In the summer and fall of 1861 shipyards in and around New Orleans converted or laid down a small flotilla of warships, both wooden gunboats and ironclads. These included two floating batteries, three ironclads and numerous river gunboats, or converted ocean-going steamers. A fleet of 10 wooden warships (including three tugs) was ready to contest the attack on the defenses below New Orleans by Commodore David G. Farragut's Western Gulf Blockading Squadron on April 24, 1862. In addition, two ironclads were available, although one, the Louisiana, was still unfinished, and needed to be towed into position. The sidewheel gunboat (iSS Jackson was absent from the fleet when the Union attacked, and the remainder constituted the core of the naval defenses of New Orleans. Political control of this llotilla was a complete mess. Two gunboats, the CSS McRae and the CSS Jackson belonged to the regular Confederate Navy, as did the ironclads CSS Manassas and Louisiana and a handful of tugs and tenders. Tlie cottonclad rams Governor Moore and General Quitman were operated by the Louisiana State Navy rather than the Confederate government, while six other cottonclad gunboats or rams belonged to the River Defense Fleet, run by the Confederate Army (Defiance, General Kreckenridge, General I.ovell, Resolute, Warrior, and Stonewall Jackson). Neither group was willing to take orders from the Navy, and all three existed as separate administrative and tactical entities.
The McRae was a former Mexican steamer which had been seized for piracy in 1860. She was still impounded in New Orleans when Louisiana seceded from the Union. The long, sleek, bark-rigged gunboat was powered by a single screw, and armed with a 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore on a central pivot mounting, in addition to a regular broadside armament of six 32-pounders and a 12-pounder. By contrast the Stonewall /arkson was armed with a single gun, mounted on her quarterdeck. Her primary armament was a ram, and during the Battle of New Orleans in April 1862 its effectiveness was demonstrated when the vessel rammed and sank the gunboat USS Varuna. The Governor Moore was also a ram, and she struck the Varuna herself, but with little effect. Even more spectacularly, in order to keep firing when the two ships were locked together, the crew of the 32-pounder on her forecastle lired through (heir own deck in order to hit the Varuna below her waterline. Both the Governor Moore and the Stoneioall Jackson were sunk during the battle. The second Louisiana vessel, the General Quitman, was a ram, but it failed to hit any Union target.
As for the appearance of these vessels, Captain Beverley Kennon, the commander of the Governor Moore, provided a detailed description.
"The vessel which / commanded was formerly the ocean-built wooden paddle-steamship Charles Morgan of about 900 ions and hewing a walking-beam engine. When armed by the State of Louisiana she was named the Governor Moore, and received 2 rifled 32-pounders (not banded and not sighted), and a complement of 93 persons. She was not iron-plated in any manner whatever. Her stem was like that of hundreds of other vessels, being faced its length on its edges above water with two strips of old-fashioned flat railroad iron, held in place by short straps of like kind at the top. at the waterline, and at three intermediate points, these straps extended about two Jeet abaft the face of the stem on each side, where tliey were bolted in place. The other 'rams' had their 'noses' hardened in like manner. All had the usual-shaped stems. Not one had an iron beak or projecting prow under the water. All of them had their boiler-houses, engines, and boilers protected by a bulkhead of cotton bales which extended from the poor of the hold to about five Jeet or more above the spar deck. These and other such
Union sharpshooters from the 75th New York Regiment picking off the gunners of a Confederate gunboat on a Louisiana river in January 1863. Ambushes from the shore were a frequent occurrence on the Mississippi River and her tributaries throughout the war.
vessels were fitted out by the State and the city of New Orleans after the regular navy neglected to take them, and to Lieutenant-Colonel VV'.S'. I.ovell (ex-lieutenant United States Navy) is due the credit oj their novel construction.
"Of the remaining seven 'rams' the General Quitman was like my ship, but smaller. The remaining six had been lug-boats, and were of wood, with walking-beam engines. Each of them mounted one or two guns,
The elegant screw gunboat CSS McRae was formerly a warship in the Mexican Navy, and was bought into Confederate service in 1861. She operated in the Mississippi Delta until her destruction at the Battle of New Orleans in April 1862.
had about 35 men, and measured not far from 150 tons, these six 'rams' were an independent command, and recognized no outside authority unless it suited their convenience; and it was expected that this 'fleet' and its branch in Memphis would defend the upper and lower Mississippi, without aid from the regular navy."
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