CSS Patrick Henry

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Career Confederate Navy Jack
Name: CSS Patrick Henry
Launched: 1853
Christened: (as Yorktown)
Commissioned: 17 April 1861
Fate: burned to prevent capture 3 April 1865
General characteristics
Displacement: 1300 tons
Length: 250 ft (76 m)
Beam: 34 ft (10 m)
Draft: 13 ft (4.0 m)
Propulsion: steam
Complement: 150 officers and men
Armament: 1 x 10 inch (254 mm) smooth-bore, 1 x 64 pounder (29 kg), 6 x 8 inch (203 mm) guns, 2 x 32 pounder (15 kg) rifles

CSS Patrick Henry was built in New York City in 1853 by the renowned William H. Webb for the Old Dominion Steam Ship Line as the civilian steamer Yorktown, a brigantine-rigged side-wheel steamer. She carried passengers and freight between Richmond, Virginia and New York City. Yorktown had anchored in the James River when Virginia seceded from the Union on 17 April 1861 and was seized by the Virginia Navy and later turned over to the Confederate Navy on June 8. Commander John Randolph Tucker, who commanded the newly organized James River Squadron, directed that Yorktown be converted into a gunboat and renamed Patrick Henry in honor of that revolutionary patriot.


Still commonly referred to as Yorktown, she was assigned to a position near Mulberry Island in the James to protect the right flank of the Confederate Peninsula Army.

On 13 September 1861 and again on 2 December, Commander Tucker took Patrick Henry down the river to a point about a mile and a half above Newport News, Virginia, and opened fire on the Federal squadron at long range hoping to draw out some of the gunboats. The gambit was refused, but Tucker inflicted some minor damage.

During the Battle of Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862 in which Virginia destroyed the Federal warships USS Cumberland and USS Congress, Patrick Henry attempted to take the latter's surrender but was fired upon by shore batteries, and took a shell in her steam chest which killed four men. Towed out of action long enough to make repairs, she soon resumed her former position.

During the historic 9 March 1862 action between Virginia and USS Monitor, Patrick Henry fired long range at Monitor. The Confederate Congress later accorded special thanks to all officers and men for their gallant conduct during the two-day battle.

File:CSS Patrick Henry JT Sharf.jpg
A sketch of the CSS Patrick Henry signed by Midshipman J.Thomas Scharf.

Patrick Henry was also present during some of Virginia's other actions and, in a daring night operation on 5 May 1862, helped remove Confederate property from the Norfolk Navy Yard before it was abandoned to the Federals.

After the surrender of Norfolk, Virginia on 10 May 1862, the James River Squadron, including Patrick Henry, retired up the river to Drewry's Bluff where pursuing Federal ships were repulsed on 15 May.

Patrick Henry was designated an academy ship in May 1862 and underwent appropriate alterations to this end. In October 1863, Patrick Henry housed the floating Confederate States Naval Academy at Drewry's Bluff, where instruction for 52 midshipmen began under the superintendency of Lieutenant William Harwar Parker. Numbers later increased to sixty, with thirteen teachers in attendance. Sometimes she took part in action with the midshipmen on board.

When Richmond was evacuated on 3 April 1865, Patrick Henry was burned to prevent capture. Her cadets were charged with the delivery of a treasury of some CS$500,000 to the new government seat of Danville, Virginia. Each was rewarded with $40 in gold.


The commanders of the CSS Patrick Henry were:[1]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Coski (1996), John M. Capital Navy: The Men, Ships and Operations of the James River Squadron, Campbell, CA: Savas Woodbury Publishers. ISBN 1-882810-03-1.

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