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CSS TUSCALOOSA (1863)

Built: Selma, Alabama

Commissioned: Unclear; sometime in Summer, 1863.

Service: Selma, Alabama 1863. Mobile Squadron, 1864-1865.

Home Port: Selma, Alabama

Dimensions: 150 or 152' Length, 30' Beam, 7' Draft.

Armor: 4" Iron, with wood backing.

Armament: 2x7" Brooke Rifles, 2x42lb Smoothebores, 2x32lb Smoothebores.

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 3 Knots

Crew: 140

Fate: Scuttled to prevent capture, April 12 1865.



Summary

Tuscaloosa and the virtually identical Huntsville were small casemate floating batteries laid down at Selma Alabama then converted to self-propelled ironclads. They were initially used at Selma and later, deployed to the defense of Mobile Bay to join CSS Baltic in 1864. There are no existant photos of either vessel, and the few sketches and illustrations vary widely in detail, so there is considerable debate about the actual size of the vessels - estimates range from the 150 or 152 foot length quoted above to nearing 175 feet.

Like most floating batteries later converted to service as ironclads, they suffered from relatively poor sea keeping qualities and were extremely slow, despite motifications to their hulls. The engines installed in both vessels were extremely poor, and sufficient to make about three knots at the best of times, making them unsuitable in their intended role as "ironclad rams." During the Battle of Mobile Bay in August, 1864, both ships were ordered to support CSS Tennessee II in her fight with the Union fleet, and exchanged fire with Union vessels at long range, but did not actually enter the lower bay, probably because the stronger currents in the lower bay may well have reduced them to virtual immobility.

After Mobile Bay, the two remained in the Upper Bay and, with CSS Nashville, defended the city of Mobile in support of its extensive fortifications until the impending fall of the cityin April, 1865, caused them to be scuttled to prevent capture in the nearby Spanish River. Their wrecks have been tentatively located, and it is believed that they may be relatively well preserved. The excavation of the wrecks could put to wrest many of the competing theories regarding their deployment, design, and functionality, but it is currently unknown when this might take place.

It's worth noting that at least one source specifically describes Tuscaloosa as moving under her own power to Mobile for completion and deployment. This may contradict reports that the two ships were originally intended as floating batteries. One possible source for the contradiction is an oft repeated report that the CSN recommended deployment of the two ships as floating batteries due to their low speed.

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