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this week in the civil war

USS Cairo torpedoed

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.

– Associated Press

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