The American Civil War At Sea Wiki

1864 columbia.jpg


Built: Charleston, South Carolina

Commissioned: 1864

Service: Charleston Squadron, 1864-1865

Home Port: Charleston, South Carolina

Dimensions: 216' Length, 51' 4" Beam, 13'6" Draft

Armor: 6" iron with wood backing

Armament: Unclear; most sources claim she was armed with Brooke rifles. At least six weapons, one of which may have been a 10" Brooke. See summary below.

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: Unknown

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Struck an obstruction and broke her back, January 1865. She was partly salvaged. The rest of the ship was captured when Union forces took Charleston in February. Raised, briefly commissioned in the USN, but never served actively in this role. Hulk sold October 10, 1867.


Columbia is sometimes classified as a "Tennessee class" ironclad, but no such designation existed within the Confederate States Navy. Certainly, she shared some characteristics with Tennessee and other late war rebel ironclads, including heavier armor plate, a shortened 'diamond' casemate, a shallow draft, and other improvements over previous designs. Additional confusion sometimes exists, because another vessel, CSS Columbus, was also laid down, and the two names are often mistakenly identified as representing the same vessel.

Columbia was arguably the most powerful Confederate warship at Charleston, and much effort was expended in order to ensure her timely construction. She was ordered in early 1864 and completed within six months - a rare feat, particularly given the difficulty of obtaining some of the necessary supplies at the time. Her presence in Charleston was considered by the United States Navy as a considerable matter of concern, and her existence bolstered the hopes of Charleston's defenders.

Columbia's armament, and many of her technical details, are unknown. There is genuine reason for believing that her accidental loss (described below) was a great embarassment to the State of South Carolina and the Confederacy, and this may explain some obscurity, along with claims that the vessel was "never completed" when, in fact, CSN records clearly say that she was actively serving at the time of her accident. Armament in particular is a mystery: the Union salvagers who raised Columbia claimed that her guns had been removed by rebels; however, at least one 10" Brooke Rifle has been identified by an official plaque as being "taken from CSS Columbia." She seems to have been designed for at least six guns, like her sister ship, CSS Texas , which was a broadly similar design, but even the armament of Texas is in question at present.

In January, 1865, Columbia was on a patrol when she apparently struck an obstruction. Sources differ as to the nature of the obstruction. Some claim that she "hit bottom", or grounded, others that she struck a rock or submerged wreck. Whatever the case, the damage to her hull was quite severe, in effect "breaking her back." The CSN considered her a total loss, and it was apparently decided to salvage her components for other purposes. When Union forces entered Charleston in February, 1865, the fate of Columbia was unknown to them, although some reports indicate that the USN believed Columbia to be "undergoing repairs."

When discovered, the substantial bulk of Columbia remained where it had struck the obstruction approximately one month before - apparently in shallow enough water that it could be easily accessed. US Navy personnel discovered that her guns had been removed, along with at least a portion of her armor plating. She was raised and commissioned into USN service shortly thereafter, before being towed by USS Vanderbilt to Hampton Roads. She was placed in drydock on June 5th and repairs began shortly thereafter. On June 15th, however, all work was ordered to ceased and she was placed in ordinary. Columbia's hulk was sold on October 10th, 1867.