CSS Fanny was a small propellor-driven steamer used by the Confederate Navy to defend the sounds of northeastern North Carolina. Originally operated by the Union, she was captured early in the war by the Confederate Navy, and later lost at the battle for Elizabeth City. Fanny is sometimes credited with being the first self-propelled aircraft carrier.
The Fanny was originally operated by the United States Army Quartermaster Corps. On August 3, 1861, while on the James River, ballonist John La Mountain made an ascent from the deck of the Fanny to observe Confederate positions, making the Fanny a balloon carrier. Previous water-launched balloon flights had taken place on barges.
Capture & Confederate Service
After the Federals captured Hatteras Inlet the Fanny was used to supply a Union army outpost at Chicamacomico, an Outer Banks settlement north of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. While at anchor there it was surprised by a Confederate gunboat squadron on 1 October 1861. This squadron consisted of the CSS Curlew, CSS Raleigh, and CSS Youngalaska. The Curlew closed first while the other two gunboats circled around to cut off any escape attempt. After a brisk half-hour engagement the Fanny was run aground and surrendered. A large quantity of commissary and quartermaster's stores was captured with the steamer. Also captured were members of Twentieth Indiana and the New York Zouaves. However, the Fanny's captain, J. H. Morrison, and his crew escaped, having essentially abandoned ship once the Confederate steamers approached. Refloated and taken into the Confederate Navy, it was placed in command of Midshipman J. L. Tayloe, CSN.
Four days later the Fanny participated in a relatively large Confederate naval and army effort to 1) encircle and attack the Union encampent at Chicamacomico, 2) take and destroy the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and 3) attempt to recapture the forts at Hatteras Inlet. The initial landing effort was successful, and the Union encampment at Chicamacomico was abandoned. However, the encirclement effort failed, and the Union troops were able to retreat back to the Hatteras Lighthouse. The next day Union reinforcements came up from Hatteras Inlet and chased the Confederate troops back to their transports. Both sides then retreated back to their base camps, the Union troops to Hatteras Inlet and the Confederate troops to Roanoke Island.
Battles at Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City
The Fanny spent the next four months patrolling Pamlico Sound, reconnoitering Hatteras Inlet, and towing supply schooners to Roanoke Island. On 7-8 of February 1862 the Fanny engaged the Union invasion force in the battle of Roanoke Island. The Fanny eventually retreated to Elizabeth City with the other surviving members of its gunboat squadron when ammunition supplies ran low. On February 10 the Fanny and the other gunboats were attacked by Federal gunboats advancing from Roanoke Island. In the ensuing battle it was run aground and blown up by her captain who escaped with his crew to shore.
- Christopher Olson, An Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the CSS Curlew; Masters Thesis, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina,1997.
- John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina, UNC Press, North Carolina,1963.
- William Parker, Recollections of a Naval Officer, Naval Institute Press, 1985.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
- The Free Dictionary
- US Centennial of Flight