Gettysburg may be the most-visited of America's Civil War battlefields, but they don't have a recovered ironclad on display. Vicksburg does, the USS Cairo.
Part of the Union strategy to defeat the Southern states was to seize control of the Mississippi River, which would not only split the Confederacy in two, but give the Northerners a reliable supply route in what was then called the West.
It took two years, but Federal forces, led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant, accomplished this goal when Confederate forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered on July 4, 1863 after a 47 day siege. (Five days later, upon hearing of the fall of the river bluff town, Port Hudson, Louisiana defenders surrendered.)
As I explained in an earlier post, a brilliant overland campaign by General Grant in the spring of 1863 led to the surrounding of Vicksburg. On the river ironclads shelled Confederate positions--and the town. One of those ships that participated in the campaign was the USS Cairo (pronounced KAY-roh), part of the City class of ironclads. At the suggestion of Admiral Andrew Hull Foote, the ironclads patrolling the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers were named for towns on those waterways: Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, Carondelet (now part of St. Louis), St. Louis, Mound City (Illinois), and of course, Cairo, another Illinois city.
Each ship of this type, sometimes referred to as the Cairo class, was built either in Mound City or Carondelet. Like the Confederate ironclad the Merrimack, the ships were wooden but covered with metal plates. The best known Union ironclad, the USS Monitor, was made completely of iron.
The USS Cairo took part several battles along the Ohio and upper Mississippi Rivers, as well as the first Battle of Nashville.
By late 1862, Southern resistance was concentrated along Vicksburg, and Admiral Foote's ironclads were working to close the ring around the city. But on December 12 of that year, while steaming up the Yazoo River near that body of water's meeting with the Mississippi, the Cairo hit an underwater mine--then called a torpedo--and sank 12 minutes later. There were no casualties.
In the late 1950s searchers began looking for the Cairo wreck, and by 1964, much of the ship, along with many artifacts, was salvaged. In 1977, the remains of the USS Cairo were put on display inside Vicksburg National Battlefield Park, an adjacent museum holds the artifacts.
Near the exhibit is not only the US Navy Memorial, but the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery, which overlooks the Yazoo River Diversionary Canal, where the Mississippi rolled past until changing its course in 1876.
Next: One last look at Vicksburg
- Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Three, Illinois Memorial
- Mississippi River at Vicksburg
- Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Two, State Memorials
- Vicksburg Battlefield, Part One
- Jewish Mississippi
- Memorial Day tribute to our ally Australia
- Memorial Day--a time to remember
Previous My Mississippi Manifest Destiny posts:
- Coca-Cola museums
- Prison laborer in Louisiana
- Natchez Part Three
- Natchez Part Two, Forks of the Road
- Natchez Part One
- The Father of Waters
- The Natchez Trace Part Four, Ghost Town
- The Natchez Trace Part Three
- The Natchez Trace Part Two, Indian Mounds
- The Natchez Trace Part One
- $aving$ in Tupelo
- Where Elvis bought his first guitar
- Elvis Presley's birthplace
- The Battle of Tupelo
- Shiloh Part Four
- Shiloh Part Three
- Shiloh Part Two
- Shiloh Part One
- Carl Perkins
- The Varsity Theatre in Martin, Tennessee
- Lincoln and Kentucky