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Emmanuel Dabney
02-10-2007, 04:09 PM
'NAVAL OFFICER'S NIGHTMARE' MORE ON THE CAIRO: The USS Cairo had 17 officers and 158 sailors. Some 43 percent of the crew were immigrants from countries such as England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Greece. Most of the crew had no prior naval training, according to author Elizabeth H. Joyner. Many listed their previous occupation as "none."
February 10, 2007 12:51 am


"WILLIAM WEBB EXPECTED to climb in the ring with an aging George Foreman. What he got was two Mike Tysons in their prime," Maurice Melton quipped.

This sounds like the beginning of a story about boxing, doesn't it? I like watching a good boxing match, but I like Civil War naval history even more--and that's what this column is about. I'll discuss some highlights of the fourth annual Civil War Naval Symposium held in Columbus, Ga. It was sponsored by the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus.

Melton is an associate professor of history at Albany State University in Albany, Ga. His subject, Cmdr. William A. Webb, was a brash young Confederate naval officer who promised the secretary of the navy, Stephen Mallory, that if given the chance he could score a big victory over the Union vessels blockading Savannah, Ga.

Mallory gave Webb command of the powerful ironclad CSS Atlanta, along with the rest of the Savannah Squadron. Thanks to some Confederate deserters who tipped off the Yankees about the imminent raid by the Atlanta, Webb faced two powerful ironclads rather than the weak wooden ships he expected, according to Melton.

Worse still, the Atlanta quickly ran aground on June 17, 1863, as the monitors USS Wee-hawken and USS Nahant approached. "This was a naval officer's nightmare," Melton said.

Unable to bring its guns to bear on the enemy, the Atlanta was helpless as the Weehawken closed and began firing. After four hits from the Weehawken, Webb surrendered, an ignominious defeat for a man who had promised victory.

"His defeat was so complete as to erase him from the history of the war," Melton observed, and he really meant it. "There is not a word about him in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. There's not a document in the Virginia Historical Society about Webb." Apparently the keepers of Virginia's history would prefer to forget about this son of the commonwealth.

USS CAIRO HAD UNIQUE BAD LUCK
Elizabeth Hoxie Joyner, museum curator for Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Miss., discussed a Union warship with a unique, though unfortunate, distinction.

The USS Cairo was one of a class of seven ironclad gunboats built for service on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. While patrolling the Yazoo River on Dec. 12, 1862, the Cairo was sunk by the explosion of two Confederate torpedoes (today we call them mines) over which it passed.

"The Cairo was the first armored warship sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo," according to Joyner.

Today the Cairo holds another distinction: It is the only surviving Union ironclad from the Civil War. Pieces of the USS Monitor have been recovered, including its remarkable revolving turret, but the majority of the ship still lies underwater off Cape Hatteras, N.C. The Cairo is intact.

"[The Cairo] was raised on Dec. 12, 1964, which was 102 years to the day she sank," Joyner noted. After much conservation and using some reconstructed parts to replace missing original components, the Cairo is on display under a big canopy at the Vicksburg military park. Visitors can walk onto the gun deck and peer through the gun ports.

"The USS Cairo: History and Artifacts of a Civil War Gunboat" is Joyner's recent book describing the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the Cairo. The author notes some surprising findings, especially regarding the contents of sealed food containers. "The pepper still retains its smell tobacco also," she commented. "They even found Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce."

When many people hear "Civil War" and "submarine," they think of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. That's very understandable--the Hunley has received a lot of press attention since its discovery in 1995 and its recovery from the ocean floor near Charleston, S.C., in 2000.

Something that hasn't received much attention is that the Union navy had a submarine, too--the USS Alligator. Mark Ragan, author of "Submarine Warfare in the Civil War," spoke about the Hunley and the Alligator.

The Alligator was different in several crucial respects from the better-known Hunley. The Confederate submarine attacked an enemy vessel by ramming a torpedo attached to a long spar into its side. The Alligator did its damage by allowing a diver with breathing apparatus to leave a watertight chamber while the vessel was underwater and place explosive charges under the hulls of enemy warships.

Another role for the Alligator's divers was to use explosives or other means to destroy enemy obstructions blocking the movement of Union warships into Confederate-held harbors and rivers, Ragan explained.

Initially, the Alligator was propelled by a row of oars on each side. Later the oars were removed and a hand-cranked propeller, similar to that on the Hunley, was used.

The Union navy wanted to use the Alligator to attack the CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads. Construction delays prevented that. It arrived in Hampton Roads, under tow from Philadelphia, on June 23, 1862. This was the first day the U.S. Navy had a functioning submarine in a combat zone, according to Ragan.

It was too late to attack the CSS Virginia--more than three months too late. By the time the Alligator arrived, the Confederates had already destroyed the Alligator's intended prey.

On May 11, 1862, after losing the Virginia's home port at Norfolk, the Confederates could not move the ironclad past a sandbar at the mouth the James River to its new base at Richmond, and so blew it up to prevent its capture.

The next destination for the Alligator was Charleston. While under tow from Hampton Roads, the Alligator sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras on April 2, 1863--a fate eerily similar to that of the USS Monitor in the same place three months earlier.

Expeditions sponsored by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2004 and 2005 searched unsuccessfully for the Alligator. Rest assured: They are not finished looking for the U.S. Navy's first submarine!

Scott Boyd is a freelance writer living in Spotsylvania County. Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance star.com.

Copyright 2007 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.

Online at: http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2007/022007/02102007/257328

markj
02-10-2007, 04:12 PM
For your perusal and edification:

http://www.amazon.com/USS-Cairo-History-Artifacts-Gunboat/dp/0786422572/sr=8-2/qid=1171141801/ref=sr_1_2/104-3529833-9659931?ie=UTF8&s=books

Here is Edwin C. Bearss' classic tome dealing with the recovery of the Cairo:

http://www.amazon.com/Hardluck-Ironclad-Sinking-Salvage-Cairo/dp/0807106844/sr=8-1/qid=1171141801/ref=sr_1_1/104-3529833-9659931?ie=UTF8&s=books

Regards,

Mark Jaeger

Union Navy
02-12-2007, 12:07 PM
Hooray for things Naval! Thanks, Emmanuel.

[QUOTE=Emmanuel Dabney;49674]'NAVAL OFFICER'S NIGHTMARE' MORE ON THE CAIRO: The USS Cairo had 17 officers and 158 sailors. Some 43 percent of the crew were immigrants from countries such as England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Greece. Most of the crew had no prior naval training, according to author Elizabeth H. Joyner. Many listed their previous occupation as "none."[QUOTE]

That was usual for the Navy, especially the Mississippi Squadron. Most that had a previous occupation listed "laborer" and many others worked with machines. The Mississippi Squadron was chronically short of sailors throughout the war. Many ships had immigrants as large percentages of their crew, sometimes well over 50%, and from almost everywhere in the world, including Hawaii (a.k.a. the Sandwich Islands).


[QUOTE]Unable to bring its guns to bear on the enemy, the Atlanta was helpless as the Weehawken closed and began firing. After four hits from the Weehawken, Webb surrendered, an ignominious defeat for a man who had promised victory.[QUOTE]

The USS Weehawken was armed with 15" Dahlgrens, which firerd very slowly (once in 3 to 5 minutes) but hit hard (the solid shot weighed 440 lbs.). The CSS Atlanta's armor and timber backing were actually penetrated. The Atlanta surrendered before the Nahant could even get in position, and became the USS Atlanta. It wasn't until late WWI that American warships carried larger guns (the 16" of the Colorado class)


[QUOTE]Expeditions sponsored by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2004 and 2005 searched unsuccessfully for the Alligator. Rest assured: They are not finished looking for the U.S. Navy's first submarine! [QUOTE]

The USNLP (www.usnlp.org) is also helping in the effort through outreach and publicity at events and online. It is extremely rare for us to talk to anyone who knows anything about the Alligator, so we have our work cut out for us.

sauguszouave
02-13-2007, 03:37 PM
"The USS Weehawken was armed with 15" Dahlgrens, which firerd very slowly (once in 3 to 5 minutes) but hit hard (the solid shot weighed 440 lbs.). The CSS Atlanta's armor and timber backing were actually penetrated. The Atlanta surrendered before the Nahant could even get in position, and became the USS Atlanta. It wasn't until late WWI that American warships carried larger guns (the 16" of the Colorado class)"

This action is interesting from a number of different perspectives. For one, it reflected the difference between the competing styles of ironclads. The Atlanta was a casemate ironclad (and so was the Cairo) and the Weehawken was a monitor. A casemate ironclad can carry more guns, but they have limited arcs of fire. The Weehawken had only two guns, but they were mounted in a revolving turret. The action was fought in a narrow, winding river. When the Atlanta ran aground, she was completely helpless because she could not maneuver to bring her guns to bear.

The riverine nature of the war also dominated the design of ironclads on both sides. While the French and British built deep-draft, ocean-going broadside ironclads, the US and CS built shallow-draft ironclads because they had to be able to get into shallow harbors like Charleston, SC. That presented a problem when the ironclads had to go off shore in deep water, witness the sinking of the Monitor in a December storm. The Atlanta served in the James River flotilla after she was captured protecting Grant's supply base at City Point, VA.

By the way, the only two surviving short-barreled 15" Dahlgrens from the American Civil War are in Sweden at John Ericson's grave. (Ericson designed the Monitor.)

Regards,

Paul Kenworthy

(from Saugus, birthplace of Assist Sec of the Navy, Gustavus Fox, hence the monitor USS Saugus, walking distance from Nahant, hence the monitor USS Nahant)

Union Navy
02-13-2007, 04:52 PM
The riverine nature of the war also dominated the design of ironclads on both sides. While the French and British built deep-draft, ocean-going broadside ironclads, the US and CS built shallow-draft ironclads because they had to be able to get into shallow harbors like Charleston, SC. That presented a problem when the ironclads had to go off shore in deep water, witness the sinking of the Monitor in a December storm.

The earlier monitors were not open-sea craft, partly because of the deck-hull overhang that Ericson insisted on - waves would batter this from underneath at sea. The later double-turreted monitor USS Miantnomah crossed the North Atlantic to Europe after the war. The voyage, while sometimes harrowing (monitors tended to go through waves rather than over them), was successful.

Three cheers for Gustavus Vasa Fox, who energetically pushed forward so many advances in the hidebound Navy (200 years of tradition uninterrupted by progress).

sauguszouave
02-14-2007, 10:59 AM
The earlier monitors were not open-sea craft, partly because of the deck-hull overhang that Ericson insisted on - waves would batter this from underneath at sea. The later double-turreted monitor USS Miantnomah crossed the North Atlantic to Europe after the war. The voyage, while sometimes harrowing (monitors tended to go through waves rather than over them), was successful.

Three cheers for Gustavus Vasa Fox, who energetically pushed forward so many advances in the hidebound Navy (200 years of tradition uninterrupted by progress).

Monitors actually became something of a rage in Europe right after the American Civil War, but I think the design path to Dreadnought was more along the lines of turreted Laird rams. Having your decks completely awash in any kind of a seaway gets old after awhile. I realize that in the days of the sailing navy, they thought you weren't driving her hard enough if the lee rail wasn't under, but at least you could keep your feet dry by keeping to the weather rail and you got to breath fresh air. Crewing a monitor in a seaway is like crewing a submarine, the officers in the con get to see the sky, but everyone else gets thrown around in the dark while condensation drips on them from the overhead.

I'm kind of a fan of Fox too, even though his in-laws apparently called him "Fatty" behind his back.

I also tend to think of the US Navy before the Civil War as rather technologically progressive, especially considering its small size. USS Princeton, first steam-powered warship using Ericson's patented screw propeller, for example. Or USS Niagara laying the trans-Atlantic cable.

By the way, I like your signature. The 12-pdr Dahlgren boat howitzer was one of the finest, and most under-appreciated, pieces of ordnance in the war. But then I like 6.4" naval Parrott rifles too.

Regards,

Paul Kenworthy

Gary of CA
03-12-2007, 01:23 AM
I've read the NPS booklet on the Cairo (Kay-ro as it's pronounced in the Midwest) as well as Bearss book, Hardluck Ironclad. Also read Thomas Selfridge's memoirs (last skipper of the Cairo and it didn't answer my question. So, I asked Bearss when he was out here in California in Nov. 2006 (Civil War Naval Conference) and he couldn't tell me. Can anyone tell me whether Selfridge had his men dress up and button up their collars aboard the Cairo as well as kept his gunports closed? It must have been an oven in that ironcald. :cry_smile