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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4, 1862: The Union Navy captures Confederate "aircraft carrier"

On this day 150 years ago the United States was celebrating a grim Fourth of July. The nation was torn apart by a Civil War that was getting progressively bloodier with no end in sight. Union General McClellan's attempt to take the Confederate capital at Richmond had just failed. It wasn't yet clear if he'd be able to extract his army before it would get wiped out. The excellent blog Civil War Daily Gazette is covering this in detail.

There was one little Union victory on this date, however. The Confederate gunboat CSS Teaser was captured by the USS Maratanza. This photo, courtesy Library of Congress, shows the damage to the deck caused by a 100-pound rifled shell that made a direct hit. You can also see a nice photo of its bow gun here.

The CSS Teaser was a screw tug of 64 tons with a length of 80', a beam of 18', a depth of hold of 7'. She was armed with one 32-pounder rifle and one 12-pounder rifle. According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,

"CSS Teaser had been the aging Georgetown, D.C., tug York River built at Philadelphia. Purchased at Richmond by the State of Virginia in 1861, she was assigned to the naval forces in the James River with Lt. J. H. Rochelle, Virginia State Navy, in command. Upon the secession of that state Teaser became a part of the Confederate Navy and continued to operate in Virginia waters. With Lt. W. A. Webb, CSN, in command, she took an active part in the battle of Hampton Roads, Va., on 8-9 March 1862, acting as tender to CSS Virginia. She received the thanks of the Congress of the Confederate States for this action

"Teaser was a pioneer "aircraft carrier" (balloon ship); she also became a pioneer minelayer when ordered 17 June to assist Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Under Lt. H. Davidson, CSN, she was used by the Confederate Naval Submarine Battery Service to plant and service "torpedoes" (mines) in the James River. While engaging Maratanza at Haxall's on the James 4 July 1862, a Union shell blew up Teaser's boiler and forced her crew to abandon ship. When seized by Maratanza, Teaser was carrying on board a balloon for aerial reconnaissance of Union positions at City Point and Harrison's Landing. Teaser was taken into the Federal Navy, and sold at Washington, D.C. on 24 June 1865."

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