Tuesday, December 27, 2011

USS Naiad ("Tinclad" No. 53)

Figure 1: USS Naiad (1864-65). Photograph was taken on one of America's western rivers during the Civil War and reproduced as a stereograph. Note mine clearance "rake" projecting from her bow. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a nymph in Greek mythology who lived in and gave life to lakes and rivers, the 183-ton USS Naiad was a stern-wheel steamer that was originally built as the civilian riverboat Princess at Freedom, Pennsylvania, and was purchased by the US Navy from F. Martin at Cincinnati, Ohio, on 3 March 1864. The ship was converted into a “tinclad” (or lightly armored) river gunboat and was commissioned on 3 April 1864. Naiad was approximately 156 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a draft of only six feet, and had a top speed of roughly 6 knots. Naiad was armed with eight 24-pounder cannons.

Naiad was used to reinforce Union forces along the Mississippi River and its tributaries against Confederate cavalry and guerilla raids. The gunboat steamed in these shallow and dangerous waters throughout the rest of the Civil War. Naiad usually bombarded Confederate shore batteries along the banks of the Mississippi. On 15 and 16 June 1864, Naiad, along with USS General Bragg and USS Winnebago, attacked the Southern artillery batteries at Ratliff’s Landing, Louisiana, silencing them on both days. On 2 September, Naiad destroyed the Confederate battery near Rowe’s Landing, Louisiana.

These shallow-draft gunboats played a big role in defeating the South during the Civil War. Constant patrolling of the rivers by Naiad and her sister “tinclads” helped the Union maintain open communications and supply lines in the west while preventing the South from using the rivers to send reinforcements against Union Generals Sherman and Grant. They also took a heavy toll of Confederate batteries that were positioned along the banks of the Mississippi, as well as other major and minor rivers.

Naiad was decommissioned at Cairo, Illinois, on 30 June 1865 and sold at auction at Mound City, Illinois, on 17 August 1865. In post-war commercial service, the riverboat was given back her old name, Princess, but, unfortunately, she hit some rocks and sank at Napoleon, Missouri, on 1 June 1868.