The American Civil War At Sea Wiki

Period photo of Atlanta in Confederate service, ca. 1863.


Built: Glasgow, Scotland. Converted to ironclad at Savannah, Georgia.

Commissioned: November 22, 1862

Service: Savannah Squadron, 1862-186unne3

Home Port: Savannah, Georgia

Dimensions: 204' Length, 41' Beam, 15' 9" Draft

Armor: 4" iron, wood backed

Armament: 2x7" Brooke Rifles, 2x6.4" Brooke Rifles

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 10 Knots

Crew: 145

Fate: Captured by US Navy, 1863. Subsequently served as USS Atlanta


Atlanta was one of the last "early war" type casemate ironclads built for the Confederacy. That is to say, she shared many of the characteristics of ocean going vessels of the period, including a deep draft that made her difficult to operate in inland waterways. The source of her design was probably CSS Mississippi, a ship also designed and financed by the Tift Brothers, who were responsible for the conversion of Atlanta in 1862. Compared to known sketches of the Mississippi, Atlanta looks very much like a shortened, smaller version of her larger cousin.

Atlanta began life as the merchant vessel Fingal, built in 1861 just prior to the opening of hostilities in the United States. When the war began, she found herself chartered by a Southern shipping company with an open option to buy. Initially operating as a Blockade Runner, Fingal later performed duty as a gunboat and light commerce raider before her crew gave up hope of successfully returning the ship to Scotland, and the ship was taken into service with the CSN.

Although one of the more famous ironclads in CSN service, Atlanta was also one of the most poorly designed. Her armor protection arrangements were inadequate, such that they were more vulnerable to high velocity weapons being brought into service at the time, her ventilation was terrible (she has been said to have the worst living conditions of all the ironclads in the Confederate fleet), and her maneuverability was notoriously poor. Nevertheless, she served actively throughout her time in the Confederate Navy. For a time, Atlanta was flagship of the Savannah Squadron, but things begin to get murky with the arrival of CSS Savannah, which is also listed as a flagship for the squadron.

It was hoped that Atlanta could repeat the feats of CSS Virginia by playing havoc with wooden Union vessels stationed off the coast of Georgia, but problems in this plan soon developed, most notably because of numerous obstructions in the Savannah River and because Atlanta's deep draft restricted her options for maneuverability. Steven Mallory, exhausted by the intractability of the situation in Savannah, completely re-arranged the chain of command in Savannah, and made it clear that great things were expected from Atlanta "in the very near future."

On July 15th, Atlanta sallied down the Wilmington River toward Georgia's Wassaw Sound escorted by two wooden vessels, CSS Isondiga and CSS Resolute. Here, she found herself shadowed by two Passaic class monitors (Nahant and Weehawken.) The two sides stood off from each other attempting to gain the advantage for the next two days. On the evening of the 16th, Atlanta fitted a spar torpedo, and her acting captain, Lieutenant William A. Webb, made the fateful decision to directly confront the monitors. Things went badly from the beginning - Atlanta grounded on the shoreline within a few minutes of coming in sight of the two monitors, and attempted to shift herself off of the bar and begin a torpedo run at the Union vessels. Unfortunately, her unresponsive helm proved disastrously so on this particular day - while Atlanta was soon refloated, her helmsman lost control shortly thereafter, and the ship was once again grounded.

While she floundered helplessly on the shoreline, Weehawken moved in for the kill, firing five close range 15" shots at Atlanta, two of which penetrated, immediately disabling two guns, killing most of their gun crews, and then severely injuring two of the ship's three pilots. Nahant, meanwhile, moved into a flanking position parallel to Atlanta's beached position. Unable to respond adequately and caught in a helpless position, Captain Webb surrendered his ship to avoid further loss of life.

The damaged vessel was taken into Union service and served the remainder of the war as USS Atlanta.