Sunday, January 10, 2010

C.S.S. Chattahoochee - The Last Wooden Confederate Gunboat

On a walk through the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia, the sheer size of the exhibit containing the wreck of the ironclad C.S.S. Jackson is so astounding that it is easy to walk past the next without recognizing its dramatic significance.

Sitting next to the wreck of the Jackson is a section of the stern of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee, the last surviving Confederate wooden warship. The rest of the ship still rests covered with mud on the bottom of the Chattahoochee River, for which it was named, but the stern section was raised at the same time as the hull of the Jackson and is now on exhibit in the museum.

The C.S.S. Chattahoochee was commissioned on January 1, 1863, at the Confederate Navy Yard in Early County, Georgia. She was then a ship of high hopes. Richmond had sent Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones, fresh from his historic service as commander of the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) in its battle with the ironclad U.S.S. Monitor, to take complete the new vessel. Jones brought with him a number of other officers and men who had served in the Battle of the Ironclads at Hampton Roads, a clear indication of the importance the Confederacy placed in the C.S.S. Chattahoochee project.

Armed with a powerful 32-pounder rifle, a 9-inch gun and four 32-pounder smoothbores, the Chattahoochee had three retractable masts and two independently operating steam-powered propulsion systems that allowed her to be maneuvered around sharp river bends. The vessel was the most powerful Civil War warship ever to operate on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River system.

Unfortunately, she was also the victim of the worst Civil War naval accident to take place on Florida's inland waters. On May 27, 1863, the Chattahoochee was raising steam at Blountstown, Florida, as an early season hurricane swept in from the Gulf of Mexico. One of her gauges was malfunctioning and water was poured into a boiler that was already red hot. It vaporized instantly and exploded through one of the pipes leading into and out of the boiler. Sixteen men were scalded to death where they stood and others were severely injured. Panic followed and the ship was intentionally sunk to the bottom of the river out of fear that the gunpowder in her magazines might explode.

The C.S.S. Chattahoochee was raised a few months later and towed up to Columbus, Georgia, where she was refitted. When Union troops attacked the city in April of 1865, she was set ablaze by her own crew to prevent her capture. The wreck remained in the river for 100 years until it was discovered during a search for the C.S.S. Jackson. The stern was raised at that time and constitutes one of the two original warships now on exhibit at the National Civil War Naval Museum.

If you would like to learn more about the career and horrible explosion aboard the Chattahoochee, please visit You can learn more about the museum at

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