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The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Ironclad in Western Waters

by Myron J. Smith Jr., McFarland

The seven “City” or Cairo-class ironclad gunboats designed by James B. Eads, Commander John Rodgers and John Lenthall, and modified by Eads and Naval Constructor Samuel M. Pook, were launched within three months, but they proved to be the most powerful Union riverine vessels to serve in the Western Theater. Although conceptually alike, they differed in detail. And though they generally operated together, each amassed a distinctive history—including Cairo itself, remembered as the first warship to fall victim to a torpedo, on December 12, 1862.

The USS Carondelet focuses on the most active of the City-class boats, providing the meticulously researched details of a career that encompassed most of the war in the West, from Fort Donelson to Nashville. Among other places, Carondelet distinguished itself at Island No. 10 and Vicksburg, where it took the worst of a duel with the Confederate casemate ram Arkansas— for reasons that are critically examined by author Myron J. Smith Jr.—and Grand Gulf, as well as in the ill-starred Red River Campaign.

Drawing from a wealth of letters written home by the ironclad’s crewmen, the book concludes with a look at what became of the vessel after the war, and how tragically close a salvager came to recovering at least part of the historic vessel from its last resting place before a dredger unknowingly demolished it. The USS Carondelet is highly recommended for anyone interested in the naval side of the war or the relatively overlooked but critical Western Theater.


Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here