C.S.S. Tennessee, Ironclad!
(Also called Tennessee II or No 2, this was to distinguish it from the Arkansas-class Tennessee)  


A water colour of the CSS Tennessee by F. Muller.


The CSS Tennessee as the USS Tennessee circa 1865.


The CSS Tennessee as the USS Tennessee circa 1865.

The designing and building
        The Tennessee was built as an ironclad ram.  Designed by J.L. Porter she was a modified version of 'Columbia' class ironclad.  Authorized in September 1862
the hull was constructed by Henry D. Bassett on the Alabama River, a short distance from the city of Selma, with the timber for the build cut in the immediate area. She was launched the following 16 February, 1863, with Lieutenant James D. Johnston, C.S.N., commanded of oversee the final construction. (During 1863 five warships were under construction there at the Naval Ordnance Works.)
   
     The casemate for the protection of her battery was 78' 8 long and rose 8' above the deck.  This shield was built of yellow pine and white oak, 23" thick, and built at all 33 degrees with the deck.
        The
massive wooden hull was towed by two steamers to Mobile to have her engine fitted and to be armed.  (These engines were woefully inadequate and their complicated gearing presented still further problems.  Also the Selma works could produce only one gun per week, so they were obtained from Atlanta.)  She also had "a hot water attachment to her boilers for repelling boarders, throwing one stream (of water) from forward of the casemate and one abaft."
   
    
The armor plating was made at the rolling-mills of Atlanta, and arrived quickly.  It consisted of plates of exceedingly tough and malleable iron 7" wide, 2" thick, and 21' long. Three layers of these plates were bolted on the forward end of the shield as far as the after end of the pilothouse, and from their to the termination of the shield two plates of 2" and one of 1" were used, with only 2" on the deck.   Heavy iron shutters were fixed over the gun-ports, which were meant to close automatically when the gun was run back in, but were liable to jamming if struck by shot.
While the armour was being fitted the machinery and guns were placed in position.
        During her construction she was hampered by shortages of material and manpower, Admiral Franklin Buchanan had to conscript civilians at Mobile in order to complete her fitting out.  A serious design fault had the rudder chains left exposed, covered with boiler iron but still very vulnerable.  But about the 1 April 1864 the vessel was ready to receive her crew, although she had no living accommodations.  Johnston was placed in command and immediately promoted to Commander.
Statistics
Displacement   1273 tons
Dimensions      length 209’ (66.1m)
                        beam   48’ (14.6m)
                        draft    14’ (4.3m)
Engines            Two geared non-condensing engines with 24” cylinders and a 7’ stroke driven by four boilers.
   
                    They  were originally thought to have come from the steamer 'Alonzo Child'  but recent
                       research makes this appear unlikely.
Armament       2 x 7 inch Brooke rifles on pivots
                        4 x 6.4” inch rifles
   
                   (Federal service saw 1 x 12 pdr added)
Crew               133
Speed              6-7 knots
To Mobile Bay
   
     Once completed the task of moving the Tennessee down to the join the small fleet in the lower bay had to be faced. This entailed getting the deep draft vessel over the Dog River bar, at the mouth of the Mobile River, only 9 feet deep at high tide  To remove the guns and other ballast to lighten the vessel would decrease the draft by only 4 inches.
   
     To accomplish this wooden pontoons (camels or floats) were proposed to float her over the bar.  This plan was immediately adopted and wood cut and sawn some ten miles up the river.  Just as they were nearly ready they were totally destroyed by fire and they had to be rebuilt.  These pontoons were built to conform to the shape of the hull filled with water then lashed to her side.  They were now emptied. As they emptied the ironclad rose by a mere 2 feet.  New and larger pontoons were now built, these proved successful.
   
     The Tennessee now drawing less than 9' of water was towed over the bar and into the lower bay on the night of May 17.  This was accomplished by two steamers, one of which carried her coal, and the other her ammunition.   Once over the bar the crew were employed during the passage to the bay in transferring these supplies.
       
The Tennessee was one of the best armed and armored ironclads that the Confederacy was able to build and Buchanan had planned to put her to good use by running through the blockade that same night and capture Fort Pickens at the entrance of Pensacola BayBy the time of their arrival and the pontoons had been set adrift it was now nearly mid­night due to this the tide had fallen so much that she had the misfortune to run aground.  Her presence in the bay was revealed by daylight and when the tide rose sufficiently to float the ship the plan was abandoned she was moved down to an anchorage near Fort Morgan.
        Here she remained nearly three months, engaged in exercising the crew at their guns.   While here Johnston addressed, in a letter to the Admiral, certain necessary alterations to the steering chains.  A naval constructor came down from the city to make plans to accomplish this but time ran out.
The Battle
        Mobile was a major port used by blockade runners, this importance was not lost on its defenders. When New Orleans fell, the Confederates expected Mobile to be next, feverish efforts were made to strengthen its defenses. As no Federal troops were available there was time to build up the city's strength.
   
     With the fall of New Orleans Rear Admiral Franklin Buchanan was ordered to assume command of the naval defenses  He began by strengthen, with obstruction in the shape of piling between the two forts, Gaines and Morgan, which guarded the entrance. Torpedoes (mines) were planted in the deeper water, leaving just a narrow channel 500 yards wide so that blockade runners could slip in.
   
     On the evening of the 4 August it could be seen that the blockading fleet, which had recently been reinforced by the arrival of the heavier wooden vessels and the monitors was making preparations to force the passage into the bay so the Confederate defenders did likewise.
  
     The Federal navy blockaded the port during the early war years, but finally, at 0530 on the 5 August 1864, Flag Officer David G. Farrugut attacked with 4 monitor type ironclads and 14 wooden warships.
        Tennessee,  including the wooden gunboats C.S.S. Gaines, Morgan, and Selma who were now stationed at the approaches to Mobile Bay, ninety miles south of the port. 
All hands were immediately called on board the vessels, the anchor was raised and the men assembled at their quarters for action.  The distance from the bar to the entrance of the bay is only about three miles and the Federal vessels were already taking fire from the guns of Fort Morgan when the fleet started moving.
        As the USS Tecumseh reached the center of the channel between the forts, the Tennessee aimed for her but the speed of both vessels was so slow that the sloops advanced beyond them (the Tecumseh was to strike a torpedo (mine)) so the Tennessee now aimed for the leading ship, the Hartford,  hoping to ram her but was easily evaded due to her opponents superior speed.  But they proceeded to follow it.
        Now abandoning the pursuit of the Hartford she turned to aid the gunboats who had put up a brave fight but
Selma had surrendered, Gaines run aground, that night she was set on fire by her crew and sank, and Morgan had escaped to hide under the forts guns.  After engaging the Federal sloops the Tennessee then retired under the forts guns.
   
     The Federal fleet now steamed four miles into Mobile bay and anchored, then hands were piped to breakfast.  At 0850 Buchanan ordered the Tennessee to attack, so leaving the cover of the forts guns the ship turned towards the enemy fleet 'consisting now of ten wooden vessels and the three monitors.'  The Tennessee came within range at 0920 and the uneven fight started.
   
     In the fight she was rammed first by the Monongahela, Lackawanna (twice), and Hartford and had her smoke stack shot away, several gun-port shutters jammed, and finally the rudder chains were shot away, as well as the relieving tackles.
   
     With his flagship unable to move, steer or fire her guns, and with the collapse of the casemate seemingly imminent, Buchanan who was wounded in the battle, authorized her surrender. With the flagpole shot away in the battle Johnston poked a white flag up from the top of the casemate and surrendered
        It was now that the wooden ships retired and the monitors moved in  and the worst damage was inflicted at close range by the 15" guns of the monitor Manhattan and 11"  guns of Chickasaw with this  she finally surrendered. (An officer on the Tennessee described meeting with the 15" Rodman's on the Manhatton  'A hideous monster came creeping up on our port side, whose slowly revolving turret whose turret reveled the cavernous depths of a mammoth gun.....a thunderous report shook us all, while a dense, sulfurous smoke covered our porthole and 440 pounds of iron admitted daylight through our side where, before it struck, there had been over 2" of solid wood covered by 5" of solid iron.')
  
      At 1000 the firing stopped.  The Chickasaw towed the Tennessee and brought her to anchor near the Hartford.  Buchanan surrendered his sword to Lieutenant Giraud, of the Ossippe, who was sent to take charge of the captured ship.  The Tennessee's loss of two killed and 20 wounded, including Buchanan, brought the total for the four ships to 32, with 243 captured sailors.  The Federal fleet had lost 342, which included the greater part of the 114 crew on the sunk Tecumseh.
The end
   
     The former Confederate ironclad was immediately taken into the Federal Navy as USS Tennessee. Once her combat damage was quickly repaired, costing $7,258, she was commissioned into the U.S. Navy, 19 Aug 1864, and immediately employed during operations to capture Fort Morgan, 19-22 August.
        In the autumn of 1864 she was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, for further repairs. Subsequently transferred to the US Navy's Mississippi Squadron until after the end of the Civil War.
        Decommissioned 19 August 1865, the ironclad was sold at public action, 27 November 1867, in New Orleans for scrap to J.F. Armstrong for $7,100, and then broken up.

                   
Commander James D. Johnston                                    Admiral Franklin Buchanan