Saturday, July 24, 2010

USS Fort Donelson (ex-Robert E. Lee)

This is an 1864 picture of USS Fort Donelson in Norfolk shortly after being repaired. This sleek looking warship was formerly the Scottish-built blockade runner Robert E. Lee. As a blockade runner, the vessel gave the U.S. Navy fits as she was able to evade blockaders and leave them in her wake. Her luck ran out on November 9, 1863 when the blockaders USS Iron Age and James Adger caught and captured her. 

Robert E. Lee/Fort Donelson is an excellent example of a Civil War blockade runner.  Some of the best designed ships of the war were the blockade runners.  Sleek in design, they had to achieve high speed while being able to carry a large amount of cotton (if going outbound) or ordnance and clothing (if coming inbound).  Scottish and English shipbuilders were more than happy to accommodate Confederate and British outfits with ships that fit these needs.  The result was some of the fastest ships in the world. 

The U.S. Navy did work off the theory that the best way to capture a blockade runner was with another blockade runner, particularly one as well designed as Robert E. Lee. Thus, Robert E. Lee was refitted, reflagged, and recommissioned Fort Donelson (after the 1862 battle on the Cumberland River). She served with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and participated in the second Fort Fisher campaign.


  1. I referenced this post in one I did on 25 May 2012. Good bit of background here.

  2. Good article. Question: Did she as the USS Fort Donelson participate in the first bombardment/assault against Fort Fisher around Christmas in 1864? Because the Fort Fisher website's order of battle lists her as being in "Ships of Line 2" in the first action.

    Or did she just participate in the second (mid-January) bombardment/assault on Fort Fisher? Thanks very much for any insight you can give me regarding this.