Warships of the Civil War

01
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USS Cumberland

USS Cumberland (pre-1855). Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

The first thought for many when they think of the Civil War is one of massive armies squaring off at places such as Shiloh or Gettysburg. In addition to the struggle on land, there was an equally important battle occurring on the waves. Union warships encircled the Southern coast, economically choking the Confederacy and depriving its armies of much needed munitions and supplies. To counter this, the small Confederate Navy unleashed a swarm of commerce raiders with the goal of damaging Northern trade and drawing ships away from the coast.

On both sides new technologies were developed including the first ironclads and submarines. The Civil War was truly a pivotal moment in naval warfare as it signaled the end of wooden sailing ships, confirmed steam power as a means of propulsion, and gave rise to armored, ironclad warships. This gallery will provide an overview of some of the ships used during the war.

USS Cumberland

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Sloop of War
  • Displacement: 1,726 tons
  • Crew: 400
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1861-1862
  • Civil War Armament: 22 x 9-inch Dahlgrens, 1 x 10-inch Dahlgren, 1 x 70-pdr rifle
  • Notes: Launched in 1842, Cumberland was originally built as a 50-gun frigate. In 1855, the ship was "razeed" down to a sloop of war to allow it to carry the Navy's newest shell guns. On March 8, 1862, Cumberland was sunk at the Battle of Hampton Roads after being rammed by the new Confederate ironclad Virginia(Merrimack). During the battle, Cumberland's crew watched in horror as their shells bounced off the sides of the armored ship, while the Confederate's ripped through their own. The sinking of Cumberland by Virginia signaled the end of the centuries-old age of all-sail, wooden warships.
02
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USS Cairo

USS Cairo, 1862. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Cairo

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Ironclad (City Class)
  • Displacement: 512 tons
  • Crew: 251
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1862-1862
  • Civil War Armament: 6 × 32-pdr guns, 3 × 8-inch shell guns, 4 × 42 pounder rifled guns, 1 × 12-pdr howitzer
  • Notes: Commissioned in January 1862, by James Eads & Co., USS Cairo was typical of the ironclad gunboats employed by the US Navy on the western rivers. Propelled by an enclosed paddle wheel (note the curved hump aft of the stacks), USS Cairo possessed a shallow draft that enabled it to maneuver effectively in the changing conditions of the Mississippi River system. After participating in attacks on Fort Pillow and aiding in the defeat of Confederate gunboats off Memphis, Cairo took part in the Vicksburg Campaign. On December 12, 1862, the ship struck a mine near Haines Bluff, MS and sank in twelve minutes. Cairo's remains were raised in 1964, and are currently on display at Vicksburg National Military Park.
03
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CSS Florida

CSS Florida. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

CSS Florida

  • Nation: Confederate
  • Type: Screw Sloop
  • Displacement: ?
  • Crew: 146
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1862-1864
  • Civil War Armament: 6 x 6-inch rifles, 2 x 7-inch rifles, 1 x 12-pdr gun
  • Notes: Built in Liverpool, England under the name Oreto, CSS Florida was commissioned into Confederate service on August 17, 1863, with Lt. John N. Maffitt in command. During the first eight months of 1863, Florida terrorized Union shipping in the Atlantic and Caribbean, capturing 22 prizes. Florida then proceeded to Brest, France where it underwent a lengthy refit. Putting back sea in February 1864, with Lt. Charles Morris commanding, the raider captured 11 more Union ships before reaching Bahia, Brazil. While at Bahia, Florida was attacked, captured, and towed to sea by USS Wachusett while Morris and most of the crew were ashore. Though the capture occurred in a neutral port and protests were made, no action was ever taken against Wachusett's captain, Commander Napoleon Collins. That November, Florida sank near Hampton Roads, VA after being accidently rammed by a transport. All told, the raider captured 37 ships, second only to CSS Alabama.
04
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H.L. Hunley

The Submarine H.L. Hunley. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

H.L. Hunley

  • Nation: Confederate
  • Type: Submarine
  • Displacement: 7.5 tons
  • Crew: 8
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1863-1864
  • Civil War Armament: Spar Torpedo
  • Notes: The Civil War spawned a variety of designs for submersible warships. Designed by Horace L. Hunley, James McClintock, and Baxter Wilson, the submarine H.L. Hunley was built privately by the firm of Parks & Lyons in Mobile, AL. Approximately forty feet long, H.L. Hunley sailed with a crew of eight and was powered by a hand-cranked propeller. Shortly after completing testing, H.L. Hunley was taken to Charleston, SC for use against the Union blockade. During trials in Charleston harbor, the submarine sank twice killing five of its crew the first time, and eight, including Horace Hunley, the second. On the night of February 17, 1864, Lt. George Dixon sailed H.L. Hunley out of Charleston to attack USS Housatonic. Diving as they approached the ship, the crew of H.L. Hunley successfully attached and detonated the submarine's spar torpedo (an explosive charge at the end of long spear). The detonation sank Housatonic, making it the first ever victim of a submarine attack. Despite its success, H.L. Hunley was lost at sea attempting to return to the harbor. The wreck of the submarine was located in 1995, and raised five years later. It is currently undergoing conservation treatment in Charleston.
05
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USS Miami

USS Miami, 1862-1864. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Miami

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Double-ender Gunboat
  • Displacement: 730 tons
  • Crew: 134
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1862-1865
  • Civil War Armament: 1 x 80 pdr Parrott Rifle, 1 x 9-inch Dahlgren, 4 x 24-pdr guns
  • Notes: Commissioned in January 1862, USS Miami was typical of the "double-ender" gunboats used by the US Navy for the blockade of the Southern coast. The type earned their name due the shape of their hull, which permitted them to travel at equal speeds in forward or reverse. This feature increased their maneuverability, which when coupled with their shallow draft, made them ideal for operating inshore amid the sounds and shoal waters of the Confederacy. Miami spent most of the war stationed in the North Carolina sounds and saw action against the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in April 1864.
06
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USS Nantucket

USS Nantucket. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Nantucket

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Ironclad (Passiac Class Monitor)
  • Displacement: 1,875 tons
  • Crew: 75
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1863-1865
  • Civil War Armament: 1 x 15-inch Dahlgren, 1 x 11-inch Dahlgren
  • Notes: With the success of USS Monitor, the US Navy sought to produce more ships of a similar design. Improving on the original, the monitors of the Passiac-class included enhanced features such as an armored pilot house. Commissioned in February 1863, USS Nantucket, was sent to Charleston where it participated in attacks against the harbor forts. Despite the improvements in design, Nantucket and the other Passiac-class monitors were poor sea boats and prone to the same type of swamping that sank USS Monitor. As a result, the Navy limited their operations to coastal waters.
07
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CSS Tennessee

CSS Tennessee after its capture at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

CSS Tennessee

  • Nation: Confederate
  • Type: Casemate Ironclad
  • Displacement: 1,273 tons
  • Crew: 133
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1864
  • Civil War Armament: 2 x 7-inch rifles, 4 x 6.4-inch rifles
  • Notes: Though construction began in 1862, CSS Tennessee was not completed until 1864, due to a lack of materials. Tennessee, like most Confederate ironclads, featured a large, armored enclosure for its guns known as a casemate. This design feature was first used on CSS Virginia in 1862. Based at Mobile, Tennessee engaged Admiral David G. Farragut's Union fleet at the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. Facing overwhelming odds, Tennessee fought bravely until being battered into submission and forced to surrender.
08
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USS Wachusett

USS Wachusett at Shanghai, China, 1867. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Wachusett

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Screw Sloop (Iroquois Class)
  • Displacement: 1,032 tons
  • Crew: 175
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1862-1865
  • Civil War Armament: 2 x 30-pdr Parrott Rifles, 1 x 20-pdr Parrott Rifle, 4 x 32-pdr guns, 1 x 12-pdr rifle)
  • Notes: An Iroquois-class screw sloop, USS Wachusett was typical of the vessels used by the Union Navy for offshore blockading and intercepting Confederate commerce raiders. Commissioned in March 1862, Wachusett initially served with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron before being transferred to the special "Flying Squadron." This organization was tasked with tracking down and sinking Confederate raiders. In February 1864, the ship was ordered Bahia, Brazil with orders to protect American commerce in the area. That October, Wachusett encountered the raider CSS Florida in Bahia harbor. Though technically in neutral waters, Wachusett's captain, Commander Napoleon Collins, ordered an attack. Catching Florida by surprise, men from Wachusett quickly captured the ship. After a brief refit, Wachusett received orders to sail for the Far East to aid in the hunt for CSS Shenandoah. It was en route when news was received that the war had ended.
09
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USS Hartford

USS Hartford, post-war. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

USS Hartford

  • Nation: Union
  • Type: Screw Sloop
  • Displacement: 2,900 tons
  • Crew: 302
  • Wartime Service Dates: 1861-1865
  • Civil War Armament: 20 x 9-inch Dahlgrens, 2 x 30-pdr Parrott Rifles, 2 x 12-pdr guns
  • Notes: One of the most famous ships of the Civil War, USS Hartford served as Admiral David G. Farragut's flagship for the duration of the conflict. In 1862, Hartford led a Union fleet past the forts guarding New Orleans and aided in capturing the city. For the next year, Farragut coordinated with Union forces to assist in capturing the Confederate strongholds of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. In 1864, Farragut shifted his focus to subduing the port of Mobile. On August 5, 1864, Farragut and Hartford participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay, winning a tremendous victory and opening the city to capture by Union forces. Hartford remained in the fleet until 1956, when it was dismantled after sinking at its berth.