The sinking of the USS Cairo
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, the Union lamented another kind of loss beyond its defeat at Fredericksburg. On Dec. 12, 1862, the USS Cairo — an ironclad river gunboat — was struck by two torpedoes and sank within minutes on the Yazoo River, about 10 miles north of Vicksburg, Miss. No one died but the sinking of one of the most feared gunboats was an embarrassing loss for the Union. The 175-foot vessel bristled with heavy weaponry, its guns menacing from turrets set about on all sides. A young crewmember, George Yost, later remarked: "Nothing of the Cairo could be seen 12 minutes after the first explosion, excepting the smokestacks, and the flag staff from which still floated the flag above the troubled waters." The ironclads played a crucial part in the Union's Western war aim of seizing and dominating the inland waterways that carried trade, people and foodstuffs through the heartland. It would only be rediscovered and salvaged in 1964, then put on display. Another ironclad, the Cincinnati, would be sunk during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863 by Confederate forces firing from bluffs lining the river bank. Also this week, the Macon Telegraph of Georgia clamors for information on the outcome of the fighting for Fredericksburg, in which the Confederates under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee prevailed over a bigger Union force. "It is said our loss is 1,800 and the enemy's five times as much," the paper reports. "Somehow, we feel almost, as sure that Lee has got those rascals, as if we saw them already in his grip."