Confederate center-wheeler/screw steamer ironclad. The Louisiana was built at Jefferson City, Louisiana, just north of New Orleans, by E. C. Murray. The ironclad was laid down on October 15, 1861, and launched on February 6, 1862, but lack of materials prevented its completion. The Louisiana was designed for four engines that would power two paddle wheels in a center well and two screw propellers with twin rudders. As with other Southern ironclads, it was casemated. The casemate extended the full length of the ship save about 25 feet at bow and stern end and was sloped at nearly 45 degrees on all four sides. Armor consisted of two thicknesses of two-inch railroad iron placed in two different directions, while the top of the ship had sheet iron bulwarks some 4 feet in height.
The ship weighed 1,400 tons, was 364 feet long, and had a beam of 62 feet and draft of only 7 feet. The crew complement was some 300 men. The ship was pierced for five gun ports on each side and three each forward and aft. Armament consisted of two 7-inch rifled guns, three IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns, four 8-inch smoothbore shell guns, and seven 32-pounders.
On April 18, 1862, Commander David D. Porter’s mortar schooners in Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Coast Squadron commenced fire on Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip on the lower Mississippi River. This made it clear to Confederate authorities in New Orleans that Farragut would soon attempt to run the ships of his squadron past the forts in an effort to capture the city. Thus on April 20, although it was unready, the Confederates towed the Louisiana to Fort St. Philip. Captain J. J. Mitchell, commanding Confederate naval forces on the lower Mississippi, decided that the Louisiana would best be utilized as a floating battery and it was then moored along the eastern bank of the river about a half mile above Fort St. Philip, just beyond the range of Porter’s mortars. Commander C. F. McIntosh of the Confederate Navy had command.
On April 24, as the Confederates had anticipated, Farragut ran his ships past Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. The Louisiana would have posed a formidable threat had it been capable of maneuver and/or its guns capable of greater traverse, but it nonetheless inflicted damage. In its passage, the U.S. Navy screw sloop Iroquois closed to only a few feet of the Louisiana and let off a broadside, but this did no damage, while the Union ship suffered seriously from the Louisiana’s return fire.
After Farragut’s squadron had passed upriver to New Orleans, McIntosh unbent every effort to get the ship’s engines in working order so that he could operate against the Union ships, but before this could be accomplished, the Confederate forts surrendered on April 28. Realizing that defeat was now inevitable and believing that he was not bound by the surrender of the army forts, McIntosh set fire to the Louisiana and sent it out in the river. Its guns went off as the flames reached them and then the whole ship blew up in a great explosion in front of Fort St. Philip.
Farragut’s New Orleans campaign had come just in time, for had the Confederates been able to complete the Louisiana and Mississippi, Farragut would most likely not have made it to New Orleans in April 1862 and the Union capture of the Crescent City would have been a good while off.
References Silverstone, Paul H. Warships of the Civil War Navies. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989. Still, William N., Jr. Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1985. U.S. Navy Department. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Ser. II, Vol. 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1921. U.S. Navy Department, Naval History Division. Civil War Naval Chronology, 1861–1865. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971.