The American Civil War At Sea Wiki

Period sketch of CSS Louisiana. We have no surviving photos of the vessel.


Built: New Orleans, Louisiana

Commissioned: 20 April, 1862

Service: 1862, New Orleans

Home Port: New Orleans

Dimensions: 264' Length, 62' Beam, 13' Draft

Armor: 4" of Iron, with 24" wood backing

Armament: 2x7" Brooke Rifles, 4 x 8" Dahlgren Guns, 3 x 9" Rifles , 7x32 pdr Guns.

Engines: Dual Paddlewheels, Dual Screws

Speed: Unknown. Engines incomplete.

Crew: 300

Fate: Scuttled to prevent capture 28th April, 1862.


CSS Louisiana was one of several Ironclads laid down or planned for the defense of the port of New Orleans: the largest and most important port in the Confederacy. Arguably the largest Ironclad to be laid down by the South, she was constantly in competition for scarce supplies and labor with the ironclad CSS Mississippi , which was also being constructed nearby.

Louisiana was a casemate ironclad design, armed with seventeen guns and equipped with a dual screw/paddle wheel propulsion system. This last bit was intended to accommodate her prodigious size by using the paddle wheels for propulsion and the screws for steering. It was a complex mechanism that required specific components not easily acquired in the South, especially as the Blockade intensified. The engines required to drive the paddles had to be taken from another vessel in Confederate service, the civilian steamer Ingomar, a transfer process that required two months to complete; the screws, meanwhile, had not been installed by the time of her launch. When the engines were installed, there were numerous problems with them: it was found that they were simply too weak to move the bulk of the ship up current, and as a result, Louisiana was unable to move under her own power.

While Louisiana awaited fitting out with these vital engines, New Orleans came under attack. At the request of local Army officers, She was quickly towed down river in order to act as a floating battery in support of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and played a direct role in the battle in a supporting role near Fort Jackson. According to one source, she fired at least twelve rounds at the Union fleet. However, the commander of USS Brooklyn reported a long running gun duel with her, in which his shot repeatedly bounced off the sides of the ironclad.

Shortly thereafter, as plans were being made to reposition the ship and the search continued for better engines, Fort Jackson's enlisted personnel mutinied, unexpectedly drawing the fighting for the forts to a close. As negotiations went on, naval personnel were excluded from the talks, and staff aboard Louisiana decided that they would take matters into their own hands. The crew quietly abandoned the ship and set her afire. When the flames reached her moorings, she broke loose and drifted downriver for a time until she reached Fort St. Philip, when the fires reached her magazine. Louisiana blew up and sank, a total loss; the force of the explosion was such that a soldier at the nearby Fort was apparently killed.

While much lauded as a weapon that might have been of great use to the Confederacy, a CSN officer present at the time presented a number of arguments to the effect that Louisiana was a poorly designed vessel. Among the problems cited were:

1. An inefficient arrangement of paddlewheels. One wheel was always in the wash of the other, with the result that much power was wasted.

2. The wash generated by the wheels created an eddy at the rudders, making her impossible to steer.

3. The gun ports were too small to allow significant elevation or traverse, meaning that the vessel could only fight at close range.

4. The boilers had a tendency to overheat, making the gun deck uninhabitable in the summer.