The Manassas (originally the Enoch Train) after conversion for the war, was 143 feet in length, 33 feet a beam, and drew 16 and a half feet of water, while weighing in at 387 tons. It was completed in August of 1861. First Lieutenant Alexander F. Warley was her commander. The Merrimac, a burned out hull of a Federal ship was converted and repaired and commissioned the Virginia. She was launched on Monday, February 17, 1862. The launch proved to be very anticlimatic, only 2 officers were present and they, preferring the safety of dry land, stood on the granite walls of the dry dock. As she slowly began to rise off the stocks and slide toward the river, only 5 Confederate marines stood nervously on board. She did not sink, and later in the day she was officially commissioned the CSS Virginia. Her size, dictated by the hull of the Merrimac, made her one of the largest ironclads the Confederacy would ever put into commission. She was 262 feet, 9 inches long, 38 feet wide and weighed 3,200 tons, with a draft of 22 feet. When fully loaded her maximum speed would prove to be about nine knots. She had 6, 9 inch Dahlgren smoothbores, two newly designed 6.4 inch Brooke rifles, and two new 7 inch Brooke rifles which would be used in the forward and aft pivot positions, the other guns being used broadside.
At the beginning of the Southern people's struggle to defend themselves against invasion and gain their independence, it was painfully evident that the country would never be able to produce the materials necessary to maintain large armies in the field. While the Confederate government did work miracles in arming, clothing, and feeding its armies, it nevertheless depended heavily on those low, sleek, gray hulled vessels that slipped into Southern harbors almost every night to unload their cargo. Confederate records alone show that 60% of the arms carried by her troops in the field were imported. In spite of the ever-tightening Federal blockade, the probability of a runner getting through to a Confederate port was very good. It has been documented that over 300 steamers tested the Union blockade during the war, and of the 1,300 attempts made, 1,000 were successful. The Nassau and the Giraffe, (later commissioned the Robert E. Lee), are just two examples of government-operated runners, which were commanded by regular naval officers.
The Nassau, built in New York in 1851, was a small wooden, sidewheeler with very powerful engines. She was 518-ton steamer, 177 feet long and 27 feet in beam. Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt arrived to take command in April of 1862.
The Giraffe was a sidewheel packet that was only two years old. Her graceful iron hull was 258 feet long, and she was reputed to be very fast, though she would later prove that 13.5 knots was the best she could do. First Lieutenant John Wilkinson would become one of the Confederacy's most famous blockade- runner captains. In late 1862, the Giraffe was formally commissioned as the Robert E. Lee and now flew the flag of the Confederate States of America.
Blockade running during the war was the "lifeline of the Confederacy". Because of dedicated men like, Maffitt, Wilkinson, and many others, along with the sleek, fast steamers they guided. the Southern armies were never without the means to fight. By the end of the conflict, blockade runners had supplied almost everything for the struggling Confederacy except what it needed most--Manpower.
The Confederate navy commissioned and put to sea eight cruisers during the war, whose purpose was to hunt down and destroy Northern-owned merchant ships and their cargoes. The most renowned of these were three ships built in England: the Florida, the Shenandoah, and the Alabama. Of these three, the cruise of the CSS Alabama was by far the most successful and damaging to the Federal economy. The Alabama was the largest cruiser ever built for the Confederacy. Her hull was 220 feet long and copper clad below the water line. Weighing in at 1,040 tons, she had two horizontal engines, each rated at 300 horsepower, developed a total of 1,000 horsepower during trail runs.
The fearsome Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas dueled the Federal gunboat Carondelet at the mouth of the Yazoo River in July, 1862. Northern courage and Southern ingenuity produced a drawn battle. The ram could not be damaged by shells, and the Federal boat, when shot through by cannon fire, drew alongside the Arkansas and sent a boarding party onto the decks of the ram. Once there, the daring Yankees were at a loss -- for the ram's crew merely retired below decks, slammed the iron hatches after them, and left no one to fight. A stalemate resulted.
Click here for a complete list of Confederate Naval Shipsand their specifications.