Friends of Fort Defiance Board President Phyllis Smith took a trip this year to Vicksburg, Mississippi to view and learn about the USS Cairo.
The USS Cairo had a very short life. She was launched in December 1861, commissioned on January 15, 1862, and sank on December 12, 1862. She was the first armored vessel in the history of warfare to be sunk by a mine (referred to as a torpedo by the people of the day).
She has two other distinctions for us. On February 17, 1862, the USS Cairo along with another Ironclad came to Clarksville, TN and captured the city. There were no Confederate soldiers to contend with because they had performed a strategic withdrawal before the ships arrived. There were white flags flying over Ft. Defiance and over Ft. Clark. The citizens of the town that could get away, left as well. Before they left, Confederate soldiers tried to burn the railroad bridge that crossed the Cumberland River. The fire didn’t take hold and was put out before it could destroy the bridge. This railroad bridge made Clarksville very important to the Union. The USS Cairo tied up in Clarksville a couple of days before moving on to participate in the capture of Nashville.
On December 12, 1862 while clearing mines in the Yazoo River in Mississippi, the ship was rocked by two explosions which tore large holes in her hull. She sank in 12 minutes, but the entire crew managed to get off safely. The explosions came from a torpedo detonated by volunteers hidden on the riverbank. She was covered by a layer of silt and sand and mud which sealed her away from oxygen and kept her well preserved until she was raised in December 1964.
She is on display at the Vicksburg Battlefield Park in Mississippi. This proud ship is a piece of Clarksville Civil War history that you can see up close and personal. She should be in a climate controlled building so that she can be preserved for posterity. I urge you to go see her and contribute to her preservation.