R.Danny Witt, President Art & Carol Bergeron, Editors
5500 Ashton Park Way 3901 Paces Ferry Road
Glen Allen, VA 23059 Chester, VA 23831-1239
December 2000 PROGRAM
Edwin C. Bearss
"Raising of the U.S.S. Cairo"
8:00 p.m., Tuesday, December 12, 2000, at the
Holiday Inn-Crossroads, 2000 Staples Mill Road
6 p.m. Social Hour; 7 p.m. Dinner
Edwin Cole Bearss is Historian Emeritus for the National
Park Service. A native of Billings, Montana, he received
his bachelor's degree at Georgetown University and his
master's degree at Indiana University. He was Chief
Historian of the National Park Service from November 1981 to
July 1994. Then Bearss became the Special Assistant to the
National Park Service Director for Civil War Sites. During
his early park service career, Bearss was attached to the
Southeast Regional Office, which then had its headquarters
in Richmond. He is a prolific author, and his books include
Hardluck Ironclad: The Sinking and Salvage of the Cairo
(1966); The Campaign for Vicksburg (3 vols., 1985-1986); and
Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in
1864 (1979). Bearss is also one of the most popular
speakers and tour guides in the country.
The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named
in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio
rivers. She was constructed at Mound City, Illinois, and
commissioned in January 1862. On the morning of December
12, 1862, her commander led a small flotilla up the Yazoo
River, north of Vicksburg, to destroy Confederate batteries
and clear the channel of torpedoes. As the Cairo reached a
point seven miles north of Vicksburg, she was rocked by two
explosions in quick succession which tore gaping holes in
the ship's hull. Within twelve minutes the ironclad sank
without any loss of life. Cairo became the first ship in
history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo.
Over the years the gunboat was soon forgotten, and her
watery grave was slowly covered by a shroud of silt and
sand. By studying contemporary documents and maps, Bearss,
who was then Historian at Vicksburg National Military Park,
was able to plot the approximate site of the wreck. In
December 1964, the ironclad was finally pulled from the
river and eventually taken to the Ingalls Shipyard in
Pascagoula, Mississippi, for repair and conservation. The
vessel was transported to the park and partially
reconstructed on a concrete foundation near the Vicksburg
National Cemetery in June 1977.
Review of the November Program
Professor Craig L. Symonds presented an interesting and
informative talk on "Franklin Buchanan and the Battle of
Hampton Roads." Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1800,
Buchanan had a distinguished career in the United States
navy prior to the Civil War. Known affectionately as "Old
Buck," he was the first superintendent of the U. S. Naval
Academy. He was a typical naval officer of his
time-ambitious and enthusiastic and a fighter. In 1859,
Buchanan was a captain and commander of the Washington Navy
Yard, one of the most prestigious positions in the naval
service. He faced a personal crisis in 1861. Despite his
45 years in the navy, he believed in states' rights. When
Union troops fired on civilians in Baltimore, Buchanan
resigned his commission. Maryland did not secede, and he
attempted to get back into the navy. Secretary Gideon
Welles refused to allow this, and Buchanan then offered his
services to the Confederacy.
In Richmond, Buchanan was given command of the C. S. S.
Virginia and the James River Squadron. Confederate
Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory wanted a bold,
judicious individual to command the new ironclad and hoped
that Buchanan would be able to take her up the Potomac River
and attack Washington, D. C. However, Old Buck discovered
that the Virginia's engines were incapable of such an
undertaking. He assumed command at Norfolk on March 4,
1862, and decided to attack the Union warships in Hampton
Roads. Buchanan had wanted Major General John B. Magruder
to cooperate with the attack by sending his army against the
Union land forces nearby, but Magruder refused because his
force was too weak.
A surprise movement by the Virginia was impossible, so on
the morning of March 8, Buchanan took her down the Elizabeth
River to take on the enemy vessels. The ironclad's crew had
coated the casemate with wax to help deflect Federal shells.
Buchanan had his ship steam toward the frigates Cumberland
and Congress. The two warships carried 70 guns, while the
Virginia had only 10. Because the Cumberland had the
strongest armament, the Virginia would go after her first,
intending to ram and sink her. Then the ironclad would
attack the Congress, on which Buchanan's brother served as
The Virginia received a salvo from the Cumberland as she
approached, but none of the shots even dented the iron on
her casemate. Buchanan ordered his forward gun to fire when
the Virginia's ram drove into the Cumberland. This would
help his vessel back out. Unfortunately, the 1,500-pound
ram became stuck in the Cumberland's side. Just as it
appeared that the latter would sink and take her attacker
with her, the ram broke off. The Virginia was able to get
away and turn toward the Congress. Buchanan watched as the
commander of the Congress took his ship into shallow water.
Old Buck ordered his men to pour a heavy fire into the Union
warship. After a short time, the Federals ran up several
Buchanan sent one of his support vessels to receive the
surrender of the Congress. While doing so, Union troops
ashore began firing on the Confederates, forcing them to
retreat before the surrender could be completed. Buchanan
was unaware of what had happened and ordered his crew to
fire into the Congress with hot shot. This fusillade set
the Federal ship afire, and she blew up a few minutes past
midnight. Toward the end of the day, the Virginia fired a
few broadsides at the remaining enemy warship, the
Minnesota. Buchanan received a severe leg wound during the
Battle of Hampton Roads and had to turn over command of the
Virginia to Catesby Jones. Thus Buchanan missed the battle
fought the following day with the Monitor. He did receive
promotion to full admiral, the only man to hold such rank
during the war.
Richmond Civil War Round Table
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At the November meeting, the three following past presidents
were elected to the 2001 Executive Committee-Jack Ackerly,
Daniel Balfour, and Robert (Bobby) E. L. Krick.
A Civil War Christmas Recipe
The following recipe for eggnog is from The Civil War
Cookbook by William C. "Jack" Davis (1993):
4 egg yolks
4 Tbsps sugar
1 cup cream (whipping)
1 cup brandy
1/4 cup wine
4 egg whites
A little grated nutmeg
Beat the egg yolks until light then slowly beat in the
sugar, cream, brandy and wine. Whip the egg whites
separately and then fold into the other ingredients.
Sprinkle with the nutmeg to serve.
Richmond Civil War Round Table in Cyberspace. The Round
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includes the monthly newsletter, CW book reports,
photographs of previous meetings, and a list of all
forthcoming speakers. The NEW URL or Web address is:
Richmond Civil War Round Table Newsletter
Art & Carol Bergeron, Editors
3901 Paces Ferry Road
Chester, VA 23831-1239