CSS North Carolina

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CSS North Carolina
Conf Navy Jack.png
Type and class Casemate ironclad ram
Authorized 1862
Shipyard Berry & Bros shipyard
Wilmington, North Carolina
Keel laid 1863
Launched October 1863
Commissioned December 1863
Fate Sunk, September 27, 1864
Length 150 feet
Beam 32 feet
Draft 12 feet
Displacement 600 tons
Propulsion Steam engine
Screw propeller
Speed >2 knots
Armament Six 8-inch guns
One pivot gun
Compliment 150 officers and men

CSS North Carolina was the second Confederate ironclad to haunt the Union Navy in the waters of North Carolina in 1863. The third vessel of the so-called Richmond-class, she saw no action; instead, poor engines limited her role to that of guardship, while shoddy construction all but guaranteed her loss to sinking at anchor.


North Carolina was built by Berry & Bros shipyard, Wilmington, North Carolina, based on designs originally drawn up in 1846 by John L. Porter. The keel laid down in 1863 after a lengthy delay caused by yellow fever in the area, which caused a large number of workers to flee. Because of that, the shipyard could not find the proper timber to be used for the framing, and was forced to use unseasoned, green timber. The single steam engine was salvaged from the tugboat Uncle Ben. Armor consisted of 2-inch iron plating laid over the decks, while 4-inch railroad iron protected the sloping casemate. In addition to her guns, an iron ram was attached to her bow. Finally launched in October 1863, she was placed in commission the following December, Commander W. T. Muse, CSN, in command.

Her engine proved unreliable. When it did work it could not run against the current of the rivers, and she frequently ran aground; more often than not a tugboat was needed for towing. As a result, she was tasked with use as a guardship and anchored off Smithville (modern Southport). Knowledge of her flaws never reached Union ships blockading the area; with an additional Confederate ironclad - the formidable Albemarle - sinking two ships near Plymouth, North Carolina's presence may have delayed the actions taken against Fort Fisher.

Yet her fatal flaw was the use of green timber in her framing, and soon after her commissioning her hull became riddled with teredos - the shipworms which eat wood. In June, 1864, a sailor wrote "Our ship is not worth much, her decks are beginning to give way so much that we can hardly work the guns. I don’t think we can last 6 months longer"[1]. On September 27, 1864, her hull severely weakened, North Carolina developed a leak and sank at her anchorage off Smithville.

Part of the text is incorporated from the United States Navy's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.


  1. http://www.myreporter.com/?p=11652