Monday, November 27, 2017

Civil War "City Class" Ironclad Gun Boat "Cairo" - The Ironclad Flotilla

During our trip to the Vicksburg National Military Park we were able to view the "Cairo" which was an ironclad paddle wheeler that was used during the Civil War.  It was sunk in the Yazoo River on December 12th 1862.

"In 1862, in one of the South's most amazing secret operations, a Confederate team, using newly invented explosive mines, blew up the USS Cairo, one of the Union's most feared ironclad gunboats. It sank within minutes.

The USS Cairo is the only remaining vessel from the Union navy's river fleet. For 102 years, the ironclad rested deep in the mud of the Yazoo River. In 1964 it was rediscovered and salvaged. Now the USS Cairo is one of the premier exhibits at the Vicksburg National Military Park. This historic vessel, its entire cargo of weapons and personal effects, and its role in the war continue to spark the imagination of Civil War buffs and thousands of tourists." Source: The University Press of Mississippi

On the heels of the defeat of Union forces at Fredericksburg, Virginia, the sinking of the Cairo was another humiliating loss for the Federal government. This 175 foot long, 512-ton gunboat was protected by 2 ½ inch plate iron sheets backed by a two foot thickness of white oak timbers, which would take the shock of shells hitting the hull.

"The Cairo saw action at the occupations of Clarksville and Nashville in February, in April at Fort Pillow, and at Memphis in May, 1862. She was also part of the Union fleet that engaged Confederate warships south of Memphis in June 1862. She had a short life as she sank less than a year after being commissioned on January 16, 1862. 

A History Lesson

“The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. These powerful ironclads were formidable vessels, each mounting thirteen big guns (cannon). On them rested in large part, Northern hopes to regain control of the lower Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.

The “city class” gunboats were designed by Samuel M. Pook and built by river engineer James B. Eads. Cairo was constructed at Mound City, Illinois, and commissioned in January 1862… The Cairo’s skipper, Lt. Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., was rash and ambitious, a stern disciplinarian, but an aggressive and promising young officer.

On the cold morning of December 12, 1862, Selfridge led a small flotilla up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg, to destroy Confederate batteries and clear the channel of torpedoes (underwater mines). As the Cairo reached a point seven miles north of Vicksburg the flotilla came under fire and Selfridge ordered the guns to ready.

As the gunboat turned towards shore disaster struck. Cairo was rocked by two explosions in quick succession which tore gaping holes in the ship’s hull. Within twelve minutes the ironclad sank into six (6) fathoms (36 feet) of water without any loss of life. Cairo became the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo (a mine). New theories speculate that it was just ordinary mines that the ship struck. So I supposed the cause of sinking is still being investigated at some level.

Over the years the gunboat was forgotten and her watery grave was slowly covered by a shroud of silt and sand. Impacted in mud, Cairo became a time capsule in which her priceless artifacts were preserved.

Her whereabouts became a matter of speculation as members of the crew had died and local residents were unsure of the location. By studying contemporary documents and maps, Edwin C. Bearss, Historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, was able to plot the approximate site of the wreck" Source: CJ Johnson "The Choctaw Plaindealer"

Raising and Conservation 

It took years to determine how to raise the Cairo, clean and restore the vessel, as well as fund the project. The USS Cairo gunboat is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park, next to a museum, which displays numerous artifacts recovered from the Cairo."

When viewing the Cairo you cannot help but marvel at the size of the ship. As you view the photos below you can easily determine what was original and what is now a mock up of the ship built from it's original plans.  Enjoy your tour.

The military park itself is impressive but the remarkably preserved Cairo is the crown Jewel of the tour. Do yourself a favor, if you are a history buff don't miss going to this place.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Family Time

Our "campsite"

We're taking a break from the RV parks and "camping" in the driveway at my brother's house for a couple of weeks.  My brother has kindly put in a 50 Amp service for us and has a sewer clean-out next to his driveway, so we are definitely driveway camping in style!  We're paying "rent" by cooking for them.  Chuck has made his "famous" ribs, chicken wings, chili, pork roast, and Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes.  They only gave his gravy a "2", though.  I've thrown in a couple of desserts and my "famous" rosemary garlic potatoes.  With all the family visiting for the holidays (including our son, who surprised us and drove down from Arkansas), we had up to 15 people, three indoor dogs, two outdoor dogs, and a very unhappy cat around.  It was fun, but a lot like barely controlled chaos at times.

Besides giving us time to visit with family over the holidays, it has given Chuck some time to wash and wax the Beast after six months of traveling and a few weeks at the beach.  I'm trying to catch up on some of my "to do" list, which never seems to get done.  Writing this blog was at the top of my list!

Besides visiting, we got in our dose of board games and card games, and I was able to do a little hiking with my brother.
Hiking selfie in the wind

He also introduced us to Disc Golf.  It's a pretty nice game for RVers.  The only equipment you need to carry is a few discs (frisbees) of various sizes and shapes for long distance, mid-distance and short distance (putting).  Since neither of us can throw very far, we'd probably be fine with two each.  There are disc golf courses in public parks and we've seen several along our trip already.  So we are considering investing $20 at Wal Mart and maybe making a disc golf outing part of our travels.  (Of course, I need to recover from my disc golf injury first...did you know you can pull a muscle throwing a frisbee?  Getting older is an adventure, for sure).
Chuck at the "tee box"

At the end of the week, we head "home" to see friends and doctors.  Then, off to Aransas Pass for a couple of months.  I've just started to look at things to do in that area, so if anyone has been there, let us know!  They got hit by Hurricane Harvey in August, but word is that things are starting to recover.  We'll be close to Corpus Christi, which didn't get as much damage, and I'm sure we'll find a few places to go.

Six months in to traveling, and we're still liking it.  I've just paid our Good Sam Club membership for two more years, so I guess I'm planning to keep this up for a little longer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vicksburg National Military Park - Vicksburg, Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park - Vicksburg, Mississippi

Martha and I recently visited the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi on our way to Texas for Thanksgiving. I have struggled with posting this blog entry due to the sobering effect it had  on both of us. 

If you reflect on the conflict and do some cursory genealogy you will likely find someone in your family that was on one side or the other of this conflict. 

The Facts

General Ulysses S. Grant was tasked with tanking Vicksburg. Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, was responsible for holding defensive lines surrounding the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Both sides agreed that the Mississippi River was the most vital pipeline for moving men, materials, reinforcements and food to strategic locations.

The campaign consisted of many important naval operations, troop maneuvers, failed initiatives, and eleven distinct battles from December 26, 1862, to July 4, 1863. Military historians divide the campaign into two formal phases: Operations Against Vicksburg (December 1862 – January 1863) and Grant's Operations Against Vicksburg (March–July 1863).

Grant initially planned a two-pronged approach in which half of his army, under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, would advance to the Yazoo River and attempt to reach Vicksburg from the northeast, while Grant took the remainder of the army down the Mississippi Central Railroad. Both of these initiatives failed. Grant conducted a number of "experiments" or expeditions—Grant's Bayou Operations—that attempted to enable waterborne access to the Mississippi south of Vicksburg's artillery batteries. All five of these initiatives failed as well. Finally, Union gunboats and troop transport boats ran the batteries at Vicksburg and met up with Grant's men who had marched overland in Louisiana. On April 29 and April 30, 1863, Grant's army crossed the Mississippi and landed at Bruinsburg, Mississippi. An elaborate series of demonstrations and diversions fooled the Confederates and the landings occurred without opposition. Over the next 17 days, Grant maneuvered his army inland and won five battles, captured the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi, and assaulted and laid siege to Vicksburg.

After Pemberton's army surrendered on July 4 (one day after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg), and when Port Hudson surrendered to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks on July 9, Texas and Arkansas were effectively cut off from the Confederacy, and the Mississippi River was once again open for northern commerce to reach the Gulf of Mexico, and as a supply line for the Union Army. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign is studied as a masterpiece of military operations and a major turning point of the war. Source - NPS Vicksburg Military Park
(click on any photo for a larger version)

The Military Park

The entire park is a drive through, self guided trip. As you start the journey you will see all sorts of monuments that denote the various states and and military units that participated in the battle. Some of the markers are simple plaques with information about specific units and how many dead, wounded and missing soldiers were claimed as a result of that area of responsibility. Other monuments are extremely ornate and show the names of all that were involved during the battle.

As I said earlier it is sobering. To that end I cannot add much more other than the area that was defended by the confederacy commanded a large area of the Mississippi River strategically. It is difficult to imagine how either side claimed victory on this rugged part of the river. I will let the photos we took tell the rest of the story

The Visitors Center

Through out the park there are monuments erected by the States that were represented in breaking the occupation of the Confederacy in Vicksburg. We saw the Union side of the park and were going to come back the next day to see the Confederate side.  Unfortunately,  our RV had a problem that required our immediate attention so we weren't able to complete the tour. As a result the monuments shown were all from the Union side of the conflict.

The monument in the background was erected by the State of Illinois to commemorate those who fought and fell in Vicksburg.

There were so many monuments and battle line markers it would impractical to post all of the photos we took. I can tell you that this battlefield was very somber an sobering. If you are ever near Vicksburg take the time to see the park and allow yourself a lot of time to see it all.

My next blog entry will be about the Ironside vessel the Cairo which was sunk in the Yazoo river in a battle before Vicksburg. The remains were salvaged and put on display in the Vicksburg Military Park.

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