Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Confederate Ironclads on the Mississippi

Just as their Northern counterparts, Confederate naval authorities looked first to the sea. Fortifying essential ports, and converting merchantmen were the primary problems for Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory. But by June 1861, Tennessee had passed a resolution calling on Richmond to fund a large-scale building program in the west, and Kentuckians could look across the Ohio River and see the Union’s Timberclads steaming unmolested, with more warships being constructed. The states of the upper south already knew what the U.S. Army and Navy had in store for the Mississippi.

In August 1861, Memphis shipbuilder John T. Shirley offered Secretary Mallory an opportunity to construct the Confederacy’s first ironclads on western waters. Already aware of demand for a naval presence, Mallory consulted with officers and naval architects in order to understand his options and resolved to fully back an ironclad building program. On 23 August, Confederate Tennessee Congressman David M. Currin submitted legislation to allocate funds for the creation of an inland navy, including $160,000 for the construction of two ironclads. The bill appropriated more funds for the naval defense of New Orleans, and Mallory would use these additional allocations to finance the construction of the additional ironclads Mississippi and Louisiana. On 24 August, the bill was passed and Jefferson Davis signed the act into law. The Confederate naval buildup in the west would now unfold.

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