Most people know about the classic battle between the Monitor and the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, also known as the Merrimack, but steam-powered iron ships -- the precursor to modern warships -- were used extensively by both sides in the American Civil War. Two Richmond-class Confederate ironclads launched a surprise attack on Union vessels blockading Charleston, S.C. 150 years ago this week, the Associated Press reported on Friday.
On Jan. 30, 1863, the CSS Palmetto State and the CSS Chicora, accompanied by wooden ships, quietly steamed past Fort Sumter, the site of the war's first shots.
The Palmetto State rammed the Mercedita and fired a shot into her hull which penetrated the Mercedita's boiler. The Chicora, commanded by "Handsome Jack" Tucker, went after the Quaker City, a 1,428-ton nine-gun sidewheel steamer. The Chicora opened fire on the Quaker City, but the Union ship was able to get away from the ironclad.
Unable to catch the faster Quaker City, Chicora went after another ship, the Keystone State, a side-wheeler of 1,364-tons armed with ten guns.
In a fierce fight, the Chicora fired ten rounds into the Keystone State as the Union vessel attempted to ram the ironclad.
The Union ship, having suffered 20 killed and another 20 wounded in the attack, lowered its colors and surrendered, but finding that it could still outrun the Confederate ship, raised its flag and continued the fight. Eventually, the crippled vessel had to be towed back into Port Royal.
"Clearly," steelnavy.com said, "Captain William LeRoy was a Slick Willie and violated the then standard practice of war but the nature of war was changing and his less than honorable actions on that night did not hurt his career." LeRoy went on to become David Farragut’s Chief of Staff after the war, steelnavy.com said.
Eventually, the ironclads made their way back to port and for a short time, no Union vessels could be seen from Charleston
Although the ships did not break the Union blockade, they "vexed" the Union ships for a short time, the AP said.
More of this series at Examiner.com can be found here.