Monday, November 19, 2012

Chasing After CSS Nashville: November 19, 1862

A Northern newspaper cartoon mocking the U.S. Navy's inability to capture CSS Nashville.

CSS Nashville was the Confederate State government's second attempt at a commissioned commerce raider (CSS Sumter being the first).  Eliminating all Confederate cruisers became a top priority for the U.S. Navy, but the chase after Nashville bordered on obsession.  Part of the U.S. Navy's emotional tie to the ship was possibly due to the fact that Nashville successfully ran the blockade four times between November 1861 and June 1862.  Even though she only captured two prizes, her presence stirred up the emotions of Yankee merchant owners and their insurance underwriters.  For its part, the Confederate States Navy gave up Nashville as a cruiser and sold her off to a blockade running outfit.  To the U.S. Navy, it did not matter.  In their opinion, Nashville could be easily turn back into a cruiser.  They intended her to be captured or sunk.
The 400-ton USS Dawn, which carried
a 100-pounder Parrott Rifle.

In late Summer 1862, U.S. Navy intelligence discovered that the ship formerly known as Nashville dashed into Ossabaw Sound and up the Ogeechee River (about twenty miles southwest of Savanna, Georgia), instead of a larger port.  Granted, the guns of Fort McAllister protected her, but she was trapped.  Unlike Charleston or Wilmington, there was only one exit for a Confederate ship to run the blockade: back the way they came.   But trapped was not good enough.  On November 19, 1862,  the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron conducted one of several attempts to sink the Confederate cruiser.

This attempt consisted of three ships: the gunboats USS Wissahickon and Dawn and one mortar boat, simply named No.5.  Although there is no recorded strategy, it would seem that the mortar boat would be used to bombard the cruiser from afar.  

USS Wissahickon's XI-inch Dahlgren gun crew
The Confederate garrison at Fort McAllister was prepared for any Yankee assault.   With obstructions laid across the river, McAllistar's guns opened fire on Wissahickon at 8:15 a.m.  Wissahickon returned fire with her XI-inch Dahlgren.  Dawn joined in with her 100-pounder Parrot rifle.    At 9:45, the Confederate gunners found their mark and hit Wisssahickon four feet below the water line. After firing seventeen XI-inch shells and eighteen 20-pounder Parrot Rifle shells (including eight percussion shells), Lieutenant Commander John Davis ordered a retreat.  Wissahickon was taking on water badly and forced to beach farther down river to repair the hole.   With No. 5 in tow, Dawn fired off forty-nine 100-pound Parrott shells before she retreated. 

For the moment, Nashville (she also went by the names Rattlesnake and Thomas L. Wragg while operating as a privateer) was safe.  However, she was still trapped. 

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