Friday, March 20, 2015

150 Years Ago: Union Warships Play Tag With Rebel Armored Raider CSS Stonewall

150 Years Ago:  Union Warships Play Tag With Rebel Armored Raider CSS Stonewall

On March 21, 1865 the Confederate armored raider CSS Stonewall and two wooden Union warships played a potentially deadly game of "tag" off the Spanish port of Ferrol.    The USS Niagara and USS Sacramento had been shadowing the powerful Confederate vessel since she had left France for the Azores.  Their orders, however, were not to engage - and with good reason. With her armored casemates and massive ship-breaking guns the CSS Stonewall was the most powerful and most modern warship in the world.  She was built with the hope of smashing through the Union blockade and reopening one or more ports to Confederate blockade runners.

A storm cut short this deadly dance, and the CSS Stonewall went into Ferrol to seek shelter and take on supplies.  She came out a few days later, and once again USS Niagara and USS Sacramento were waiting, and shadowed her as she steamed across the Atlantic toward her beleaguered homeland.  Among those ordered to make ready to confront her was Lt. Cdr. William B. Cushing, the man who in a daring naval commando raid had sunk the ironclad CSS Ablemarle. Admiral Porter instructed Cushing to mount a spar torpedo on the USS Monticello and make ready to charge the CSS Stonewall should she appear off Norfolk or Wilmington.

The CSS Stonewall is both a card and a counter in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, and if she appears can pose a powerful challenge to the Union player.

For more on the story of how, where and why the CSS Stonewall was built, and what eventually became of her, see my earlier blog entry at: