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The Sinking of the USS Cairo

The Sinking of the USS Cairo

John C. Wideman
Copyright Date: 1993
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    The Sinking of the USS Cairo
    Book Description:

    In 1862, in one of the South's most amazing secret operations, a Confederate team, using newly invented explosive mines, blew up the USS Cairo, one of the Union's most feared ironclad gunboats. It sank within minutes.

    The USS Cairo is the only remaining vessel from the Union navy's river fleet. For 102 years, the ironclad rested deep in the mud of the Yazoo River. In 1964 it was rediscovered and salvaged. Now the USS Cairo is one of the premier exhibits at the Vicksburg National Military Park. This historic vessel, its entire cargo of weapons and personal effects, and its role in the war continue to spark the imagination of Civil War buffs and thousands of tourists.

    Here, for the first time, in a carefully documented study is the entire story of the Confederate Secret Service team that sank the USS Cairo. With family oral histories never before consulted and with newly examined documents from the National Archives, The Sinking of the USS Cairo disproves some previous theories and corrects factual errors found in earlier reports. It shows conclusively that the Cairo was not sunk by "an electrically detonated mine" but by a different method. Also, it identifies the members of the Confederate crew, whose names supposedly were "lost to history." For the first time in a book about this river war, there are illustrations of all five gunboats that were engaged in this action.

    Told from the Confederate perspective for the first time, this refocused story of the Cairo is a significant addition to the history of the Confederate Secret Service, to the history of the operations around Vicksburg, and to the history of the war on the western frontier.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-691-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    The USSCairois the only surviving example of a Civil War—era Union ironclad gunboat. It survived because it was destroyed. Sunk by a Confederate torpedo in 1862, it languished in the mud of the Yazoo River for more than a century. Although its location was known to local residents, it was “rediscovered” and raised in the mid-1960s. It is now a premier exhibit at the Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

    In 1862 the use of torpedoes to protect harbors and deny the enemy access to certain watercourses was a controversial issue. The use of time bombs and...

  4. 1 Constantly Engaged in the Cause January 1862–October 1862
    (pp. 3-19)

    In July 1863, Zere McDaniel wrote Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America: “I am forty-two years old, a native and a citizen of the state of Kentucky, before the war a mill right by profession & practice, a vocation which my skill therein rendered very lucrative, by means whereof, I was, when the war commenced, living most easily & happily with my family in Kentucky. … I was accumulating property which with a large debt due me I left behind when I engaged in the Confederate States. Since I left Kentucky with our Army in February 1862, I have...

  5. 2 A Torpedo Exploded and Tore the Boat Fearfully November 1862–12 December 1862
    (pp. 20-39)

    Early in the war, the Union army exercised command over certain boats, including the ironclads, that were used for military operations in the Mississippi River area because it was thought that naval forces would operate only in support of ground forces. Commander David D. Porter wrote that “there does not seem to have been a man in the Cabinet at that time who knew the difference between a gun-boat and a transport.”¹ October 1862, after much insistence on the part of the U.S. Navy, Mississippi River boat operations, now to be known as the Mississippi Squadron, were placed under the...

  6. 3 We Know She Is at the Bottom 13 December 1862–June 1863
    (pp. 40-51)

    There was no sense in going down to the river at night because nothing could be seen. As Davis, the Confederate torpedo man hiding on a nearby levee, put it, “The Yankees shelled that place till late that day [December 12] so that we did not visit the place until the next day; we had to get our tents and gather up our goods, that we had scattered in the hurry to get out of the way of the shelling; that kept us till night [December 13]; next day [December 14] we went to the place where the boat was...

  7. 4 Form a Company of Men for Secret Service July 1863–December 1863
    (pp. 52-65)

    On March 23, 1863, McDaniel and Ewing, in a statement prepared by Ewing, who was in Richmond, made a claim on the Confederate government based on a “secret” act of the Confederate Congress, which entitled persons who destroyed material of the enemy, using an original invention, to one-half the value of the material destroyed. That act was an amendment to an original act. The pertinent part was as follows: “In case any person or persons shall invent or construct any new machine or engine or construct any new method of destroying the armed vessels of the enemy he or they...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 There Has Been No Day When We Were Not Operating Somewhere January 1864–June 1865
    (pp. 66-78)

    Some of McDaniel’s secret service operations were recorded and became well known. Others, apparently, were not as well known or the records were destroyed. One operation that he might have conducted involved Bennett G. Burley and John A. Maxwell, both experienced saboteurs and commissioned as acting masters in the Confederate navy. Maxwell was described as “wiry” and “full six feet, with broad square shoulders, black hair, moustache and whiskers.” Burley was a “stout, round-shouldered, deep full-chested man of two and twenty, with brown hair, blue eyes, quick with intelligence, and a fair beardless face.” Burley, whose name is sometimes spelled...

  10. Conclusion: Z. McDaniel Was Active in the Destruction of United States Property July 1865–1870
    (pp. 79-82)

    Nothing is known about McDaniel’s movements between March 1865 and sometime in 1867. Reconstruction of the South was proceeding. In McDaniel’s native Pittsylvania County, Virginia, a man named Tucker from Maine was appointed commonwealth attorney. Tucker is said to have attempted to incite the freedmen against the local white population. Judge Gilmer, a staunch Virginian, spoke against Tucker publicly in front of the county courthouse. The Reverend Chiswell Dabney described the action:

    Tucker tried to resent Judge Gilmer’s accusations but a very large man who was standing near named Zery McDaniel ascended the box Judge Gilmer had just vacated and...

  11. Appendix: Confederate Documents Relating to the Sinking of the USS Cairo on 12 December 1862
    (pp. 83-112)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 113-130)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 131-134)
  14. Index
    (pp. 135-139)