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CSS Mississippi

Sketch of the ship's intended configuration.

CSS MISSISSIPPI (Incomplete)

Built: New Orleans, Louisiana

Commissioned: Never Commissioned

Service: Incomplete; intended for the New Orleans Defense Flotilla

Home Port: New Orleans, Louisiana

Dimensions: 250' Length, 58' Beam, 15' Draft

Armor: 4.5" iron with wood backing.

Armament: Twenty cannon; at least four of these were probably 7" or 6.4" Brooke rifles. The other sixteen have never been clearly defined.

Engines: Triple Screw

Speed: Unknown

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Scuttled and Burned, April 25th 1862



Summary

Along with CSS Louisiana, MIssissippi formed the cornerstone of the intended defense for the city of New Orleans, the largest city and most important port in the Confederacy. Designed using unconventional methods by the Tift Brothers, Mississippi was intended to be a powerful design simple enough to be built by landsmen with little or no experience in constructing warships. Her construction was constantly under threat from a variety of issues.

In the first place, she competed with the nearby Louisiana for personnel and equipment, both in short supply as New Orleans mobilized available resources for the war effort. These issues were only partly mitigated with an agreement that the workmen would spend variable shifts on Louisiana and Mississippi; because Louisiana was smaller, but slightly more complex, the shifts were weighted toward work on the Louisiana, it being assumed that this would essentially even out the production time between the two.

A second problem was the pompous parade ground atmosphere of newly seceded Louisiana. Secessionist dominated local government in New Orleans brought work to a standstill by insisting upon constant military parades, reviews, and pageantry which did little to contribute to the defense of the city but whipped locals into a frenzy. When the Tift Brothers appealed to the Governor for an exemption to be provided for their workers, this was issued forthwith, but local politicians ignored the order, and the policy continued.

Officials in the US Navy Department, meanwhile, were terrified by the prospect of the so-called "Mississippi Monsters" (Louisiana and Mississippi) and Gideon Wells insisted that they must be destroyed before completion, lest they seriously damage, or even destroy, the Gulf Blockade Squadron.

On April 24th, 1862, the Union fleet ran the guns at New Orleans and began its famously quick assault on the city. The shipyard tried to save the Mississippi by moving her to a safer location further upriver. Because her engines were not yet installed, the hulk of the Mississippi had to be towed. However, it was soon found that she was too heavy for the tug and tow boats in the area. While orders were given to scramble heavy ships from nearby, the US continued its assaults on the city. On the morning of the 25th, with the available tugs still a few miles off, the advance pickets of the Union fleet hove into view. Fearful that Mississippi would be captured by the Union fleet, local officials chose to scuttle and burn her, rather than allow her to fall into Union hands. The destruction of the Misssippi, and indeed, the whole of the debacle of the defense of New Orleans, was the centerpiece of an intensive Confederate Congressional investigation.

If Mississippi had been completed, she would have been the most powerful ironclad in the Confederat Navy and, possibly, the whole of the Gulf of Mexico. Her military merits have been debated ad-infinitum by wargamers, historians, and enthusiasts, but ultimately the failure to complete her renders these arguments academic at best.

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