Over the weekend, I was reading an article in an old issue of America's Civil War Magazine about the very first Confederate Ironcload, CSS Manassas. The little image above claims to illustrate the ship, however, if that is true, it is missing a smoke stack. What interested me most in the article wasn't the short career of the ship, but rather the reason for its creation.
Apparently, when the war broke out, a New Orleans businessman constructed the ironclad over the frame of a tugboat to serve as a privateer. It's the first time I've ever heard anyone mention the idea of a river privateer, and I'm still not exactly sure how it was expected to work. I guess the Confederates never foresaw how quickly most of the river would be blockaded. However, the concept gets stranger the more one examines the ship. As was true of most ironclads, the CSS Manassas was slow, ponderous, and unreliable. Considering the most important trait of any privateer is speed, using an ironclad is certainly curious. But there is more. The Manassas sported only one gun that was fixed forward. The gun was to be fired at point-blank range, right before the ship rammed its opponent. This actually proved an effective tactic in Mississippi river warfare, but how does it work for a privateer? What good is ramming your prey and putting a big hole in the hull if you are trying to capture the ship intact?
In the end, it didn't really matter. Rather predictably, the ship was seized by the Confederate Navy to use as a warship, a task for which it was much better suited.