USS Cairo


USS Cairo


Union Ironclad

Career
Ordered: August(?) 1861
Builder: James B. Eads
Laid down: 1861
Launched: 1861, Mound City, Illinois
Commissioned: 25 January 1862
Decommissioned:
Fate: Sunk by mine 12 December 1862 Raised in 1964, museum ship

General Characteristics
Type: City class ironclad
Area of Operation: Mississippi River
Displacement: 512 tons
Length: 175 feet (53 m)
Beam: 51 feet 2 inches (15.60 m)
Draft: 6 feet (1.8 m)
Propulsion:
Steam engine with 22 inches (560 mm) cylinder and stroke of 6 feet (1.8 m), fed by five fire-tube boilers at 140 psi (970 kPa)
paddle wheel-propelled

Speed: 4 knots (7.4 km/h)
Complement: 251 officers and men
Armament:
Armor:
forward casemate: 2.5 inches (64 mm)
pilot house: 2.5 inches (64 mm)
60 feet (18 m) of the side covering the machinery: 2.5 inches (64 mm).
forward part of casemate sides: 3.5 inches (89 mm) railroad iron

USS Cairo (1861) was a City class ironclad gunboat constructed for the Union Navy by James B. Eads during the American Civil War. She was the first vessel of the City class ironclads, also called the Cairo class. Cairo was the first ship sunk by a naval mine, on 12 December 1862 in the Yazoo River.

Cairo was built in 1861 by James Eads and Co., Mound City, Illinois, under contract to the United States Department of War. She was commissioned as part of the Union Army’s Western Gunboat Flotilla, naval Lieutenant James M. Prichett in command.

Cairo served with the Army’s Western Gunboat Fleet, commanded by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote, on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and their tributaries until transferred to the Navy 1 October 1862 with the other river gunboats.

Active in the occupation of Clarksville, Tennessee, 17 February 1862, and of Nashville, Tennessee, 25 February, Cairo stood down the river 12 April escorting mortar boats to begin the lengthy operations against Fort Pillow. An engagement with Confederate gunboats at Plum Point Bend on 11 May marked a series of blockading and bombardment activities which culminated in the abandonment of the Fort by its defenders on 4 June.

Two days later, 6 June 1862, Cairo joined in the triumph of seven Union ships and a tug over eight Confederate gunboats off Memphis, Tennessee, an action in which five of the opposing gunboats were sunk or run ashore, two seriously damaged, and only one managed to escape. That night Union forces occupied the city. Cairo returned to patrol on the Mississippi until 21 November when she joined the Yazoo Expedition.

On 12 December 1862, while clearing mines from the river preparatory to the attack on Haines Bluff, Mississippi, Cairo struck a torpedo detonated by volunteers hidden behind the river bank and sank in 12 minutes; there were no casualties. Cairo became the first armored warship sunk by an electrically detonated mine.

Like many of the Mississippi theatre ironclads, Cairo had its armament changed over life of the vessel. To expedite the entrance of Cairo into service, she and the other City-class ships were fitted with whatever weapons were available; then had their weapons upgraded as new pieces became available. Though the 8 in (200 mm) Dahlgren smoothbore cannons were fairly modern most of the other original armaments were antiquated; such as the 32-pounders, or modified; such as the 42-pounder “rifles” which were in fact, old smoothbores that had been gouged out to give them rifling. These 42-pounder weapons were of particular concern to military commanders because they were structurally weaker and more prone to exploding than purpose-built rifled cannons. Additionally, the close confines of riverine combat greatly increased the threat of boarding parties. The 12-pounder howitzer was equipped to address that concern and was not used in regular combat.

Ordinance characteristics
January 1862
• 3 × 8-inch smoothbores
• 6 × 42-pounder rifle
• 6 × 32-pounder rifles
• 1 × 12-pounder rifle
November 1862
• 3 × 8-inch smoothbores
• 3 × 42-pounder rifles
• 6 × 32-pounder rifle
• 1 × 30-pounder rifle
• 1 × 12-pounder rifle

Over the years the gunboat was soon forgotten and her watery grave was slowly covered by a shroud of silt and sand. Impacted in mud, Cairo became a time capsule in which her priceless artifacts were preserved. Her whereabouts became a matter of speculation as members of the crew had died and local residents were unsure of the location.

By studying contemporary documents and maps, Edwin C. Bearss, a historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, was able to plot the approximate site of the wreck. With the help of a pocket compass and iron bar probes, Bearss and two companions, Don Jacks and Warren Grabau, set out to discover the grave of the Cairo in 1956. The three searchers were reasonably convinced they had found the Cairo, but three years lapsed before divers brought up armored port covers to confirm the find. A heavy accumulation of silt, swift current, and the ever-muddy river deterred the divers as they explored the gunboat. Local enthusiasm and interest began to grow in 1960 with the recovery of the pilothouse, an 8 inch smoothbore cannon, its white oak carriage, and other artifacts well preserved by the Yazoo River mud. With financial support from the State of Mississippi, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and funds raised locally, efforts to salvage the gunboat began in earnest.

List of Commanders/Crew

Painting Information

Books/Articles and other resources

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