Saturday, February 6, 2016

U.S.S. Cairo Museum at Vicksburg National Military Park

At the Vicksburg National Military Park I was able to see the Ironclad U.S.S. Cairo. This was one of the first ironclad ships built by the US Navy. The Cairo was the lead ship in the "City" Class gunboats. It was named for the city of Cairo, Illinois. During June 1862, the Cairo participated with other ships in the capture of Fort Pillow Tennessee on the Mississippi River. With the capture of the fort it enabled the capture of Memphis. Her career came to a halt on December 12, 1862. During the Yazoo Pass Expedition, she sunk while clearing mines in the Yazoo River. She was the first ship to be sunk in combat by a mine remotely detonated by hand.

The outdoor museum where you can see the ship. Over the years, the ship lay at the bottom of the river and encased in river silt. This turned it into a virtual treasure trove of artifacts. As former crew members died and time passed, the exact location of the ship was forgotten.

Using Civil War era maps, Edwin C. Bearss of Vicksburg National Military Park set out to locate the lost ship. Using a simple Magnetic compass, and with the assistance of Don Jacks and Warren Grabau, It was found in 1956. Many of the artifacts recovered from the wreckage in 1960  included the pilot house and 8-inch cannon. Support from the state of Mississippi and local authorities ensured the salvage of the ship in 1964.

The Cairo weighed in at 512 tons and had a length of 175 ft from bow to stern. Her beam (width) was 51 feet 2 inches. Her draught was 6ft. (Draught is basically how much of the ship is under water.) She was powered by a steam engine that had 22 inch cylinder and a stroke of 6ft. Anyone who knows anything about engines can tell you that it is pretty massive. The engine was fed by five fire tube boilers giving it 140 psi. The top speed of this modern marvel was an earth shattering 4 knots an hour. She had a compliment of 251 officers and men. Many of whom where foreign born. All of this came complete with 2.5 inches of  iron plate.

A view of the paddle wheel frames. This is what drove the ship.

A view of the engines. These are the five boilers.

The ship was armed with  x3 8-inch smoothbore cannons, x3 42 pounder rifled cannons, x6 32 pounder rifled cannon, x1 30 pounder rifled cannon, and x1 12 pounder rifled cannon.

The rudder and stern of the ship.

Many of the artifacts recovered from the wreckage gave a glimpse into the lives of an American sailor in the Civil War. Pocket watches, Pens, Knives, eating utensils, keys, locks, Lanterns, Pistols, and other personal items were recovered and are now on display at the park.

I highly recommend a visit to the Vicksburg National Military Park. There are not many surviving ironclads still in existence. The Cairo is well worth the visit.

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