Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Vicksburg Battlefield, Part Four, The USS Cairo

The first industrialized war was the American Civil War. Yes, there were conflicts after the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, but railroads and the telegraph didn't figure into the fighting or strategy. Nor did ironclad warships, forerunners of today's naval vessels.

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-related posts:

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

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juandos said...

Hey Marathon, great site here...

BTW I've done the very trip you detail here...

Its an amazing walk through our collective history...

Personally I thought that Antietam was the site that moved me most considering the outright carnage (not that there wasn't carnage at the other sites) that happened there is such a relatively short time...

Just scary thinking about it...

The Civil War brought us railroads and telegraphs in a very big way...

It brought us what might be considered a quantum leap in gunnery and armor also...

Heady but heavy stuff sir...

Great posting!

John Ruberry said...

Why, thank you!

I visited Antietam in my teens, the countryside of Shilh reminded me of that Maryland battle.

Levois said...

The Cairo looks like it was quite the ship in its day.

Micro Niche Finder How to said...

The USS Cairo was a great Ironclad, I’m glad there’s something left of it. I love Civil War Ironclads, especially the Confederate ones. It was incredible what the South could do considering their lack of manufacturing capability. To learn more about the diversity of CSA Ironclads of the American Civil War and a few of the Union ones, too, go to CSA Civil War Ironclads