USS Keokuk was one of the first three ironclads authorized for construction by the Union during the American Civil War. A relatively-weak vessel, she would sink after receiving battle damage in South Carolina after nearly two months of service.
Laid down as Moodna, the first ship in the United States Navy named Keokuk - named after a Sauk Indian chief who opposed the Black Hawk War - was launched at New York by Charles W. Whitney 6 December 1862; sponsored by Mrs. C. W. Whitney, wife of the builder; and commissioned March 1863; Commodore Alexander C. Rhind in command.
The experimental ironclad steamer embodied some unusual concepts: her two stationary, cylindrical gun towers, each pierced with three gun ports, which often caused her to be mistaken for a double-turreted monitor; and her armor of horizontal iron bars alternating with strips of wood.
The new ironclad departed New York 11 March and steamed south to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron for the attack on Charleston and arrived Newport News 2 days later. She got underway again on the 17th but returned to Hampton Roads for repairs when her port propeller fouled a buoy. She stood out of Hampton Roads again 22 March and arrived Port Royal, South Carolina, the 26th.
As the day of attack on Charleston approached, Keokuk and Bibb were busy laying buoys to guide Rear Admiral Samuel Du Pont's ironclad flotilla into the strongly fortified Confederate harbor. The Union ships crossed the Stono Bar 6 April but were prevented from attacking that day by hazy weather which obscured targets and blinded pilots.
The advance began at noon on the 7th, but difficulties in clearing torpedoes from the path of Du Pont's ironclads slowed their progress. Shortly after three, they came within range of Forts Moultrie and Sumter; and the battle began. Southern obstruction and a strong flood tide made the ironclad virtually unmanageable, while accurate fire from the forts played upon them at will. With the Union formation scrambled, Keokuk was compelled to run ahead of crippled Nahant to avoid fouling her in the narrow channel. This brought her less than 600 yards from Fort Sumter, where she remained for half an hour receiving the "undivided attention" of the Confederate guns.
The game ironclad was riddled by 90 hits, one-fifth of which pierced her at or below the waterline. She was withdrawn from the action and anchored overnight beyond range of the forts while her crew struggled to keep her afloat. Next day, 8 April, when a breeze came up, Keokuk took on more water; filled rapidly; and sank off Morris Island. Both of her guns were immediately salvaged by Confederates and placed within defensive batteries in Charleston Harbor.
This article incorporates text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.