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CSS PONCHARTRAIN (1862)

Built: New Albany, Indiana

Commissioned: March, 1862

Service: River Defense Fleet, 1862-1863

Home Port: New Orleans, Louisiana; later Little Rock, Arkansas

Dimensions: 204' Length, 36' 6" Beam, 6' 6" Draft

Armor: Cottonclad

Armament: At least eight guns; two of these were 32lb Rifles. The others may have been 8" Smoothebores, which are commonly identified at one point or another in the arsenal of the River Defense Fleet (and in the war on the Mississippi in General.)

Engines: Dual Paddlewheel

Speed: Unknown; estimated 9-10 knots.

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Burned to prevent capture, September 10th or October 9th, 1863.



Summary

CSS Ponchartrain was the only vessel in the Confederate Navy to bear her name, taken from the largest body of water in Louisiana, Lake Ponchartrain. She was originally built as Lizzie Simmons in New Albany, Indiana, and served as a civilian steamer from 1859 to 1861, when she was purchased by the Confederate Navy from her owner and captain at New Orleans for purposes of conversion to a cottonclad ram in the River Defense Fleet. Conversion took a considerable amount of time, and she was not judged ready for service and commissioning until March, 1862. She was large and heavily armed, and was likely one of the better equipped vessels in the aforementioned organization.

Although she was intended to serve as part of the "Southern Division" of the River Defense Fleet, she did not return to New Orleans after the Battle of Island No. 10 , but was instead ordered to proceed to New Madrid, Missouri, where she fought in the Battle of New Madrid. Following the Confederate evacuation of New Madrid, she escaped to the White River, in Arkansas, where she supported the Confederate Army in the Battle of St. Charles, before retiring further upriver until 1863, when she was engaged in a running gun battle with the USS General Price , a former compatriot in the River Defense Fleet. The Price damaged her, forcing a retreat, which in turn resulted in scuttling by her own crew in either September or October of that year, just across the river from Little Rock, Arkansas. She was the longest lived of the ships originally acquired for the River Defense Fleet, and seems to have been one of the more effective, better crewed vessels thereof.

Unfortunately, we have no period photos and very few, if any, positively identified sketches/engravings/etc. of CSS Ponchartrain.

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