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NavSource Online: "Old Navy" Ship Photo Archive

USS Cairo


Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons

Civil War Medal

Cairo Class Iron-clad River Gunboat :
  • Built in 1861 by James Eads and Co., Mound City, ILL. for the US Army
  • Commissioned as an Army ship, 25 January 1862, LT. James M. Prichett USN in command
  • USS Cairo operated with the Army's Western Gunboat Fleet, Flag Officer A. H. Foote USN in command on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers
  • Transferred to the Navy, 1 October 1862
  • USS Cairo was active at Clarksville and Nashville, Fort Pillow TN. and Memphis, TN.
  • USS Cairo struck a torpedo and sank while clearing mines on the Yazoo River, 12 December 1862, in preparation for an attack on Haines Bluff, MS.
    Specifications:
    Displacement 512 t.
    Length 175'
    Beam 51' 2"
    Draft 6'
    Speed 8 kts
    Complement 251
    Armament
    four 42-pdrs
    three 8" smoothbore
    six 32-pdr smoothbore
    Propulsion steam

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    Cairo 109k USS Cairo in the Mississippi River area during 1862, with a boat alongside her port bow, crewmen on deck and other river steamers in the background.
    US Navy photo # NH 61568 from the collections of the US Naval History and Heritage Command
    Aryeh Wetherhorn
    Cairo 248k Illustration of USS Cairo under way.
    From "The History of the Confederate States Navy" by J. Thomas Scharf
    Tommy Trampp
    Benton 80k "Commodore Foote's Gun-boat Flotilla on the Mississippi". Line engraving after a sketch by Alexander Simplot, published in Harper's Weekly, 1862. Ships are identified below the image as (from left to right):
    USS Mound City,
    USS Essex,
    USS Cairo,
    USS Saint Louis,
    USS Louisville,
    USS Benton,
    USS Pittsburgh. and
    USS Lexington.
    US Naval History and Heritage Command. Photo #: NH 59002
    Robert Hurst
    St. Louis 126k "Brilliant Naval Victory on the Mississippi River, Near Fort Wright, May 10th 1862."
    Brilliant Naval Victory on the Mississippi River, Near Fort Wright, May 10th 1862 by the Union Flotilla of 6 Gunboats, commanded by Com. C.H. Davis, and the Rebel fleet of 8 Iron-clads, under Hollins. The action lasted one hour. Two of the Rebel gunboats were blown up and one sunk, when the remainder retired precipitately under the guns of the fort.
    Lithograph by Currier & Ives, New York, providing a curious (and quite inaccurate) view of the action off Fort Pillow in which the Confederate River Defense Fleet, under Captain James E. Montgomery, attacked Federal gunboats. The print identifies the following ships (from left to right):
    CSS Mallory (non-existent vessel), shown sinking);
    CSS Louisiana (an ironclad that had already been destroyed by this time);
    USS Cincinnati;
    USS Benton;
    USS Cairo;
    USS Carondelet;
    USS Saint Louis; and
    USS Conestoga.
    US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 42365. Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 1936
    Robert Hurst
    General Beauregard 177k "The Great Naval Battle before Memphis, June 6, 1862". Engraving after a sketch by Alexander Simplot, published in "Harper's Weekly", depicting the action between the Confederate River Defense Fleet and Federal warships off Memphis, Tennessee. In the foreground, the print depicts the Confederate ships (from left to right):
    CSS General M. Jeff Thompson (shown sinking);
    CSS Little Rebel (shown burning);
    CSS General Sterling Price;
    CSS General Beauregard (shown being jammed by the Ellet Ram
    USS Monarch;
    CSS General Bragg (shown aground) and
    CSS Colonel Lovell (shown sinking). In the background are the Federal warships (from left to right):
    USS Queen of the West;
    USS Cairo;
    USS Carondelet;
    USS Louisville;
    USS Saint Louis; a tug; and
    USS Benton. The city of Memphis is in the right distance, with a wharf boat by the shore. Harpers Weekly, 28 June 1862.
    Sons of the South - Memphis Naval Battle
    US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 58891
    Robert Hurst
    Cairo 630k Oil on canvas of USS Cairo and her flotilla of 3 escort ships were on patrol of the Yazoo River looking for Mines. When at 11:55 am, the Captain heard small arms firing up ahead and ordered his ship out into the main stream. Just as her paddle wheel bit into the water, two explosions rocked the ship in forward bow. In 12 minutes the 550 ton Ironclad sank to the bottom of the muddy river with no loss of life on 12 December 1862. The gunboat Cairo was nicknamed the “HARD LUCK IRONCLAD” after her first engagement with the enemy in early 1862. When after only 30 minutes into the fight was damaged and had to withdraw.
    Painting from the USS Cairo Museum at Vicksburg National Military Park.
    Bill Gonyo
    Cairo 216k 19th century engraving from a sketch by RADM Henry A. Walke USN of USS Cairo sunk by a Confederate mine, in the Yazoo River, Mississippi, 12 December 1862.
    US Naval History and Heritage Command Photo #: NH 2288.
    Robert Hurst
    Cairo 90k Sketch of the wreckage of USS Cairo, entitled "Cairo Submerged", probably depicting the scene immediately after she was sunk by a Confederate mine in the Yazoo River, Mississippi, 12 December 1862. Note men sitting on projecting timbers and swimming in the water nearby.
    US Naval History and Heritage Command Photo #: NH 55172, courtesy of Mrs. A Hopkins, 1927.
    Robert Hurst
    Cairo 490k The battered hulk of the USS Cairo in front of the entrance to the USS Cairo Museum at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
    Photo from "Hardluck Ironclad" by Edwin C. Bearss, 1966
    Tommy Trampp
    Cairo 210k An undated image of USS Cairo on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Photo courtesy of James P. Delgado. Photo from "Lost Warships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea" by James P. Delgado. Robert Hurst
    Cairo 460k an undated close-up view of the damaged area of USS Cairo with one of her guns. Photo courtesy of James P. Delgado. Photo from "Lost Warships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea" by James P. Delgado. Robert Hurst
    Cairo 491k By studying contemporary documents and maps, Edwin C. Bearss, Historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, was able to plot the approximate site of the wreck of USS Cairo. With the help of a pocket compass and iron bar probes, Bearss and two companions, Don Jacks and Warren Grabau, set out to discover the grave of the Cairo in 1956. The three searchers were reasonably convinced they had found the Cairo, but three years lapsed before divers brought up armored port covers to positively confirm the find. A heavy accumulation of silt, swift current, and the ever-muddy river deterred the divers as they explored the gunboat. Local enthusiasm and interest began to grow in 1960 with the recovery of the pilothouse, an 8-inch smoothbore cannon, its white oak carriage and other artifacts well preserved by the Yazoo mud. With financial support from the State of Mississippi, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and funds raised locally, efforts to salvage the gunboat began in earnest. Hopes of lifting the ironclad and her cargo of artifacts intact were crushed in October of 1964 when the three inch cables being used to lift the Cairo cut deeply into its wooden hull. It then became a question of saving as much of the vessel as possible. A decision was made to cut the Cairo into three sections. By the end of December the battered remains were put on barges and towed to Vicksburg. In the summer of 1965 the barges carrying the Cairo were towed to Ingalls Shipyard on the Gulf Coast in Pascagula, Mississippi. There the armor was removed, cleaned and stored. The two engines were taken apart, cleaned and reassembled. Sections of the hull were braced internally and a sprinkler system was operated continually to keep the white oak structural timbers from warping and checking. In 1972, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation authorizing the National Park Service to accept title to the Cairo and restore the gunboat for display in Vicksburg National Military Park. Delays in funding the project halted progress until June of 1977, when the vessel was transported to the park and partially reconstructed on a concrete foundation near the Vicksburg National Cemetery. The recovery of artifacts from the Cairo revealed a treasure trove of weapons, munitions, naval stores and personal gear of the sailors who served on board. The gunboat and its artifacts can now be seen along the tour road at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. Information provided by the National Park Service Bill Gonyo
    Cairo 309k
    Cairo 308k
    Cairo 56k Protected by a roof the fully restored ironclad USS Cairo on display Vicksburg National Military Park.
    Courtesy Vicksburg National Military Park, National Park Service
    Tommy Trampp
    Cairo 200k Items recovered from the sunken ironclad River Gunboat USS Cairo include fuzed twelve-pounder howitzer shells found in her passing room, the ship's bell, and guns of various caliber.
    Photos from "Hardluck Ironclad" by Edwin C. Bearss, 1966
    Tommy Trampp
    Cairo 40k
    Cairo 104k
    Cairo 35k Model of the ironclad USS Cairo as built on display Vicksburg National Military Park.
    Courtesy Vicksburg National Military Park, National Park Service
    Tommy Trampp
    Cairo 93k Model of the unrestored ironclad USS Cairo on display Vicksburg National Military Park.
    Courtesy Vicksburg National Military Park, National Park Service
    Tommy Trampp
    Cairo 53k Vintage cross stitch of USS Cairo circa 1980s. Tommy Trampp

    USS Cairo
    Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS)
    Additional Resources and Web Sites of Interest
    Pook's Turtles by Aryeh Wetherhorn
    Shipmates, Vicksburg National Military Park
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    Last Updated 17 March 2017