseballs from here at The Mariners’ Museum. There are currently three here at the museum with one on display and two that are not on display, and hidden in the hold. While a baseball does not sound like something that would usually be present at a maritime museum, these all have provenance that legitimizes their right to be here.

The two baseballs that are not on display were owned by William Frances Gibbs, a naval architect most well known for his design of  SS United States. Along with his brother Frederic, Gibbs designed 1,000 foot ocean liners and eventually began producing the ships in the early 1900’s after encouragement from the Navy and with the funding of J.P. Morgan. The brothers produced designs for ships from their naval architecture firm, Gibbs & Cox, and produced plans for thousands of ships during World War II. The baseballs themselves were the personal property of William Gibbs and were included with a number of other personal items that were accessioned into the collection.   Read more