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Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum,

War on the Waters
Article and photos by KathleenWalls

A Southern Belle inspects the CSS Jackson at Civil War Naval Musuem in Columbus, GA

Columbus, Georgia is home to the only museum in the world dedicated to the naval history of the War Between the States. The Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum, which opened in the spring of 2001, brings both sides of the conflict together and sheds light on a too-often-ignored aspect of the war: battles that were fought in the water, not on the land.

The centerpiece of the museum is a 180-foot piece of the original 225-foot hull of the CSS Jackson. This massive ironclad was built at the Confederate shipyards approximately 1 mile away from where it now rests. You can view it from an observation platform near the bow, or from floor level.

The CSS Jackson is the largest surviving Confederate ironclad. The ship was in the naval yard and almost ready to be launched when a daring group of Union soldiers crossed the Chattahoochee River on a dark night in April 1865 and burned it to the waterline. The hull floated 30 miles downriver, where it lay covered with mud until its excavation in the early 1960s. This section is but one-third of the original ship, yet it weighs in at 560,000 pounds. It originally contained six huge guns, iron plating, and two 30,000-pound engines.

Another exhibit is of the CSS Chattahoochee, a gunboat built specifically to protect the the city of Columbus, Georgia which was a big manufacturing center for military equipment and uniforms.

Misfortune befell the CSS Chattahoochee in 1863 when a boiler explosion killed 19 crewmen and sank the ship in the Apalachicola River in North Florida. She was raised and returned to Columbus in January of 1864 and underwent repairs. but was once again sunk, this time by the Confederates in April, 1865 in an effort to keep the ship from falling into Union hands.

CSS Albermarle at Civil War Naval Museum

She lay underwater until the early 1960s when she was discovered and a portion of the ship's hull and her original steam engines once more returned to her home in Columbus. Due to her being submerged, the CSS Chattahoochee was the only Confederate Navy gunboat to survive the war.

The most expensive exhibit at the Civil War Naval Museum is the reconstruction of the ironclad CSS Albemarle. The Albemarle terrorized the Union fleet until a young Union lieutenant made a daring raid in a small steam-powered launch and sank it in the Roanoke River in Virginia. As visitors stand in the hull of the ship, they experience what life was like on board. They eavesdrop on a young "powder monkey" as he writes home to his mother about life in an ironclad; encounter the enemy cannonade; and feel the deck shudder beneath as the torpedoes strike home. It's so realistic, you imagine you can feel the flow of the river and the impact of the missiles.

Medical Exhibit at Civil War Naval Museum

One of the most realistic exhibits is the one relating to medical practices onboard ships in that era. Land based hospitals were not much better. Makes you realize that "calling in sick" then was not a good option.

The museum harbors its own bit of Confederate flag trivia. Thanks to a family from Ohio, visitors can see a particular flag that was in hiding for 137 years. On the night of July 22, 1862, the captain of the CSS Arkansas thought they had reached safety in the harbor at Vicksburg, Mississippi, when, out of the darkness, two Union ships struck. The USS Queen of the West attempted to ram the Arkansas. As the two vessels lay side to side, an enterprising civilian engineer aboard the Federal ship, John P. Skelton, saw his chance for a souvenir. He leapt aboard the Arkansas and tore down its flag. He managed to make it back to his own ship and hide the flag in a barrel of beans. After his discharge, Skelton took the purloined flag back to his family home in Ohio, where it remained until 1999 when his ancestors sent the emblem back home again. It now rests in a place of honor on the wall of the museum.

Authentic Confederate flag at Naval Museum

The National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus's story of the war extends beyond the actual walls of the building. Its newest exhibit the USS Water Witch, a full-scale model of this ship sits between the museum and Victory Drive.

The USS Water Witch was a U.S. side-wheel steamship which had already proven itself prior to the war. It functioned as a supply ship, mail ship and was used in helping maintain the Union blockading of Savannah, GA. The ship was eventually taken in a surprise nighttime raid by the Confederates . After its capture, the Confederates did not utilize the Water Witch and eventually sank it to avoid its being recaptured by Union forces.

The Water Witch today is still serving citizens. She acts as a signpost pointing to a museum every history buff should visit at least once.

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Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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