Confederate fleet

Confederacy army and navy flags from 1861 to 1864


The confederate fleet was actually more the amount of ships that were seized in the Confederate ports and captured or requisitioned vessels than a coherent pre-existing fleet. The Confederates tried to cope with the huge industrial and technical resources of the Union, massive private arsenals, engineers and manpower, while trying revolutionary concepts as the Hunley or the David in one hand, and by auxiliary cruisers, corsairs, and blocus enforcers on the other. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the CSS Shenandoah. Mastership of the Mussissippi during the war urged a number of riverine ironclads to be built on the basis of converted civilian vessels, corvette and frigates, but with a conventional battery side: Only the Union owned Coles turrets patents. The enduring embargo prevented the South to purchase it, athough many warship were ordered from British, French, or German arsenals.

The Confederate fleet (1861-1865):

Ironclads :

The Confederate leaders affirmed their determination to counter the classic, massive northern fleet through the purchase abroad of ironclads. Knowing this, Union government strongly pressured and threatened the European states to agree. Also, only the CSS Stonewall was built and finished in Bordeaux in January 1863 in semi-secrecy, under the cover name of another country. She was to be operational by the end of the war, but at her first cruise, encountered two union units on the Spanish coast and offered them a duel, that they rejected. (Read more about css Stonewall).

During the whole duration of the war, the confederacy was not able to afford a suitable engineering industry and in result were not capable to built a sophisticated ship equivalent to the USS Monitor. This does not prevent them to build several powerful riverine ironclads : First, the CSS Virginia, formerly Merrimack, which was made immortal by his duel with the Monitor near Hampton road, resulting in a draw. However, the CSS Tennessee CSS Atlanta, Charleston, Frederickburg, Arkansas, Richmond, Raleigh, North Carolina, Chicora, Neuse, Palmetto State, Savannah, Ablemarle, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and CSS Nashville were also converted ships which served as such, some with only a massive wooden protection and a thin layer of iron.

Raiders :

The confederacy armed some captured or seized trading clippers to undermine the union trade lines, and also to enforce the blockade. There were in service under the southern colors as the CSS Sumter, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Shenandoah ot Talahassee. There were also a number of specialized blockade runners, as CSS Hope. All were manned by determined crews and effectively disrupted the Union trade lines, resulting in a general chase over the Pacific and the atlantic as well... The Shenandoah itself, formerly the famous clipper Sea King, was one of the most successful of these ships, sinking 38 whalers, resulting in a substantial economical loss for the Union (whale oil was one of the most valuable trade export good at this time by far). But the prize was owned by CSS Alabama, sinking or capturing 65 ships.

Special vessels :

These were the truly revolutionary CSS David, a semi-submersible carrying an explosive charge at the end of a long spar, and the CSS Hunley, the first real submersible, moved by human power. Both deserved some limited success. The CSS Manassas was another former civilian ship, converted into a kind of ironclad gunboat ram, able to deflect projectiles as being partially submersible, and was one of the most stunning ship in service during the war, although it overall performed poorely.

The Homeric struggle between the CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge off Cherbourg by Manet.


The confederacy navy was a product of a hurry mobilisation, a collection of vessels captured when the war broke off. There were many merchant small sailing ships, tall ships and clippers, and some steamers, but a very few military ones. But there was some artillery to equip a handful of ships, and some engineers, materials and sufficient manpower to built a sizable naval threat for the union. But in all, it was a desperate struggle of a clay pot against an iron one. This forced the Confederacy to test specific solutions, precisely the ones which were applied by the former presidents to deal with the Royal Navy. War on commerce with corsairs, special units (like the Alligator, David or Stonewall), riverine gunboats and ironclads, like the famous Merrimack, and ordering more powerful ships from European yards...

The Merrimack concentrated all available skills to cover a framed casemate with iron plates, turning one of the six a frigates authorized by the congress and built there (USS Virginia) to an almost unsinkable ship. Against the Monitor, her only duel ended as a draw.

  • Weight & dimensions: 3100 t ; 83,81 x 11,73 x 6,70 m
  • Propulsion: Steam only - 1 Penn Trunk screw, 4 Martin boilers, 440 hp, 6 knots.
  • Armour: sides 4,7 inches on oak, iron, oak sandwitches
  • Armament: 2x 7in Brooke RMLs, 2x 6,5 in, 6x 8,5in mortars, 2x 3in Howitzers.
  • Crew: 85

Originally known as Laird "Hull 290" at Liverpool John Laird & sons Yard in great britain, she was completed as the Barque steamer Enrica, with a lifting screw to serve as a steam clipper. She taken over by the confederate government and completed as a commerce raider, left Britain in july 1862 and then roamed the seas until 1864.

  • Weight & dimensions : 1050 t ; 67,05 x 9,65 x 4,26 m
  • Propulsion : Steam only - 1 lifting screw, 4 Martin Boilers, 800 hp, 11 knots.
  • Armour : None
  • Armament : One 6,4in Blackely RML, one 8prd SB, six 32pdr SB.
  • Crew : 145

This "hellish machine" as it was dubbed by Union intelligence, was the former icebreaker and towboat Enoch Train, built in 1855 at Medford, Mass. It was converted in 1860 by privateer Capt. John A. Stevenson at Algiers, Louisiana, with a surprising, radical, yet very effective design, featuring an ironclad turtleback.

  • Weight & dimensions : 385-387 t ; 44 x 10 x 5,2 m
  • Propulsion : Steam only - 1 screw, 2 Boilers, 180 hp, 8 knots.
  • Armour : Full iron plating, 25-30 mm, 2 inches aw
  • Armament : One 64pdr Dalghren BL, ram.
  • Crew : 36

CSS Shenandoah was one of the top list, most chased Confederate commerce raider in the world. This indian transport, laid up at Stephen in 1864 (UK) and named Sea King, was purchased as a commerce raider by the confederate government, with added firepower. She has a composite hull and lifting screw, one compound engine, but was as well rigged as a clipper.

  • Weight & dimensions : 1140-1160 t ; 70,11 x 9,75 x 6,25 m
  • Propulsion : Steam and sail - 1 screw, 2 Boilers, 190 hp, 9 knots.
  • Armour : Only extra wooden layers on broadside deck
  • Armament : Two 32pdr Withworth RML, two 12in, four 8in.
  • Crew : 36

CSS Sumter (named after fort sumter seizure), formely the Habana of the Mc Connell line of New Orleans, was built at Philadelphia in 1859 as a barque-rigged steamer, purchased in april 1861 and modified as a commerce raider, commissioned in june 1861. She has a breef carrer were she took 18 prizes, before laying up and beeing sold at Gibraltar. She then became the British blockade runner Gibraltar.

  • Weight & dimensions : 437t ; 56,07 x 9,14 x 3,66 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, 2 Boilers, 100 hp, 10 knots, coal for 8 days.
  • Armour : Extra wooden layers on broadside deck
  • Armament : One 8in SB, four 32pdr SB.
  • Crew : 51

CSS Florida was well recoignisable with her twin tall funnels, and raked masts. Originally known as Oreto, built at W C Miller in 1861 of Liverpool, seized by the Confederacy, relaunched in 1862 and armed with six massive Blakely rifled guns. She became one of the most hunted confederate ship ever.

  • Weight & dimensions : 480t ; 58 x 8,28 x 4 m
  • Propulsion : 1 lifting screw, 2 Boilers, 90 hp, 9,5 knots, coal for 10 days.
  • Armour : Extra wooden layers on broadside deck
  • Armament : Two 7in and four 6,4in RML, one 32pdr SB.
  • Crew : 146

This was the former merchantman Fingal, built at Glasgow, Scotland, launched in may 1861, which began her carreer as a blockade runner, rallying the Bermuda idlands, then heading in Savannah, with a full load of rifles, guns and ammunitions.

  • Weight & dimensions : 1022t ; 62,2 x 12,5 x 4,8 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, 1 Boiler, 220 hp, 10 knots, coal for 10 days.
  • Armour : Casemate : 102 mm -hull : 51 mm
  • Armament : Two 7in and six 6,4in Brooke RML, spar torpedo.
  • Crew : 145
This extraordinary machine was conceived by Horace Lawson Hunley, which seen as early as 1861 that Confederates were ill-prepared to withstand any union blockade. He designed at Mobile with John Mc Clintock a steel, cigar-shaped, human propelled device which was capable of beeing submerged and delivering a mine.

  • Weight & dimensions : 6,8 to 8t ; 12,04 x 1,17 x 1,80 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, manual crank for seven, speed 4 knots.
  • Armour : None - 10 mm steel
  • Armament : One wired spar torpedo.
  • Crew : 8
The CSS CHICORA was a purpose-built ironclad which costed around 300000 $, part of a confederate state appropriation.

  • Weight & dimensions : 830 to 880t ; 46 x 11 x 4,3 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, 2-stroke steam engine, 2 boilers, speed 5 knots.
  • Armour : 4in (127 mm) steel backed by 22in oak planking.
  • Armament : spar torpedo, 6 32pdr rifled guns.
  • Crew : 150
The CSS DAVID was born of a private venture, ordered by T. Stoney of Charleston. It was designed as a semi-submerged spart torpedo vessel, aiming to destroy enemy blockading ships by moonless nights, with a smokless propellant.

  • Weight & dimensions : 8 to 10 tons ; 15 x 1,8 x 1,5 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, 2-stroke steam engine, 1 boiler, speed 6 knots.
  • Armour : none - iron plating.
  • Armament : spar torpedo, 60 to 70 pounds of explosives.
  • Crew : 4
The CSS Savannah, of the Richmond class, was designed by eng. John L. Porter to the request of the Confederate Navy department in order to standardize equipments, and provides guardships for harbours and coastal duties.

  • Weight & dimensions : Around 600 tons ; 46 x 10 x 3,8 m
  • Propulsion : 1 screw, 2-stroke steam engine, 1 boiler, speed 6 knots.
  • Armour : 2x2in iron plating on 21in timber.
  • Armament : two pivot 7in and two 6.4in Brooke RML.
  • Crew : 180