The first of three U.S. naval ships named for the Chickasaws was commissioned 150 years ago. The USS Chickasaw, a Milwaukee-class ironclad vessel commissioned in 1864, was a state-of-the-art warship and one of the most powerful vessels to patrol the Mississippi River during the War Between the States. It served with a distinguished record.
One of the first warships to be outfitted with iron, this twin-turret, 1,300-ton, steam-powered battleship was built by engineering genius James Buchanan Eads on the Mississippi River in Carondelet, Missouri.
The crew of the USS Chickasaw totaled 138 men, including officers and enlisted personnel. The ship was armed with a total for four smooth-bore 11-inch cannon. The cannon were located in the two rotating turrets atop the ship.
“The ironclads were the culmination of technological advances of the mid-19th century,” Dr. Anna Holloway of the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia said. “James Buchanan Eads constructed some of the best ships using cutting edge technology for the time.”
The USS Chickasaw patrolled the Mississippi River, part of the traditional homelands of the Chickasaw people, until it was assigned to a squadron of warships that disrupted trade routes in the southern states.
The ironclad participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Its crew distinguished itself and the USS Chickasaw was one of the few ships not hampered with mechanical difficulties or tragedy during the engagement. Using superior seamanship, the vessel is credited with the defeat and capture of the Confederate vessel, the CSS Tennessee.
“Mobile Bay was the second largest port in the South,” Charles Torrey, research historian of the Mobile History Museum said. “At the time of the battle, it was the largest port the Confederacy had open and was a resting area for troops.”
The USS Chickasaw remained in the Mobile Bay area for the rest of its military career. It bombarded Confederate forts immediately after the battle, and later participated in the efforts to take the city of Mobile, Alabama.
In July 1865, the USS Chickasaw was officially decommissioned by the United States Navy. Sold to civilian owners in 1874, its name changed to the Gouldsboro. It was converted for civilian use and given the iconic side-wheel propulsion system of Mississippi riverboats.The Gouldsboro was broken up by its owners in 1944 after an illustrious naval and civilian career. What was left of the ship was rediscovered among 19 other shipwrecks in the murky depths of the Mississippi River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. Efforts have been made to preserve it in its final resting place.
As the Chickasaw people are known to have never lost a battle, the USS Chickasaw truly lived up to its namesake, the unconquered and unconquerable people of the Chickasaw Nation.