CSS Stonewall


The French-built ironclad ram CSS Stonewall lying at anchor off Washington, D. C. in summer 1865. The Stonewall was built in France for the Confederacy but was transferred to the South too late to take an active role in the war.


Kōtetsu, Japan’s first ironclad warship, as CSS Stonewall c. 1865.


Kōtetsu leading the line of battle, at the Naval Battle of Hakodate.

One of a class of two ironclad rams built at Bordeaux, France, by Lucien Arman for the Confederate government. Only the Stonewall reached Southern hands. Contracted for by Confederate agent James D. Bulloch and laid down in 1863 under the cover name of Sphinx (as it was supposedly intended for the Egyptian government), the Stonewall was launched in June 1864. Two months earlier, with the tide of war decidedly favoring the North, Paris decided that the ship would not be sold to the Confederacy and arranged for its sale to Denmark instead. Renamed the Staerkodder, it was intended for service in Denmark’s 1864 war with Prussia and Austria. When the ship failed to reach Denmark before that country lost the war, Copenhagen refused the ship. The French builders were able to arrange its transfer to the Confederacy, and the ship was commissioned at sea in January 1865 as the Stonewall, although it was officially known as the Olinde to allay suspicion.

The Stonewall displaced 1,390 tons and measured 186’9” in length overall (157’6” between perpendiculars), with a maximum beam of 32’6” and a draft of 14’3”. It was propelled by two direct-acting engines on two screws and was capable of 10.8 knots. Crew size was 135 men. Fitted with a pronounced submerged ram bow, the Stonewall mounted three rifled guns: one 11-inch 300-pounder in the bow to fire directly ahead and two 5-inch 70-pounders carried aft in a turret. The ship was protected by a 3.5-4.75-inch armor belt backed by 16 inches of wood, with 4.5-inch armor on the casemate and turrets.

Officers for the ram came from the late Confederate cruiser Florida, headed by Captain Thomas J. Page. The Stonewall underwent some repairs at Ferrol, Spain, and then steamed to Lisbon to take on coal. From Lisbon it sailed on March 28, easily outdistancing the pursuing U. S. warships Niagara and Sacramento under the command of Captain Thomas T. Craven, who believed that his adversary was too powerful and had earlier refused battle. Page hoped to attack Port Royal, South Carolina, but contrary winds led him to steam to Nassau and then to Havana. In the latter port Page learned that the war was over. He then turned the ship over to Cuban authorities in return for money to pay off his crew.

Handed over to the United States in July 1865, the Stonewall sailed to the Norfolk Navy Yard, where it was sold to the shogun of Japan. Seized by forces loyal to the emperor when it arrived at Yokohama in April 1868 and renamed the Koketsu, it led the assault on the shogun’s stronghold at Hakodate in July 1869. Renamed the Azuma in 1881, it was stricken from the active list in 1888 and broken up in 1908.

The second Stonewall-class ship, built under the name Cheops, was also launched in June 1864. Sold by the builder to Prussia, it entered that nation’s service as the Prinze Adalbert in October 1865. Rearmed and completed in 1866, it was broken up in 1878.

References Bulloch, James Dunwody. The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, or How the Confederate Cruisers Were Equipped. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Navy Historical Division, Navy Department. Civil War Naval Chronology, 1861-1865. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1971. Silverstone, Paul H. Warships of the Civil War Navies. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989.