by Michael Boyink / email@example.com
The CSS Neuse just couldn’t catch a break.
One of 26 Civil War “ironclads” commissioned by the Confederate Government in 1862, construction of the ship was behind schedule before it even began.
The Navy wanted the wooden hull by March 1, 1863. They didn’t get it until late that summer.
Then it was a matter of not having the iron plating to cover the wood with. Iron was scarce enough in wartime. When the Navy finally found some, they couldn’t transport it because the Army was hogging all the trains.
Finding a crew was also a challenge. The Confederacy had naval officers. But enlisted men? Not so much. The Navy had to steal them from the Army. The resulting crew was described by an officer as “ridiculous, all legs and arms, always in the wrong place and in each other’s way.”
There were other labor issues. A new paymaster didn’t understand an overtime agreement, and four carpenters walked off before the matter could be settled.
In spite of all the obstacles, construction continued. The boilers and propulsion systems went in. Her guns were installed. Ammunition was loaded.
As each step of the ship was completed, the hull sat lower and lower in the water.
Which was a problem.
Because the ship’s namesake Neuse River, on which it was being built, was falling.
As much as one foot a day.
The CSS Neuse needed seven feet of water.
The channel in the Neuse River only had five.
Nevertheless, the war raged on. Orders came down. The ship was needed for an upcoming attack.
The Confederate Navy constructed wooden caissons designed to lift the ship higher out of the water.
And on April 22, 1864, still lacking some of the steel armor it was supposed to have, the CSS Neuse steamed out of its construction moorings in Kinston.
And made it a half mile before getting grounded on a sandbar.
She sat there a month before the river rose enough to float again.
The Navy returned the ship to its construction moorings, but by that time most of the supporting Confederate troops had been called away to more important duties.
The CSS Neuse remained in the Kinston area, essentially a floating fort that saw no active duty.
By 1865 the Civil War was ending. Union forces were headed through Kinston to meet up with General Sherman.
Retreating Confederates crossed the Neuse River to escape the Union forces following behind.
The CSS Neuse waited for its own soldiers to pass by, then fired a few shells at the Union ranks.
Those shells would be the only shots the CSS Neuse would ever fire in hostility.
Then the so-called “CSS Neuse-ance” was intentionally sunk by its own crew to avoid capture by the Union.
And laid right there, in the Neuse River, for nearly a century.
Oh, most of the good stuff disappeared. The cannons, anchors, propellers, and armor.
But in 1963, funded by Kinston businessmen, the lower hull of the ironclad was raised, loaded onto semis, and moved to an indoor facility in downtown Kinston.
Along with approximately 15,000 artifacts – sauce bottles, folding chairs, grappling hooks. Even the ship’s bell.
Now all part of the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center and Governor Caswell Memorial.
Kinston didn’t stop there.
The city also created the world’s only full size replica of a Confederate Ironclad ship.
Built from the original Confederate Navy plans, the CSS Neuse II is also in downtown Kinston, just a couple blocks from the museum containing the hull of the original.