CSS Manassas

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CSS Manassas
Career (Confederate States of America)
Name: Manassas; originally Enoch Train
Owner: Boston Steam Tow-Boat Co.[1]
Builder: James. O. Curtis, Medford, MA[1]
Launched: 1853 [1] or 1855
Commissioned: September 12, 1861
Decommissioned: April 24, 1862
Fate: Sunk in battle April 24, 1862
General characteristics
Class & type: Steam tug,[1] Ironclad
Displacement: 387 tons
Tons burthen: 384 12 tons [1]
Length: 143 ft (44 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 17 ft (5.2 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine
Complement: 36 officers and men
Armament: 1 64-pounder Dahlgren, later replaced by 1 32-pounder
Map of Louisiana during the Civil War. The CSS Manassas was based in New Orleans and helped defend the lower Mississippi.[2]

CSS Manassas, formerly the steam icebreaker Enoch Train, was built in 1855 by James O. Curtis as a twin-screw towboat at Medford, Massachusetts. A New Orleans commission merchant, Captain John A. Stevenson, acquired her for use as a privateer after she was captured by another privateer (later gunboat) CSS Ivy. Her fitting out as Manassas was completed at Algiers, Louisiana; her conversion to a ram of a radically modern design made her the first ironclad ship built for the Confederacy.

Covered with 1.25-inch iron plating, her above-water hull was reshaped into a curved "turtle-back" form; at its lowest when fully loaded, the hull projected only 6 12 feet above the waterline, not counting her smokestacks (surviving accounts and period illustrations vary showing Manassas was equipped with either a single or two side-by-side smokestacks, possibly slanted back at a rakish angle). The convex shape of her iron-plated topside caused cannon shot to glance off harmlessly. She was 128 feet in length, overall, and had a 26-foot hull beam and 11-foot draught. Her bow was fitted with a pointed iron ram to stave holes in Union vessels, and she also carried a forward-firing cannon behind a single gun port with an armored shutter. Her low profile made her a difficult target, while her curved armor iron plate protected her against all but the most well-directed Union cannon fire. Fast moving, lying low in the water, she looked like a floating cigar or submerged egg shell and was described by Union intelligence as a "hellish machine."[3][4][5]:68-9

Commissioned as a Confederate privateer on 12 September 1861, Manassas was seized soon afterwards by Flag Officer G. N. Hollins, CSN, for use in the lower Mississippi River. With Lieutenant A. F. Warley, CSN, in command, she participated in Flag Officer Hollins' surprise attack on the Federal blockading squadron at Head of Passes on 12 October 1861, the action being known as the Battle of the Head of Passes. In the action Manassas rammed USS Richmond, but the impact was partly absorbed by a coal barge tied alongside. Manassas, however, suffered the loss of her iron prow and smokestack(s) and had one of her two engines unseated from its mounts, temporarily putting it out of commission. She managed to retire under heavy fire from USS Preble and Richmond, whose shells glanced off her armor. Two months after this engagement, Manassas was purchased for direct ownership and re-commissioned in the CSN by the Confederate Government.[6]

Under Lieutenant Warley, CSS Manassas joined the force of Captain John K. Mitchell, CSN, commanding Confederate naval forces in the lower Mississippi. She participated in the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, during which Commodore David Farragut, USN, on his way to New Orleans, ran his fleet past the Confederate forts of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. In the action Manassas attempted to ram USS Pensacola, which turned in time to avoid the heavy blow and delivered a full broadside at close range. Manassas then ran into more murderous fire from the whole line of the Union fleet. She then charged USS Mississippi and delivered a long glancing blow to her hull, also firing her single cannon as she rammed. Next she rammed USS Brooklyn, again firing her cannon, injuring her deeply, but not fatally.[7]

After this action Manassas followed the Union fleet quietly for a while, but as she drew closer Mississippi furiously turned on her. Manassas managed to dodge the blow but ran aground in the process. Her crew managed to escape as Mississippi poured heavy broadsides into the stranded Confederate ram. Now on fire, Manassas slipped off the bank and drifted down the river past the Union mortar flotilla. Commander David Dixon Porter, USN, in command of the mortar boats, tried to save her as an engineering curiosity, but Manassas exploded and immediately plunged under water, a total loss.[8]

Years after the war, in the book "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," [9] there was a claim that a Manassas crewman was knocked off the ironclad by a Union sailor; however Confederate Captain Lt. A. F. Warley reported no casualties among his Manassas crew in an official report dated 13 August 1863[10]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

Abbreviations used in these notes
Official atlas: Atlas to accompany the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.
ORA (Official records, armies): War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
ORN (Official records, navies): Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
  1. ^ a b c d e Gleason, Hall (1937). Old Ships and Ship-Building Days of Medford. Medford, MA: J.C. Miller. p. 77. 
  2. ^ ORN I, v. 18, p. 131.
  3. ^ A history of the United States Navy from 1775 to 1902, Volume 2, Edgar Stanton Maclay, Roy Campbell Smith, p. 315
  4. ^ CSS Manassas http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-us-cs/csa-sh/csash-mr/manassas.htm
  5. ^ Hearn, Chester G. (1995). The Capture of New Orleans 1862. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-1945-8. 
  6. ^ Hearn, pp. 86–91.
  7. ^ Hearn, pp. 210–35.
  8. ^ Hearn, pp. 235–6.
  9. ^ Vol 2.p.67
  10. ^ ORN 1, 18, p. 337

Bibliography[edit]

  • Silverstone, Paul H. (2006). Civil War Navies 1855–1883. The U.S. Navy Warship Series. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97870-X. 
  • Still, William N., Jr. (1985). Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads (Reprint of the 1971 ed.). Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-454-3. 

External links[edit]