The American Civil War At Sea Wiki

A period sketch of the CSS Manassas in 1861 - probably our only truly accurate depiction of the vessel, since no photographs have survived.

CSS MANASSAS (1861-1862)

Commissioned: September 12, 1861

Built: Algiers, Louisiana

Service: 1861-1862, Lower Mississippi

Home Port: New Orleans

Dimensions: 143' Length, 33' Beam, 7' Draft

Armor: 1" of Iron, with wood backing

Armament: 1 x 64 pdr Dahlgren gun; later replaced by 1 x 32 pdr Smoothebore

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 4 Knots

Crew: 104

Fate: Destroyed by internal explosion, 1862.


Originally commissioned as a privateer, supposedly as a conversion of the steam powered icebreaker Enoch Train, though information about the original ship and her configuration is very much a matter of conjecture. Briefly a part of the Louisiana State Navy, she was commandeered by the Confederate Navy and added to the fleet guarding the mouth of the Mississippi in late Summer, 1861. As such, while not widely known, Manassas predates the Virginia as the first ironclad vessel to serve in the American Civil War.

Her armament was probably a 64 pound Dahlgren for most of her career, but at least one period source (probably apocryphally) claims that she was, at least initially, armed with an "ancient Spanish cannon" salvaged from one of the older fortresses in the area.

At New Orleans, Manassas rammed and damaged USS Mississippi and USS Brooklyn as the fleet was attempting to pass the fortresses guarding the mouth of the river. After taking some damage during a failed attempt to ram USS Pensacola, Manassas shadowed the Union fleet for a time before Mississippi turned and engaged her with a full broadside. Manassas was forced to run aground and allow her crew to escape. When the Union attempted to take the vessel in tow, an internal explosion was sparked, destroying Manassas; this disappointed Commander David Dixon Porter , who had hoped to salvage and preserve her as an "engineering curiosity."

We have no period photos of the Manassas. The sketch above, done by an observer shortly after her commissioning in 1861, is probably the most accurate image of the ship while in service with the CSN.