CSS Tennessee, a casemated, ironclad ram, was laid down at Selma, Alabama sometime in October 1862 by Henry D. Bassett, and she was launched late in February 1863. The ironclad was towed by steamboat Southern Republic, whose calliope played "Dixie" as the two steamers tied up at a landing each night during the week-long, 150-mile trip down river. At Mobile, the ironclad's machinery, armament, and armor were installed. The ram was commissioned in the Confederate States Navy on 16 February 1864, Lt. James D. Johnston, CSN, in command.
Tennessee then became flagship for Admiral Franklin Buchanan and proved to be a potent deterrent to any attempts by the Federal Navy to enter Mobile Bay. Though he had wished to force the entrance two years earlier, Rear Admiral David Farragut could not seriously entertain such notions until May of 1864. On the 25th, he made a run inshore to reconnoiter the defense to the entrance and to get a good look at the South's newest ironclad. Tennessee impressed him so much that he concluded that his wooden ships would be no match for her—particularly in the narrow channel dominated by the guns of Fort Morgan. Consequently, he decided to wait for reinforcements in the form of Union ironclads, which did not arrive on the scene until late in July.
On the morning of 5 August 1864, Farragut's fleet, strengthened by the recently arrived single-turret monitors Tecumseh and Manhattan, and double-turret monitors, Chickasaw and Winnebago, began its move toward the entrance to Mobile Bay. As the Union ships steamed past the guns of Fort Morgan, Tennessee and the gunboats Gaines, Morgan, and Selma moved forward to engage them. The ironclad ram's underpowered engines gave her insufficient speed to head the invaders off before they steamed into the bay. She exchanged shots with the Federal ships as they moved to a point some three or four miles up the bay, knocking the three Confederate gunboats out of the fight in the process.
At that point, Tennessee headed up the bay to take on the Federal fleet single handed. In response, every ship of that fleet tried to grab the glory of sinking the Confederate ram. During the ensuing melee, at least three Union ships succeeded in ramming Tennessee but failed to damage her appreciably. Instead, she suffered her most significant damage from Federal gunfire. Both her forward and after gun port covers jammed in the closed position restricting her ability to fire, and her stack was first holed and then shot away making it impossible to keep up sufficient steam to maneuver properly. An 11-inch shell from Chickasaw spelled her doom. That shot severed and blew away her rudder chains exposed on the after deck. Robbed of her ability to maneuver and unable to bring a gun to bear, Tennessee struck her colors and surrendered at about 1000.
Immediately following her capture, on 5 August, Tennessee was commissioned in the United States Navy, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Pierre Giraud in charge. The ironclad participated in the Federal assault on Fort Morgan on 23 August which resulted in the fort's capitulation that same day. That autumn, she moved from Mobile to New Orleans for repairs before joining the Mississippi Squadron. She served on the Mississippi through the end of the war in April 1865 and briefly thereafter. On 19 August 1865, Tennessee was placed out of commission and was laid up at New Orleans. There, she remained until 27 November 1867 when she was sold at auction to J. F. Armstrong for scrapping.
Some of this text comes from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.
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