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Confederacy’s Largest Ironclad

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Confederacy’s Largest Ironclad CSS Tennessee was a casemate ironclad ram built by the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Construction on the vessel that would later became the CSS Tennessee began in Selma, Alabama, in October of 1862. She was built to assist in the defense of Mobile, Alabama, and ultimately to challenge the Union blockade of that port.

Her steam engine was taken from a steamship docked on the Yazoo River, the USS Alonzo Child. Prior to the war the USS Alonzo Child had served on the Mississippi River with Samuel Clemens aboard (aka Mark Twain) serving as her pilot.

The CSS Tennessee was the largest ironclad built by the Confederacy.

With a lenght of 209 feet and a beam of 48 feet, and a draft of 14 feet, she was an impressive ship. She was constructed with six inches of armor in her forward and two inches on her decking. The Tennessee was one of four ships built by Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

The following year the outfitted hull was towed to Mobile for armament and completion. Interestingly it had a “hot water attachment to her boilers for repelling boarders, throwing one water stream from forward of the casemate and one aft.” 

In February 1864, it was commissioned in the Confederate Navy, and by August it was the flagship for Admiral Franklin Buchanan and his small fleet guarding Mobile Bay. 

Civil War : Pulitzer Prize Winning Columbia History Professor Eric Foner on the Civil War

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They engaged the US Fleet under Admiral David Farragut and did as much damage as they could against the faster enemy boats, but the Tennessee was rammed and fired on repeatedly until it surrendered.

The boat was taken and commissioned in the US Navy where it participated in the assault on Fort Morgan and was later sent to New Orleans for repair. 

First Admiral Franklin Buchanan on board The CSS Tennessee single handedly takes on the whole of Admiral Farragut’s US Navy Fleet. The CSS Tennessee can be seen here (above) pouring a deadly broadside into The USS Oneida. Pictured left The USS Chicksaw (Ironclad) fires on “The Tennessee” in an effort to ward off the attack.

CSS Tennessee fights the Union fleet

David Greenway Raney, Jr., In March of 1862, was sent from the CSS Savannah at Savannah to Apalachicola, where he recruited seamen for service at Savannah. In May, he and his company were sent to Drewry’s Bluff, VA. He was transferred to Mobile later that year. When the CSS Tennessee was placed in commission, Raney was put in command of her Marine Guard. He remained in command until Tennessee was captured at the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864.

After her capture, Raney was imprisoned in New Orleans, but he managed to escape on October 13, 1864. He reported back to duty with the Mobile squadron.

Raney remained with the squadron through the battles around Mobile and he was the senior Marine officer present when the squadron surrendered on May 5, 1865. He was paroled at Nanna Hubba Bluff, Alabama on May 10, 1865.

The Tennessee served the rest of the war on the Mississippi River and was sold for scrap in New Orleans in 1867.

The surrender of the CSS Tennessee at the Battle of Mobile Bay, according to Admiral Farragut: “Having passed the forts and dispersed the enemy’s gunboats, I had ordered most of the vessels to anchor, when I perceived the ram Tennessee standing up for this ship. This was at 8:45. I was not long in comprehending his intention to be the destruction of the flagship. The monitors and such of the wooden vessels as I thought best adapted for the purpose were immediately ordered to attack the ram, not only with their guns, but bows on at full speed, and then began one of the fiercest naval combats on record.

The Monongahela, Commander Strong, was the first vessel that struck her, and in doing so carried away his own iron prow, together with the cutwater [forward edge of the stem], without apparently doing her adversary much injury. The Lackawanna, Captain Marchand, was the next vessel to strike her, which she did at full speed, but though her stem [forward end of the keel] was cut and crushed to the plank ends for the distance of 3 feet above the water’s edge to 5 feet below, the only perceptible effect on the ram was to give her a heavy list.

The Hartford was the third vessel which struck her, but as the Tennessee quickly shifted her helm, the blow was a glancing one, and as she rasped along our side we poured our whole port broadside of IX-inch solid shot within 10 feet of her casemate.

The monitors worked slowly, but delivered their fire as opportunity offered. The Chickasaw succeeded in getting under her stern, and a 15-inch shot from the Manhattan broke through her iron plating and heavy wooden backing, though the missile itself did not enter the vessel.

Immediately after the collision with the flagship I directed Captain Drayton to bear down for the ram again. He was doing so at full speed, when unfortunately the Lackawanna ran into the Hartford, Just forward of the mizzenmast [rear mast in three masted ship], cutting her down to within 2 feet of the water’s edge. We soon got clear again, however, and were fast approaching our adversary when she struck her colors and ran up the white flag.

The Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee taken after her capture by Federal forces.

She was at this time sore beset. The Chickasaw was pounding away at her stern, the Ossipee was approaching her at full speed, and the Monongahela, Lackawanna, and this ship were bearing down upon her, determined upon her destruction. Her smokestack had been shot away, her steering chains were gone, compelling a resort to her relieving tackles, and several of her port shutters [shutters covering gun ports] were jammed. Indeed, from the time the Hartford struck her until her surrender she never fired a gun. As the Ossipee, Commander Le Roy, was about to strike her she hoisted the white flag, and that vessel immediately stopped her engine, though not in time to avoid a glancing blow.”

Confederacy’s Largest Ironclad

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