|The ironclads constructed during the
American Civil War marked a turning point in history. In only four yeas,
sails and wood were replaced with gun turrets and iron plating.
One of the most significant ironclads to be built during the Civil War was the C.S.S. Tennessee. Launched on February 28, 1863 at Selma, Alabama, the Tennessee displaced 1,273 tons and was 209 feet long. Armed with six muzzle loading guns (four 6.4 inch and two 7 inch Brooke rifles) that could be pivoted out of the ironclad’s ten gun ports. The Tennessee also mounted a ram at the bow and was protected by four inches of armor plate on the sides and stern of the casemate and six inches of armor forward.
For all of the ship’s strengths however, the Tennessee had some serious shortcomings. The most severe being the exposed chains that controlled the rudder, running along the deck at the stern. The iron shutters that covered the gun ports as the cannon were reloaded could also be jammed by enemy shellfire. The Tennessee also suffered from unreliable engines, which came from a Mississippi riverboat that was originally set up for a paddlewheel, not the screw propellers that the ironclad used. All of this left the Tennessee with a top speed of only six knots.
|Despite all of the Tennessee’s flaws, when she was commissioned on February 16, 1864 the large ironclad was still a force to be reckoned with. The Confederacy put the ship in the capable hands of Admiral Franklin Buchanan. Buchanan was the captain of the Confederate ironclad Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) during its famous duel with the USS Monitor. Buchanan was put in command of the Confederate naval forces guarding Mobile Bay, Alabama, and he made the Tennessee his flagship.|
| On August 5, 1864 the Union fleet under the command of Admiral
David Glasgow Farragut entered Mobile Bay and engaged the guns of Fort
Morgan at Mobile Point. The Union fleet was a mixed bag of monitors, steam
sloops, steamers, and gunboats.
The Union ships were arranged in two columns, with the large ships in one column each lashed to a gunboat on their starboard side. The monitors were left free to lead the line, with the Tecumseh at the head with its powerful 15-inch guns.
| At 0630, the Tecumseh opened fire on Fort Wagner,
with the rest of the Union fleet steaming directly behind. The Tecumseh
then turned to starboard to engage the Tennessee which was slowly lumbering
towards the Union ships. Between the Tennessee and the Tecumseh was a field
of Confederate “torpedoes” or mines as they are now known. As the Tecumseh
closed on the Tennessee, she struck a torpedo and heeled over onto her
port side. Within thirty seconds the monitor was gone along with 93 of
The Tennessee then made for the line of wooden ships, followed
by the Confederate gunboats Selma, Gaines, and Morgan. It was at this time
that Farragut, on board the sloop Hartford, made his famous “Damn the torpedoes!”
command. The Brooklyn was steaming ahead of the Hartford when one of the
crew on board the former spotted the mines in the water ahead of the fleet.
The captain of the Brooklyn then put his engines full astern trying to
dodge the “torpedoes”. Farragut then had the Hartford pass the Brooklyn
to port. As the Hartford steamed past, the Brooklyn’s captain told Farragut
of the mine field in front of him. Farragut then gave his reply of “Damn
the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”
|The Tennessee then tried to ram the Hartford, but the six knot speed was not enough, and instead Buchanan engaged the large ships as he passed them by. The Tennessee received a glancing blow from the Monongahela and then opened fire on the gunboat Kennebec with a broadside. The Tennessee proceeded to trade broadsides with the rest of the ships in the line. The Oneida, already having already lost a boiler to a shot from the Morgan, had most of her lower rigging blasted away by the Tennessee as the ironclad passed by. Buchanan then retired under the guns of Fort Morgan.|
Meanwhile the Selma, Gaines, and Morgan slugged it out with the Union fleet. The Hartford and the steamer Metacomet were both hit hard, but the guns of the Union ships took their toll. The Gaines, with her hull severely holed, attempted to reach the protection of Fort Morgan, but sank on route. The Selma surrendered and the Morgan managed to reach Fort Morgan, fleeing to Mobile later in the evening.
Buchanan then decided to make another run at the Union fleet. Farragut ordered his monitors and larger ships to engage the Tennessee. The Monongahela and Lackawanna both rammed the ironclad, but received more damage then they caused. Then the Hartford rammed the Tennessee, again with little result. Then the monitor Manhattan opened fire on the Tennessee’s port side with its 15 inch guns. One shot penetrated the casemate cleanly. Then the monitor Chickasaw opened up on the Tennessee with its two 11 inch guns. Soon the vulnerable chains leading to the rudder were shot away, and the gun port covers were jammed. The Tennessee was then dead in the water, with her funnel gone and her guns put out of action. Buchanan had been wounded in the leg, giving up command to Lt. James Johnston, who ordered the Tennessee’s surrender.
In an ironic twist of fate, the CSS Tennessee was renamed the USS Tennessee, quickly repaired, and was used to help in the capture of Fort Morgan. The very fort the ironclad was supposed to protect. The Tennessee was used on the Mississippi river until the end of the war, and was scrapped in 1867.
The model is from the now discontinued Sea Eagle 10mm series from Thoroughbred Models. The scale for the model works out to be about 1/160. Having already built the smaller casemate ironclad CSS Albemarle, I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into the Tennessee. The ship’s hull and casemate are all one piece, with a separate floor section that is the gun deck. There is also a metal roof section that glues on to the aft part of the casemate that houses the chimney (the term used for funnels in those days). The lifeboats, chimney, guns, carriages, and crew are all cast in metal. No lifeboat davits were included so I used some from Bluejacket ship crafters. The guns were nicely cast as the four 6.4 inches and two 7 inch Brooke rifles, as on the real Tennessee.
Like the Albemarle, I found the Tennessee to be very well detailed
and well cast with only one small pinhole on the deck. At slightly more
than fifteen inches long, the Tennessee is an impressive sight. I found
it a shame that Thoroughbred discontinued this line of ships, you certainly
get a lot of detail for the money.
I then painted the guns, chimney, vent funnels, davits, and anchor
chains Floquil Steam Power Black. I also took this time to find out where
the boat davits were located. According to most references I looked at,
I found that the boats were located on the stern deck, not mounted on the
casemate like in the famous painting of the Battle of Mobile Bay by J.O.
I found I needed to do some minor filing and sanding to get the gun deck to fit in flush with the casemate. I then mounted the guns, with the 7 inch guns facing directly fore and aft with the broadside guns in their respective ports. After the guns were secured and the glue well and dry, I placed the chimney in the small metal deck piece and glued the whole thing onto the casemate. After having looked at a few photos, I found that the hole for the jack staff was in the wrong place. On the model it was located on the top of the casemate at the stern (shown there again in the Davidson painting). I drilled out a small hole on the stern deck to mount it there later, and filled in the hole on the casemate.
After the boats were painted, I realized due to weight I would need something strong to secure them to their davits. I obtained some surgical grade stainless steel wire, which although thin enough, proved to be very strong. I then drilled out two holes in each of the boats, and mounted the wire in place to resemble rope. This was a little tricky, but I eventually got the boats to seat flush and to stay put. I then drilled out a hole in the bow to place the staff for Admiral Buchanan’s flag (solid blue ensign).
After all that was in place, I gave the whole ship a wash of watered down black and rust. I did not want to go overboard on the whole thing being the Tennessee had only been in service for less than six months. The wash really brought out the detail on the casemate. I then added the rigging to the funnel, which was made up from paint brush bristles from a 4 inch brush. I gave the Tennessee a flat coat, and began working on the base.
I thoroughly enjoyed building the CSS Tennessee; the beastly look of the ship makes it a nice display piece.