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USS Cairo (1861)

USS Cairo (1861)

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USS Cairo (1861) was a City class ironclad
City class ironclad
The Pook Turtles, or City class gunboats to use their semi-official name, were war vessels intended for service on the Mississippi River during the American Civil War. They were also sometimes referred to as "Eads gunboats." The labels are applied to seven vessels of uniform design built from...

 gunboat
Gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

 constructed for the Union Navy
Union Navy
The Union Navy is the label applied to the United States Navy during the American Civil War, to contrast it from its direct opponent, the Confederate States Navy...

 by James B. Eads during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. She was the first vessel of the City class ironclad
City class ironclad
The Pook Turtles, or City class gunboats to use their semi-official name, were war vessels intended for service on the Mississippi River during the American Civil War. They were also sometimes referred to as "Eads gunboats." The labels are applied to seven vessels of uniform design built from...

s, also called the Cairo class.

Cairo was the first ship sunk by a naval mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

, on 12 December 1862 in the Yazoo River
Yazoo River
The Yazoo River is a river in the U.S. state of Mississippi.The Yazoo River was named by French explorer La Salle in 1682 as "Rivière des Yazous" in reference to the Yazoo tribe living near the river's mouth. The exact meaning of the term is unclear...

.

Service in the American Civil War


Cairo was built in 1861 by James Eads and Co., Mound City, Illinois
Mound City, Illinois
Mound City is a city located along the Ohio River in Pulaski County, Illinois, in the United States. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 692. It is the county seat of Pulaski County.-Geography:Mound City is located at ....

, under contract to the United States Department of War
United States Department of War
The United States Department of War, also called the War Department , was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army...

. She was commissioned as part of the Union Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla, U.S. Navy Lieutenant James M. Prichett
James M. Prichett
James M. Prichett, USN was an officer of the United States Navy who served in the American Civil War.-Biography:Prichett, born in Centerville, Indiana, in 1836, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1857...

 in command.

Cairo served with the Army's Western Gunboat Fleet, commanded by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote
Andrew Hull Foote
Andrew Hull Foote was an American naval officer who was noted for his service in the American Civil War and also for his contributions to several naval reforms in the years prior to the war. When the war came, he was appointed to command of the Western Gunboat Flotilla, predecessor of the...

, on the Mississippi
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Ohio River
Ohio River
The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River. At the confluence, the Ohio is even bigger than the Mississippi and, thus, is hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream...

s and their tributaries until transferred to the Navy 1 October 1862 with the other river gunboats.

Active in the occupation of Clarksville, Tennessee
Clarksville, Tennessee
Clarksville is a city in and the county seat of Montgomery County, Tennessee, United States, and the fifth largest city in the state. The population was 132,929 in 2010 United States Census...

, 17 February 1862, and of Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

, 25 February, Cairo stood down the river 12 April escorting mortar boats to begin the lengthy operations against Fort Pillow. An engagement with Confederate gunboats at Plum Point Bend on 11 May marked a series of blockading and bombardment activities which culminated in the abandonment of the Fort by its defenders on 4 June.

Two days later, 6 June 1862, Cairo joined in the triumph of seven Union ships and a tug over eight Confederate gunboats off Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers....

, an action in which five of the opposing gunboats were sunk or run ashore, two seriously damaged, and only one managed to escape. That night Union forces occupied the city. Cairo returned to patrol on the Mississippi until 21 November when she joined the Yazoo Expedition.

On 12 December 1862, while clearing mines from the river preparatory to the attack on Haines Bluff, Mississippi, Cairo struck a torpedo
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

 detonated by volunteers hidden behind the river bank and sank in 12 minutes; there were no casualties. Cairo became the first armored warship
Warship
A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way from merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuvrable than merchant ships...

 sunk by an electrically detonated mine.

Armament


Like many of the Mississippi theatre ironclads, Cairo had its armament changed over life of the vessel. To expedite the entrance of Cairo into service, she and the other City-class ships were fitted with whatever weapons were available; then had their weapons upgraded as new pieces became available. Though the 8 in (203.2 mm) Dahlgren
Dahlgren gun
Dahlgren guns were muzzle loading naval artillery designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren USN, mostly used in the period of the American Civil War. Dahlgren's design philosophy evolved from an accidental explosion in 1849 of a 32-pounder being tested for accuracy, killing a gunner...

 smoothbore cannons were fairly modern most of the other original armaments were antiquated; such as the 32-pounders, or modified; such as the 42-pounder "rifles" which were in fact, old smoothbores that had been gouged out to give them rifling. These 42-pounder weapons were of particular concern to military commanders because they were structurally weaker and more prone to exploding than purpose-built rifled cannons. Additionally, the close confines of riverine combat greatly increased the threat of boarding parties. The 12-pounder howitzer was equipped to address that concern and was not used in regular combat.
Ordinance characteristics
January 1862 November 1862
• 3 × 8-inch smoothbores
• 6 × 42-pounder rifle
• 6 × 32-pounder rifles
• 1 × 12-pounder rifle
• 3 × 8-inch smoothbores
• 3 × 42-pounder rifles
• 6 × 32-pounder rifle
• 1 × 30-pounder rifle
• 1 × 12-pounder rifle

Discovery of her wreck


Over the years the gunboat was forgotten and her watery grave was slowly covered by a shroud of silt and sand. Impacted in mud, Cairo became a time capsule in which her priceless artifacts were preserved. Her whereabouts became a matter of speculation as members of the crew had died and local residents were unsure of the location.

By studying contemporary documents and maps, Edwin C. Bearss
Ed Bearss
Edwin Cole Bearss , a United States Marine Corps veteran of World War II, is a military historian and author known for his work on the American Civil War and World War II eras and is a popular tour guide of historic battlefields...

, a historian at Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. The park, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Delta, Louisiana, also commemorates the greater Vicksburg Campaign, which preceded the battle. Reconstructed forts and...

, was able to plot the approximate site of the wreck. With the help of a pocket compass and iron bar probes, Bearss and two companions, Don Jacks and Warren Grabau, set out to discover the grave of the Cairo in 1956. The three searchers were reasonably convinced they had found the Cairo, but three years lapsed before divers brought up armored port covers to confirm the find. A heavy accumulation of silt, swift current, and the ever-muddy river deterred the divers as they explored the gunboat. Local enthusiasm and interest began to grow in 1960 with the recovery of the pilothouse, an 8 inch smoothbore cannon, its white oak carriage, and other artifacts well preserved by the Yazoo River
Yazoo River
The Yazoo River is a river in the U.S. state of Mississippi.The Yazoo River was named by French explorer La Salle in 1682 as "Rivière des Yazous" in reference to the Yazoo tribe living near the river's mouth. The exact meaning of the term is unclear...

 mud. With financial support from the State of Mississippi
Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and funds raised locally, efforts to salvage the gunboat began in earnest.

Salvage and museum




Hopes of lifting the ironclad and her cargo of artifacts intact were crushed in October 1964 when the three inch cables being used to lift the Cairo cut deeply into its wooden hull. It then became a question of saving as much of the vessel as possible. A decision was made to cut the Cairo into three sections. By the end of December the battered remains were put on barges and towed to Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg is a city in Warren County, Mississippi, United States. It is the only city in Warren County. It is located northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and due west of Jackson, the state capital. In 1900, 14,834 people lived in Vicksburg; in 1910, 20,814; in 1920,...

. In the summer of 1965 the barges carrying the Cairo were towed to Ingalls Shipyard on the Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, Mississippi
Pascagoula, Mississippi
Pascagoula is a city in Jackson County, Mississippi, United States. It is the principal city of the Pascagoula, Mississippi Metropolitan Statistical Area, as a part of the Gulfport–Biloxi–Pascagoula, Mississippi Combined Statistical Area. The population was 26,200 at the 2000 census...

. There the armor was removed, cleaned and stored. The two engines were taken apart, cleaned and reassembled. Sections of the hull were braced internally and a sprinkler system was operated continually to keep the white oak structural timbers from warping and checking. On 3 September 1971, the Cairo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

.

In 1972, the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 enacted legislation authorizing the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

 to accept title to Cairo and restore the gunboat for display in Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. The park, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Delta, Louisiana, also commemorates the greater Vicksburg Campaign, which preceded the battle. Reconstructed forts and...

. Delays in funding the project halted progress until June 1977, when the vessel was transported to the park and partially reconstructed on a concrete foundation near the Vicksburg National Cemetery. A shelter to cover the vessel was completed in October 1980, with the museum opening in November. The original space-frame shelter has recently been replaced by a tension-fabric system to provide better cover.

The recovery of artifacts from Cairo revealed a treasure trove of weapons, munitions, naval stores, and personal gear of the sailors who served on board. The gunboat and its artifacts can now be seen along the tour road at the USS Cairo Museum. These even include a sailor's rope knife in very good condition, as reported in Knives and their Values, 4th edition by Bernard Levine.

The USS Cairo has been degrading since been exposed to the elements, bird droppings, and vandals who have grabbed a piece of her hull.

Perhaps with the new quarter that will be released in 2011 a fund could be established to enclosed the best-preserved Civil War ironclad. There are only 3 surviving Civil War-era ironclads in existence, CSS Neuse
CSS Neuse
The CSS Neuse was an ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. The remains of the ship can now be seen at an exhibit in Kinston, North Carolina as the CSS Neuse State Historic Site and Governor Caswell Memorial...

, USS Cairo, and CSS Jackson
CSS Muscogee
CSS Muscogee also known as CSS Jackson was a Confederate States Navy ironclad ram, powered by a steam driven screw and deployed on the Chattahoochee River during the American Civil War....

; soon Cairo will be the only one outdoors in the brutal Southern climate.

External links