CSS Atlanta

CSS Atlanta

Confederate Ironclad

Laid down:
Launched: 1861
Commissioned: 1862
Decommissioned: June 1865
Fate: First transferred to US Navy in February 1864, then sold to Haiti. Disappeared off Cape Hatteras December 1869

General Characteristics
Type: Ironclad
Area of Operation:
Displacement: 1,006 tons
Length: 204 feet (62 m)
Beam: 41 feet (12 m)
Draft: 15 feet 9 inches (4.80 m)
Propulsion: steam engine
Speed: 10 knots
Complement: 165 officers and men
2 7-inch rifled gun on pivot mounts (front)
2 x 6.4-inch on broadside mounts (each side total of 4) This seems inaccurate on photos that show 3 cannons on each side.

Armor: Iron-plate

The first Atlanta was a casemate southern ironclad, converted from a Scottish-built blockade runner serving in the Confederate Navy. She was later captured in battle and then served in the Union Navy for the duration of the Civil War.

Atlanta was built in Glasgow, Scotland by James and George Thompson at the Clyde Bank Iron Shipyard and was completed as the Fingal early in 1861. She briefly operated between Glasgow and other ports in Scotland for Hutcheson’s West Highland Service.

However, in her new configuration as a fighting ship, Atlanta suffered from several serious shortcomings. Her new armor and ordnance increased her draft to almost 16 feet, making it difficult for her to operate in the inland waters approaching Savannah. Moreover, her modifications made her extremely slow to respond to her helm and reduced her speed from 13 to 10 knots. She also leaked significantly, and her armored roof all but eliminated circulation of air, turning her into a humid oven during hot weather.

On 31 July, Atlanta—under the command of Lt. Charles H. McBlair, CSN—steamed down the Savannah River toward Fort Pulaski to a point where she could be seen from Union blockaders, but she soon retired above the obstructions. Efforts were then made to correct her defects but with poor results.

In January 1863, Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall—who then commanded the naval defenses of Georgia and, although residing ashore, flew his flag in Atlanta—felt pressure from Mallory to engage Northern naval forces. The Confederate Secretary of the Navy and other officials in Richmond were highly impressed by the performance of Virginia—the former screw frigate Merrimack rebuilt as an ironclad ram—in Hampton Roads the previous March and hoped that Atlanta could boost Southern morale by repeating Virginia’s, victory over wooden-hulled Union warships. Accordingly, Tattnall made plans to have Atlanta descend the Savannah. However, obstructions blocking the channel leading to sea prevented Tattnall from launching the operation. In March, the disappointed and frustrated Mallory reacted by relieving Tattnall from the command afloat and later placed Lieutenant William A. Webb, CSN, in command of Atlanta, leaving no doubt that he expected great accomplishments from the ironclad ram in the near future.

On 10 June 1863, Rear Admiral Du Pont—sensing that Atlanta was about to descend the Wilmington River for a foray into Wassaw Sound and remembering that Monitor had ended Virginia’s destructive rampage—ordered monitors USS Weehawken and USS Nahant to enter Wassaw Sound to stop the Southern ironclad ram’s attack, should she make one, and to prevent her escape. Captain John Rodgers in Weehawken had overall command of this Union force.

Five days later, in the early evening of the 15th, Atlanta got underway and passed over the lower obstructions in the Wilmington River to get into position for a strike at the Union forces in Wassaw Sound. Webb dropped anchor at 8:00 p.m. and spent the remainder of the night coaling. The next evening “. . . about dark . . .,” Webb later reported, he “. . . proceeded down the river to a point of land which would place me in 6 or 7 miles of the monitors, at the same time concealing the ship from their view, ready to move on them at early dawn the next morning.”

Atlanta, accompanied by wooden steamers CSS Isondiga and CSS Resolute, got underway before daylight on the 17th. A percussion torpedo was fitted to a long spar projecting forward from the ram’s bow, “which,” Webb wrote, “I knew should do its work to my entire satisfaction, should I but be able to touch the Weehawken . . . .” Atlanta grounded coming into the channel, was gotten off, but repeatedly failed to obey her helm and ran hard aground again. Weehawken poured five shots from her heavy guns into the Confederate ram, and Nahant moved into attacking position. With two of his gun crews out of action, with two of three pilots severely injured, and with his ship stranded and helpless, Webb was compelled to surrender to prevent further futile loss of life. His two wooden escorts had returned upriver without engaging.

Captain Rodgers reported, “The Atlanta was found to have mounted two 6-inch and two 7-inch rifles, the 6-inch broadside, the 7-inch working on a pivot either as broadside or bow and stern guns. There is a large supply of ammunition for these guns and other stores, said to be of great value by some of the officers of the vessel.” At the time of capture, 21 officers and 124 men, including marines were on board.

List of Commanders/Crew
Lt. Charles H. McBlair, CSN
Lieutenant William A. Webb, CSN

Painting Information

Books/Articles and other resources

Back to Confederate Ironclads


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