National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, GA

January 12, 2022

National Civil War Naval Museum

This not-so-little museum is another one of those gems that you really have to look for. We’ve gotten into the habit of using Google Maps to search for interesting things to do near our current location. We just type in “things to do near city, state” and Google Maps returns a nice list of possibilities. That’s how I found this museum.

CSS Jackson Deck

CSS Jackson Propellers

One of the most fascinating exhibits is the ongoing reconstruction of the ironclad CSS Jackson. It is a massive, painstakingly time consuming endeavor. They’re currently working on the hull but have constructed an outline of the superstructure. This gives you an idea of just how large the ship was. There’s also a video that graphically shows how the ship was constructed.

The CSS Jackson was designed to operate on shallow inland waters. The Jackson was launched into the Chattahoochee River on December 22, 1864. Before she could be finished, Union cavalry led by General James H. Wilson captured Columbus, GA on April 16, 1865. His troopers also captured the Jackson. The next day the Jackson was set ablaze and cut loose, drifting 30 miles downstream before grounding on a sandbar and burning to the waterline.

Modern day armor is protected by composite armor. Surprisingly, so were Civil War ironclads. The sloped casemate deflected an incoming projectile. The outer layer of the casemate consisted of 4 inches of iron which arrested the kinetic energy of the projectile. Finally, 2 feet of oak further dispersed the projectile’s kinetic energy.

CSS Chattahoochee Deck

Another ship, the CSS Chattahoochee, a sail- and steam-powered gunboat, is also in the process of being partially reconstructed. The ship was built to defend the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system. She was launched on January 1, 1863. On May 24, 1863 her boiler burst, killing 19 men, and she sank in shallow water. She was raised the following year, taken to Columbus, GA for repairs, and recommissioned in April 1864. When Union General Wilson attacked Columbus, GA in 1865, the defenders towed the Chattahoochee below the city and scuttled her.

CSS Chattahoochee Artifacts

The museum has a very nice collection of artifacts, some of which were found on the CSS Chattahoochee. These include boot socks (2), a pocket knife (3), a pre-war photograph of CSS Chattahoochee’s commander Lt. J. J. Guthrie (4), Guthrie’s sword and scabbard (8), a boarding pike head (6), and a battle axe head (5).

Rudder

Anchor

Ventilation Grate

There were also larger artifacts such as the CSS Chattahoochee‘s rudder, anchor and ventilation grate.

Green Water Navies

One gallery has large paintings depicting Union and Confederate naval ships in three distinct theaters – brown water (rivers), green waters (bays and gulfs), and blue waters (open oceans)

Electrolytic Conversion

One interesting exhibit shows how iron artifacts can be preserved. It’s called electrolytic conversion (electrolysis). The process reverses the corrosion, removes salt (chloride) ions, and converts some of the rust (iron oxide) back into iron. It’s a very slow process.

Plymouth, NC and CSS Albemarle

Another fascinating exhibit was a recreation of the dockside in Plymouth, NC and the ironclad CSS Albemarle.

Naval History of the Civil War

Another exhibit hall had a series of nicely designed panels that gave an excellent historical overview of the Civil War on the water. A number of artifacts were also attached to the panels.

Civil War Naval Flags

The museum also had a large display of well-preserved United States and Confederate flags.

Mary Bowers Model and Salvaged Items

A number of very detailed ship models were on display, including the Confederate blockade runner, Mary Bowers, which sank off the South Carolina coast in 1864. In addition to the model, the display included items salvaged from the wreckage. They also had nice size models of the USS Monitor, CSS Virginia, CSS Arkansas, and USS Hartford (Admiral David Farragut’s flagship).

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