CSS Raleigh (1864)

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Career
Name: Raleigh
Builder: Cassidey Shipyard, Wilmington in New Hanover County, North Carolina
Laid down: 1863
Launched: 1864
Commissioned: 1864
Fate: Ran aground, broken keel, May 7, 1864
General characteristics
Length: 150 ft (46 m)
Beam: 32 ft (9.8 m)
Draft: 12 ft (3.7 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine
Complement: 188 officers and enlisted men
Armament: Two 6" Brooke rifled cannons; two smoothbore cannons
For other ships named Raleigh, see CSS Raleigh.

CSS Raleigh was a steam-powered casemate ironclad fitted with a spar torpedo instead of an iron ram; she was built by the Confederate States Navy at Wilmington, North Carolina in 1863-64, with Lieutenant John Wilkinson (1821-1891), CSN, commanding. She was then put into commission on April 30, 1864 under the command of Lieutenant J. Pembroke Jones, CSN.

Built to chief CSN constructor John L. Porter's similar plans for those of the ironclad CSS North Carolina, she had been laid down and launched at the foot of Church Street; her fitting out was completed by the shipyard J. L. Cassidey & Sons.

CSS Raleigh was one of two Richmond-class ironclads built for the Confederate Navy at Wilmington during the Civil War. A total of six Richmond-class ironclads were laid down at Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah in the spring of 1862. Chief naval constructor John L. Porter had designed these armored steam ships for harbor defense, adapting plans he had originally conceived prior to the war, in 1846. On April 20, 1864 the newly completed Raleigh steamed down the Cape Fear River and joined her sister ironclad CSS North Carolina, which was already in CSN service at Smithville.

Raleigh drew 13-feet of water, 6-inches less than the by then leaking and waterlogged North Carolina (North Carolina's green hull timbers had become infested with sea worms, a condition that eventually caused her to founder). Flag Officer William F. Lynch quickly decided to take his new ironclad over the bar at New Inlet, NC and attack the Union blockading squadron at sea.

On May 6 Raleigh emerged from the Cape Fear River and stood out to the Atlantic, accompanied by CSS Yadkin and CSS Equator, where she engaged six Federal blockaders, including the USS Britannia and the USS Nansemond, off New Inlet.

The plan was ill-conceived, as the Richmond-class ironclads, being designed for harbor defense and calm water, were not seaworthy. Nonetheless, the officers and men of Raleigh prepared their ship for battle. The engagement that followed was shrouded in darkness and marked by confusion. Raleigh, because of her slow speed on open sea, was unable to close with the Federals. Flares and cannon fire alerted the rest of the blockading squadron, but most commanders, unaware of the ironclad's presence, assumed a blockade runner had been cornered. For the rest of the night, Raleigh steamed blindly through the blockading squadron, unnoticed. At daybreak, the ironclad returned to New Inlet and crossed the bar at 7:15 a.m. The "battle," as such, was over, neither side sustaining serious damage or gaining advantage.

After entering Cape Fear, Raleigh turned south but soon ran hard aground on a bar known as "the Rip." As the tide went out, the now unsupported weight of the ironclad's armored casemate, cannon, and machinery bore down heavily on the aft section of her keel. Unable to sustain the added weight pressure, Raleigh "broke her back," resulting in a total loss of the new ironclad after serving just one week in the Confederate Navy. Salvage crews reclaimed her iron plating, both her Brooke rifles, both smoothbore cannon, and shipped her boilers to CSS Chattahoochee, then being repaired at Columbus, GA.

In 1994 the wreck was investigated by the North Carolina State Underwater Archaeology Unit with help from students of East Carolina University.

References[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. 
  • Still, William N., Jr., Confederate Shipbuilding (1987).

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.