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Caption: Photograph of CSS Tennessee (Ironclad Ram) taken after capture by Federal forces

(IrcRam: l. 165'; b. 35'; dr. 11'6"; s. 8 k.; cpl. 200; a. des. for 6 guns; type Arkansas)

Tennessee was begun by John T. Shirley and Co., at Memphis, Tenn., under fixed price contract for $76,920. Chief constructor of the twin-screw ironclad was a Mr. Prime Emerson.

In correspondence with Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk, CSA, throughout January 1862, seeking Army workmen from Columbus, Ky., Secretary Mallory promised for Tennessee and her sister, Arkansas, building at Shirley's yard, that "with such aid as mechanics under your command can afford, they may be completed, I am assured, in 60 days." The desired "shipwrights, carpenters and joiners in the Army" were refused-"on furlough or otherwise" -although the general was reminded that, "One of them at Columbus would have enabled you to complete the annihilation of the enemy . . . Mr. Shirley," Mallory prophesied correctly, "will fail in completing them within the stipulated time entirely from the difficulty of obtaining workmen", although they "would be worth many regiments in defending the river."

Little more is known of the first Tennessee, who was never completed; she was burned on the stocks by order of the provost marshal, 5 June 1862, to escape capture.


(IrcRam: t. 1,273; l. 209'; b. 48'; dr. 14'; cpl. 133; a. 2 7" r., 4 6.4" r.; type Columbia, modified)

Tennessee, a slow-moving ironclad ram, was built at Selma, Ala., where she was commissioned on 16 February 1864, Lt. J. D. Johnston, CSN, in command. 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 Alonzo Child (q.v.); only casemate design differed materially from Columbia and Texas (#5 inf.) Her iron mail was the same 2" by 10" plate used on Huntsville and 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 abaft."

The vicissitudes implicit in creating such an ironclad are graphically conveyed by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, writing 20 September 1863 to Secretary 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 square had to be run out of her posts and s&-cured, 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 was Acting Naval Constructor in the Mobile area.

Tennessee became flagship of Adm. F. Buchanan, and served gallantly in action in the Battle of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. On that morning Tennessee and wooden gunboats CSS Gaines, CSS Morgan, and CSS Selma, steamed into combat against Adm. D. G. Farragut's powerful fleet of four ironclad monitors and 14 wooden steamers. Unable to ram the Union ships because of their superior speed, 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 bravely 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 steering chains 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.

Tennessee was taken into the Navy and was later commissioned on 19 August 1865. She was sold at public auction in New Orleans on 27 November 1867.


(SwStr: t. 1,275[1,149]; dr. 16'6")

Tennessee was a "very strong," oceangoing steamer built in Baltimore in 1854 for Charles Morgan's Texas Line and one of the 14 Morgan ships and tugs seized by Maj. Gen. Mansfield Lovell, CSA, 15 January 1862, at New Orleans. Inspected by Captain Leonard Rousseau, CSN, she was ruled too deep for upriver service as a gunboat, but it was noted that she could carry enough fuel to reach Europe; appropriately, Tennessee was reserved for a Government-operated blockade runner.

She probably made one trip to Havana in February, although four days after her alleged arrival there General Lovell was writing a memorandum that she could not get out of the Mississippi. But she was in New Orleans two months later, when Farragut's forces entered, 25 April. Sold in prize court for $96,000, she was commissioned 2 May 1862, still at New Orleans and name unchanged until 1 September 1864; her renaming was a natural result of the capture of Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee at Mobile Bay in August. As USS Mobile, she was sold at public auction in New York City, 30 March 1865.


Published: Wed Apr 02 10:37:58 EDT 2014