Confederate Navy is not forgotten


Yes, the Confederate States of America had a navy. Not only did the ships of the Confederacy ply the high seas, they also operated on the rivers flowing through Dixie. There are today in several locations throughout the South the remnants of ships, gunboats and submarines which were a part of the navy of the Confederacy.

There is even a Confederate Naval Museum located in Columbus, Georgia, on the Chattahoochee River. The City of Columbus built the museum because two Confederate ships, The CSS Jackson and the CSS Chattahoochee, were found in the Chattahoochee River during a severe drought when the river was extremely low.

It was known that the ships were in the river but their exact location was not determined until 1960 when the river fell far below normal. A coffer dam was built around the Jackson, and when the water was pumped out, what remained of the ship was lifted out of the river.

The Jackson was built in Columbus, about a mile upriver from the museum. The ship was one of the largest of the Confederate ironclad ships. It was under construction for more than two years but was still incomplete when Union forces occupied Columbus in 1865 and burned all Confederate government facilities. The ship was cut loose from its moorings and torched. It finally burned to the waterline and sank 30 miles south of Columbus. After 95 years, the ship was recovered and returned to Columbus for public display.

The second ship on display in the museum is the Confederate gunboat Chattahoochee. The ship was built to protect the Chattahoochee River and to help break the Union blockade at Apalachicola, Florida. Following an accidental boiler explosion that killed 19 of its crew, the ship was brought to Columbus for repairs. The gunboat was scuttled by its own officers in March 1865. It was recovered in the early 1960s and put on display in Columbus.

Although the water was low in the river, great difficulty was experienced in raising the Chattahoochee, and those in charge of the project were able to raise only half the boat. Those who are familiar with the raising of the gunboat Cairo from the Yazoo River will remember the many problems faced in the efforts to raise that boat. The two boats on display in Columbus are very much like the Cairo which can be seen at the military park in Vicksburg.

In addition to the two ships which are on display, sections or parts of three other ships have been recreated to show more of daily life in the Civil War Navies of both the North and the south.

The gun turret of the USS Monitor, the U.S. Navy’s first totally ironclad ship, has been reconstructed in the museum. At Hampton Roads, Virginia, the Monitor engaged the Confederate States Ship, the Merimac, in a naval encounter that ended in a draw. The Monitor was lost in a storm off the coast of North Caolina where today recovery efforts are underway. A large original hull plate from the Monitor is on display at the Columbus museum.

A reconstructed section of the USS Hartford gives the visitor an excellent example of life on board a warship in the 1860s. Officers’ quarters are furnished in the period as are the quarters of the ordinary sailors. The office of the ship’s doctor is there as well as the scullery where meals were prepared.

The museum gift shop is well stocked with books about the Confederate Navy. Reproductions of the china used on Civil War ships can also be purchased. Souvenirs of all kinds from flags to key chains are available.

On the grounds of the museum, the Waterwitch, a classic 158-foot side wheel steamship with two 90-foot tall masts and a 48 foot smoke stack is being reconstructed. The Waterwitch was originally built in 1852 for the US Navy. In 1864, the ship was captured by the Confederate Navy and served as a Confederate naval vessel until the Confederacy scuttled her to avoid capture. When completed, this ship will be quite an addition to the museum.

There are several places across the South where Confederate naval enthusiasts can view an assortment of Confederate naval vessels. Certainly, the best preserved Confederate gunboat, the Cairo, can be seen at Vicksburg. A small but excellent museum is located near the Cairo with artifacts taken from the gunboat when it was raised from the Yazoo.

A small submarine can be seen at the Cabildo just off Jackson Square in New Orleans, and the most famous Confederate submarine, the Hunley, has now been raised and is undergoing a restoration in Charleston before it is put on display.

For anyone who is interested in ships of the Confederacy, the museum in Columbus, Georgia, is well worth a visit. It is one of the best arranged and most complete museums I have ever visited. The museum gives a good picture of naval life in the 1860s.

Content © 2008 Neshoba Democrat Publishing Co. Inc.

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