Monument to the Dead
This monument to those who
died in the explosion aboard
the C.S.S. Chattahoochee is
at the Chattahoochee, Florida,
burial site.
C.S.S. Chattahoochee Explosion - Blountstown, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - C.S.S. Chattahoochee Explosion, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - C.S.S. Chattahoochee Explosion, Florida
C.S.S. Chattahoochee
A massive propeller and the stern of the warship
have been raised from the Chattahoochee River and
is on display in Columbus, Georgia.
A C.S. Navy Disaster in Florida
Florida's greatest naval disaster of the Civil
War took place on May 27, 1863, when a
deadly explosion wrecked the warship C.S.S.
Chattahoochee. The incident took place in
the
Apalachicola River at Blountstown.

The powerful warship had been built at a
makeshift navy yard in Early County, Georgia,
and was commissioned by the Confederate
Navy on January 1, 1863. Many of her officers
and crew had served aboard the ironclad
C.S.S.
Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) during
her historic class with the U.S.S.
Monitor at
Hampton Roads, Virginia. Their presence
aboard the
Chattahoochee was indicative of
RIchmond's high hopes for the warship.

Rigged with three retractable masks and two
independently operating steam propulsion
systems, the
Chattahoochee was the most
powerful operational Civil War warship to
cruise the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and
Flint River system. Her draft was shallow
enough to allow her to operate on the rivers,
but her size, armament and overall design
left little doubt that she was intended for use
as a commerce raider.

The assignment of Lieutenant Catesby ap R.
Jones as her original captain was an even
stronger indication of the South's big plans
for the vessel. He had commanded the
Virginia during her epic duel with the Monitor
and was a Southern hero at the time.

Events conspired against the grand plans for
the
Chattahoochee. It took much longer to
complete her construction than anticipated
and then she was damaged in an accidental
grounding during her first trip downriver from
the navy yard. Towed to the Florida town of
Chattahoochee, she underwent extensive
repairs.

By the time the vessel was fully operational,
the Confederate army had moved forward
with plans to obstruct the Apalachicola River
to prevent Union gunboats from coming up
from the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately for the
officers and crew of the
Chattahoochee, the
same obstructions prevented her from going
down the river to the open sea.

Lieutenant Jones was sent to a new post
and Lieutenant J.J. Guthrie arrived to replace
him. Other officers also requested changes
of station, but most of the ship's original crew
remained aboard. With little else to do, they
maintained naval discipline, steamed up and
down the river and conducted artillery drills.

The
Chattahoochee was armed with a
powerful 32-pound rifle, a heavy 9-inch gun,
both mounted on pivots, as well as four 32-
pounders mounted in broadsides (two on
each side). Her crew became very efficient at
working the guns.

The ship was tied up at the Arsenal Wharf at
Chattahoochee when news reached her that
a Union boat party from the U.S.S.
Port Royal
had entered the lower Apalachicola and
captured the schooner
Fashion, which was
taking on cotton for a planned attempt to run
the blockade.
(Please click here to visit our
page on the capture of the Fashion).

Even though the capture of the
Fashion took
place below the obstructions, the crew of the
Chattahoochee raised steam on May 26th
and started down the Apalachicola.

The vessel reached the bar at Blountstown, a
shallow point in the river, that night, but the
water proved too shallow to continue. The
ship was anchored for the night. Lieutenant
Jones went on downstream in a small boat
to check conditions and see if there was any
way to get around the obstructions. Many
later believed he planned to ram them.
Tragically, neither the captain nor his crew
knew that a severe early season hurricane
was about to move in from the Gulf. The wind
and rain increased through the night and by
morning, when Jones returned, the vessel
was feeling the front edge of a severe storm.

Stormy conditions probably contributed
greatly to what happened next. As the crew
prepared to raise steam for the trip upriver,
an argument broke out over how much water
was in the boiler. A gauge was not working
and before the ship's chief engineer could
intervene, a massive steam explosion rocked
the vessel.

The malfunctioning gauge had caused the
crew to allow the boiler to grow red hot before
filling it with water. When the water poured in,
it instantly vaporized and burst through piping
attached to the boiler.

Sixteen members of the crew were killed
instantly, scalded to death by the steam.
Another was mortally injured, two more were
severely injured and another four received
minor injuries. Panicked that the gunpowder
in the ship's magazines might explode, the
crew opened plugs in the ship's hull and let
her sink to the bottom of the muddy river.

With the hurricane raging, the accident was
described by C.S. Navy officers as horrible in
the extreme:

No description, I am told, could possibly be
given of the scene on the deck of the
Chattahoochee, men running about frantic
with pain, leaving the impression of their
bleeding feet, and sometimes the entire
flesh, the nails and all, remaining behind
them. The dead and wounded were taken on
shore, where they remained until the next
afternoon, most of the time with a terrible
storm raging.

Those killed immediately were buried in
Chattahoochee, where a monument marking
their graves can be seen today. The ship was
soon raised by the Confederates and towed
upriver to Columbus, Georgia, where she
was refitted. In 1865, she was scuttled by her
own crew to prevent her capture during the
Battle of Columbus.

The stern of the C.S.S.
Chattahoochee can
be seen today at the
National Civil War Naval
Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
Cannon Ball
This partially exploded shell
from the Chattahoochee is at
the National Civil War Naval
Museum.
Apalachicola River
This view of the Apalachicola
was taken from the site of the
warship's home port at
Chattahoochee, Florida.
C.S.S. Chattahoochee
A scale model of the vessel
can be seen at the National
Civil War Naval Museum.
Wreck of the Chattahoochee
This photograph shows the
interior of what remains of the
stern of the warship today.
C.S.S. Chattahoochee
The ship was built from green
timber by slaves and hired
laborers in Early County,
Georgia.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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