History of the U.S.S. Cairo
Vicksburg National Military Park USS Cairo

The USS Cairo was one of seven ironclad river gunboats, called "Pook Turtles" after their designer, Samuel M. Pook. Built by James B. Eads at Mound City Ill, for the War Department and commissioned 25 January, 1862. The Cairo was a flat-bottomed, light-draft stern-wheeler, tonnage 512, measuring 175 ft in length, 51 ft 2in. beam, with a 6 ft draft. Its original battery consisted of 3 8-in. guns, 6 32-pounders, 4 42-pounders, and 1 12-pounder Howitzer. From its commissioning until 1 October, 1862, the gunboat was a unit of the army’s Western Gunboat fleet. During this period it operated on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. After the capture of Fort Henry in February of 1862, the Cairo steamed down the Tennessee River and participated in the advance that led to the occupation of Clarksville and Nashville, TN. In April it escorted mortar boats down the Mississippi to begin operations against Fort Pillow. In early May, while the Fort Pillow siege progressed, the Confederate River Defense Fleet attacked Union naval forces at Plum Run Bend, a few miles above Fort Pillow; although the Cairo was involved in the battle, it was not significantly damaged. On 6 June the Cairo, with six additional Union warships, again fought the Confederate River Defense Fleet, off Memphis, TN. All the Confederate vessels but one were captured, sunk, or grounded. For the rest of the summer it patrolled the Mississippi River from Memphis to Fort Pillow and in September was taken out of operations for overhaul and extensive modifications to its armor. In early December, once again operational, it was ordered to participate in a naval demonstration up the Yazoo River in Mississippi, prior to an attack on Vicksburg by a Union force under the command of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. On 12 December, five gunboats including the Cairo started up the Yazoo. Shortly afterward the ship struck two Torpedoes and within twelve minutes sank to the bottom, with no loss of life. In the summer of 1956, the Cairo’s remains were rediscovered. The gunboat was later raised and is on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.

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