Friday, December 5, 2008

U.S.S. Cairo - A Civil War Ironclad on Display

One of my favorite historic sites in the South can be found in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The U.S.S. Cairo, a Union ironclad, is the centerpiece of a fascinating museum at Vicksburg National Military Park. It is one of just a few surviving warships of that era and is particularly unique because you can actually climb aboard for a closer look.

Part of the Mississippi River fleet, the Cairo was built at Mound City, Illinois, and commissioned in January of 1862. She saw action in the battles of Plum Point and Memphis. In the latter engagement she played a key role in the destruction of the Confederacy's river fleet.

On December 12, 1862, however, she was sent up the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg with other vessels to drive away Confederates and open the way for an attack on the city. Instead, the ships were ambushed and as the Cairo turned to fire on Southern troops she floated over what was then called a "torpedo." This mine, connected to shore by an electric wire, was set off with a charge and exploded, sinking the ironclad.

It was the first sinking of a warship by an electronic mine in history.

The Cairo spent the next 100 years on the bottom of the Yazoo, but in the 1960s she was raised in three sections and taken to Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she was painstakingly preserved. Brought back to Vicksburg, she is now the centerpoint of a fascinating museum that focuses on the vessel and the role of the U.S. Navy in the capture of Vicksburg.

If you would like to read more about the U.S.S. Cairo and see additional photographs of the ironclad, please visit

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