CSS Tennessee (1863)

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USS Tennessee in 1865
Confederate States
NamesakeState of Tennessee
BuilderHenry D. Bassett
Laid downOctober 1862
LaunchedFebruary 1863
Commissioned16 February 1864
CapturedAt the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864
United States
Acquired5 August 1864
Commissioned5 August 1864
Decommissioned19 August 1865
FateSold for scrap, 27 November 1867
General characteristics
TypeCasemate ironclad
Displacement1,273 long tons (1,293 t)
Length209 ft (63.7 m)
Beam48 ft (14.6 m)
Draft14 ft (4.3 m)
Installed power4 boilers
Speed5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph)
Complement133 officers and enlisted men
Service record
Commanders: Lieutenant James D. Johnston
The Pennant of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, flown from the CSS Tennessee
Admiral's Rank flag of Admiral Buchanan, similarly flown from the CSS Tennessee

CSS Tennessee was a casemate ironclad ram built for the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War. She served as the flagship of Admiral Franklin Buchanan (who would later be captured in the same ship), commander of the Mobile Squadron, after her commissioning. She was captured in 1864 by the Union Navy during the Battle of Mobile Bay and then participated in the Union's subsequent Siege of Fort Morgan. Tennessee was decommissioned after the war and sold in 1867 for scrap.

Design, description and construction[edit]

Tennessee was built at Selma, Alabama, where she was commissioned on February 16, 1864. CSS Baltic towed her to Mobile, where she was fitted out.

Tennessee was laid down in October 1862, hull and other woodwork turned out by Henry D. Bassett, who launched her the following February, ready for towing to Mobile to be engined and armed. Her steam plant came from the steamer USS Alonzo Child. Her casemate design differed materially from CSS Columbia and CSS Texas, but iron plate was the same 2 by 10 in (50 by 250 mm) as used on CSS Huntsville and CSS Tuscaloosa but triple thickness instead of double; her iron plate was made by the Shelby Iron Company in Shelby, Alabama. A fearsome detail of her defensive armament was a "hot water attachment to her boilers for repelling boarders, throwing one water stream from forward of the casemate and one aft."

The vicissitudes implicit in creating such an ironclad are graphically conveyed by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, writing September 20, 1863 to Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory:

The work on the Tennessee has progressed for some weeks past, under Mr. Pierce, as fast as the means in his power would permit. There is much delay for want of plate and bolt iron. It was impossible to iron both sponsons at the same time, as the vessel had to be careened several feet to enable them to put the iron on. Even then several of the workmen were waist deep in the water to accomplish it — to careen her, large beams 12 feet (3.7 m) square had to be run out of her posts and secured, on which several tons of iron had to be placed, and during the progress of putting on the sponson iron the shield iron could not be put on. The work has been carried on night and day when it could be done advantageously. I visited the Nashville and Tennessee frequently and, to secure and control the services of the mechanics, I have had them all conscripted and detailed to work under my orders. Previously, they were very independent and stopped working when they pleased.

(Joseph Pierce, referred to above, was Acting Naval Constructor in the Mobile area.)

Lieutenant (later Commander) James D. Johnston, CSN, commander of CSS Tennessee

Tennessee became flagship of Admiral Buchanan, and served gallantly in action in the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. On that morning Tennessee and wooden gunboats CSS Gaines, CSS Morgan, and CSS Selma, steamed into combat against Admiral David G. Farragut's powerful fleet[1] of four ironclad monitors and 14 wooden steamers. Unable to ram the Union ships because of their superior speed, Tennessee delivered a vigorous fire on the Federals at close range. The Confederate gunboats were sunk or dispersed. Farragut's fleet steamed up into the bay and anchored. Buchanan might have held Tennessee under the fort's protection but steamed after the Federal fleet and engaged despite overwhelming odds. The ram became the target for the entire Union fleet. Tennessee was rammed by several ships, and her vulnerable steering chains (which, oddly, lay in exposed trenches on the after deck) were carried away by the heavy gunfire. Unable to maneuver, Tennessee was battered repeatedly by heavy solid shot from her adversaries. With two of her men killed, Admiral Buchanan and eight others wounded, and increasingly severe damage being inflicted on her, Tennessee was forced to surrender.

USS Tennessee[edit]

Carte de visite image of the ship

Immediately following her capture and repair, Tennessee was commissioned in the United States Navy, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Pierre Giraud in command. The ironclad participated in the Federal assault on Fort Morgan on August 23 which resulted in the fort's capitulation that same day. That autumn, she moved from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana, for repairs before joining the Mississippi Squadron. She served on the Mississippi River through the end of the war in April 1865 and briefly thereafter. On August 19, 1865, Tennessee was placed out of commission and was laid up at New Orleans. There, she remained until November 27, 1867, when she was sold at auction to J. F. Armstrong for scrapping. Though the remainder of the vessel was scrapped, two 7-inch Brooke rifles and two 6.4-inch Brooke rifles were preserved and are still on display in the Old weapons exhibit in East Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. One of her 6.4-inch (160 mm) double-banded Brooke rifled cannon is on display at the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief U. S. Atlantic Command at the Norfolk, Virginia, Naval base. One of her 7-inch Brooke rifles is on display at the city hall of Selma, Alabama, where it was cast.

See also[edit]

Media related to CSS Tennessee (ship, 1863) at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ "The Battle of Mobile Bay: "A Deadly Rain of Shot and Shell"". Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 25 September 2015.


  • Bisbee, Saxon T. (2018). Engines of Rebellion: Confederate Ironclads and Steam Engineering in the American Civil War. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-81731-986-1.
  • Canney, Donald L. (2015). The Confederate Steam Navy 1861-1865. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7643-4824-2.
  • Friend, Jack (2004). West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-292-8.
  • Kinney, John C. (n.d.) [1894]. "Farragut at Mobile Bay". Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Vol. IV: Retreat With Honor. Secacus, New Jersey: Castle. pp. 379–400. ISBN 0-89009-572-8.
  • Konstam, Angus (2003). Duel of the Ironclads: USS Monitor & CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads 1862. Oxford, UK: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-721-2.
  • "CSS Tennessee". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command (NH&HC). Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  • "USS Tennessee". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command (NH&HC). Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  • Olmstead, Edwin; Stark, Wayne E.; Tucker, Spencer C. (1997). The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, New York: Museum Restoration Service. ISBN 0-88855-012-X.
  • Silverstone, Paul H. (2006). Civil War Navies 1855–1883. The U.S. Navy Warship Series. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97870-X.
  • Silverstone, Paul H. (1984). Directory of the World's Capital Ships. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-88254-979-0.
  • Still, William N. Jr. (1985) [1971]. Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-454-3.
  • United States, Naval War Records Office (1921). Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series II. Vol. 1: Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion., Series II – Volume 1: Statistical Data of Union and Confederate Ships, Muster Roles of Confederate Government Vessels, Letters of Marque and Reprisals, Confederate Department Investigations. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office.

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entries can be found [Confederate service here] and Union service here.