CSS Georgia

CSS Georgia

Confederate Ironclad

Laid down: 1862 Savannah, Georgia
Launched: 1863
Commissioned: 1863
Decommissioned: December 21, 1864
Fate: Destroyed to prevent capture

General Characteristics
Area of Operation: Riverways of Savannah, Georgia
Length: 250 feet (76 m)
Beam: 60 feet (18 m)
Speed: Top speed was about 2 knots, while the river’s current could do four
Complement: 200 officers and men
Armament: 4 to 9 guns

CSS Georgia, also known as State of Georgia and Ladies’ Ram, was an ironclad floating battery built at Savannah, Georgia in 1862–1863. On January 3rd 1861, Georgia citizens boarded a United States’ Revenue Cutter docked at Savannah. They seized her in the name of the State of Georgia and imprisoned her crew. This was over two weeks before the state voted to secede from the Union. This act of treason marked the beginning of Georgia’s naval involvement in the war and foreshadowed the important role that Savannah was to play in the Confederate Navy.

Out of this enthusiasm grew patriotic groups called “Ladies Gunboat Associations” that raised money for building warships. One such group formed in Savannah in early 1862 with plans to build an ironclad and donate her to the cause. Women of Savannah, Augusta, Macon, Milledgeville, Rome, and other Georgia cities raised over $75,000 of her $115,000 cost. The rest of the money came from the state.

Confederate troops and ordinary house carpenters built the ship based on a plan provided by Savannah iron founder Alvin Miller. Her original purpose was to steam to the mouth of the Savannah River and help Fort Pulaski destroy the blockading fleet, thus opening Savannah to trade. This was not to be. Fort Pulaski fell before Georgia was completed and, when launched, the ship was found to have a major propulsion problem. Her top speed was about 2 knots, while the river’s current could do four.

The reasons for this problem were many. A timber got stuck to her bottom during launch, hindering her steering ability. She was extremely heavy. Her armor included over 500 tons of railroad t-iron. They considered throwing her coal overboard to lighten her. Her weight made her bulge at the seams and leak so badly that her pumps ran continuously. One man described her interior as “a swamp in an iron box.”

Adding to her problem was the possibility that her engine may have come from a sidewheel steamer. Adapting it for use with twin screw propellers would have meant a big power loss to an already inadequate supply. Her creators thought she was a failure. One man dubbed her a “mud tub.”

Due to her propulsion problem, she was moored as a floating battery near Fort Jackson where the river is limited to a single channel. From there, she could bring a broadside of four well-protected guns to bear on any vessel that tried to come up the river to Savannah.

Savannah was vulnerable in 1862. The line of river batteries had not been completed and the other ironclads, which, unlike Georgia, were built under the direction of skilled naval architects using real ship’s carpenters, were still under construction.

When the Confederate Navy moored Georgia near Fort Jackson, they seriously doubted her ability to repel an attack. They were not aware of her effect on the officers of the Union blockading fleet. Ironclads were new and untested and there power largely unknown. It was known that wooden ships were merely an exercise in target practice for them. Rumors greatly exaggerated this power.

The Commander of the blockading fleet wrote in 1862: “…we have been disturbed by the repeated reports of there being an ironclad ship in the Savannah River, and for the first time since I took command of this squadron I have felt a sense of oppression…”

Later, he described his officers: “… Lardner looks 10 years older … the generals have him worried and his anxiety has been kept up by affairs in the Savannah River, I think Collins who is there will go crazy next, and the Captain of the Hale—who I left hale and hearty—is broken down… they imagine they see ironclad vessels and rams…”

The strategic value of Georgia is shown in an account by a reporter who saw her from a Union flag of truce boat: “…on rounding a sharp turn, we came in sight of the obstructions by which the rebels have attempted to bar our way up to Savannah; above them, and apparently close to them, lay a nondescript marine monster, which is the ironclad battery Georgia. She lies there, moored with her broadside down the river, prepared to defend the narrow passage which is left in the barrier of piles for the ingress and egress of rebel craft. We steamed up steadily nearer… up to the mouth of Augustine Creek, …and ever nearer and nearer to the enemy, till at last an angry flash from the broadside of the Georgia and presently after a sharp report… warned us that we were far enough.”

The Union naval attack never came. The ironclads Georgia and Savannah, and the river batteries, kept them at bay. It took Sherman’s army, two years later at the end of its famous “March to the Sea” to take the city by land.

Georgia was scuttled by her crew and the ironclad Savannah was blown up to prevent their capture. Most of the remaining vessels of the Savannah Squadron were torched. Only two wooden vessels—the tug Sampson and the gunboat Macon—escaped upriver to Augusta.

Georgia went down quickly. An officer noted that he only had time to grab his saber and sidearm. She went down with everything but her crew, and they left most of their personal belongings behind.

She lay undisturbed until 1866 when she was dynamited by a Mr. Welles under a United States Treasury Department contract to clear the river of obstructions. He succeeded in salvaging only a small portion of her railroad iron, gave up, and defaulted on his contract. In 1871, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered removing her, but decided that she was not a significant obstruction and would be too expensive to remove.

Georgia’s fund raisers, builders, and crew never realized the significant part she played in delaying the fall of Savannah. Considered a failure and abandoned in the opaque waters of the Savannah River, she was soon forgotten.

After settling to the bottom of Savannah Harbor, the wreck was noted as an obstruction, and several years later a survey of the wreck was completed. This survey found that the Georgia had settled slightly into the bottom, was covered by 11 feet of water at low tide. A sandbar was rapidly building up around the wreck, which ensured that the Georgia would be buried relatively quickly.

The Army Corps of Engineers undertook a dredging and expansion of the channel several times since the Civil War, with the effect that the wreck was uncovered, and gradually destroyed over the years. Today all that remains are a portion of the forward and after casemate, along with remnants of the ship’s engines including boilers, shafts, propellers, and condensers. Several cannon were found near the wreck as well, along with assorted ordinance.

A survey completed in 2006-2007 confirmed that by and large, the bulk of the CSS Georgia had been destroyed by a combination of manmade and natural forces since the ship’s sinking. The remains have been scoured repeatedly over time by dredging and anchored ships, to the effect that scattered remains extending into the channel are the only remnants of the ironclad.

List of Commanders/Crew
Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, CSN
Entire crew listed here: http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/CSS/crew.pdf

Painting Information

Books/Articles and other resources

Back to Confederate Ironclads


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