CSS Tennessee (1863)

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CSS Tennessee
Career (CSA) Confederate Naval Jack Confederate Navy Jack
Name: CSS Tennessee
Builder: Henry D. Bassett
Laid down: October 1862
Launched: February 1863
Commissioned: 16 February 1864
Fate: Captured, 5 August 1864
Career (USA) 100x35px
Name: USS Tennessee
Acquired: 5 August 1864
Commissioned: 5 August 1864
Decommissioned: 19 August 1865
Fate: Sold, 27 November 1867
General characteristics
Type: Ironclad warship
Displacement: 1,273 long tons (1,293 t)
Length: 209 ft (64 m)
Beam: 48 ft (15 m)
Draft: 14 ft (4.3 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine
Speed: 5 knots (5.8 mph; 9.3 km/h)
Complement: 133 officers and men
Armament: 2 × 7 in (180 mm) Brooke rifles
4 × 6.4 in (160 mm) Brooke rifles
Armor: 6 in (150 mm) iron-plate with wood backing
Service record
Commanders: Admiral Franklin Buchanan
Operations: Battle of Mobile Bay
Siege of Fort Morgan

CSS Tennessee, an ironclad ram, was built at Selma, Alabama, where she was commissioned on February 16, 1864, Lieutenant James D. Johnston, CSN, in command. CSS Baltic towed her to Mobile where she fitted out for action.

Tennessee was laid down in October 1862, hull and other woodwork turned out by Henry D. Bassett, who launched her the following February, ready for towing to Mobile to be engined and armed. Her steam plant came from the steamer Alonzo Child; only casemate design differed materially from CSS Columbia and CSS Texas. Her iron mail was the same 2 by 10 in (50 by 250 mm) plate used on CSS Huntsville and CSS Tuscaloosa but triple instead of double thickness. A fearsome detail of her armament was a "hot water attachment to her boilers for repelling boarders, throwing one stream from forward of the casemate and one aft."

The vicissitudes implicit in creating such an ironclad are graphically conveyed by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, writing September 20, 1863 to Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory:

"The work on the Tennessee has progressed for some weeks past, under Mr. Pierce, as fast as the means in his power would permit. There is much delay for want of plate and bolt iron. It was impossible to iron both sponsons at the same time, as the vessel had to be careened several feet to enable them to put the iron on. Even then several of the workmen were waist deep in the water to accomplish it — to careen her, large beams 12 feet (3.7 m) square had to be run out of her posts and secured, on which several tons of iron had to be placed, and during the progress of putting on the sponson iron the shield iron could not be put on. The work has been carried on night and day when it could be done advantageously. I visited the Nashville and Tennessee frequently and, to secure and control the services of the mechanics, I have had them all conscripted and detailed to work under my orders. Previously, they were very independent and stopped working when they pleased."

(Joseph Pierce, referred to above, was Acting Naval Constructor in the Mobile area.)

Lieutenant (later Commander) James D. Johnston, CSN, commander of the CSS Tennessee

Tennessee became flagship of Admiral Buchanan, and served gallantly in action in the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. On that morning Tennessee and wooden gunboats CSS Gaines, CSS Morgan, and CSS Selma, steamed into combat against Admiral David G. Farragut's powerful fleet of four ironclad monitors and 14 wooden steamers. Unable to ram the Union ships because of their superior speed,[citation needed] Tennessee delivered a vigorous fire on the Federals at close range. The Confederate gunboats were sunk or dispersed. Farragut's fleet steamed up into the bay and anchored. Buchanan might have held Tennessee under the fort's protection but steamed after the Federal fleet and engaged despite overwhelming odds. The ram became the target for the entire Union fleet. Tennessee was rammed by several ships, and her vulnerable steering chains (which, oddly, lay in exposed trenches on the after deck) were carried away by the heavy gunfire. Unable to maneuver, Tennessee was battered repeatedly by heavy solid shot from her adversaries. With two of her men killed, Admiral Buchanan and eight others wounded, and increasingly severe damage being inflicted on her, Tennessee was forced to surrender.

USS Tennessee

Immediately following her capture, Tennessee was commissioned in the United States Navy, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Pierre Giraud in command. The ironclad participated in the Federal assault on Fort Morgan on August 23 which resulted in the fort's capitulation that same day. That autumn, she moved from Mobile, AL to New Orleans, LA for repairs before joining the Mississippi Squadron. She served on the Mississippi river through the end of the war in April 1865 and briefly thereafter. On August 19, 1865, Tennessee was placed out of commission and was laid up at New Orleans. There, she remained until November 27, 1867 when she was sold at auction to J. F. Armstrong for scrapping. Though the remainder of the vessel was scrapped, two 7 inch Brooke rifles and two 6.4 inch Brooke rifles were preserved and are still on display in the Old weapons exhibit in East Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. One of her 6.4-inch (160 mm) double-banded Brooke rifled cannon is on display at the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief U. S. Atlantic Command at the Norfolk, Virginia Naval base.

External links

This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.