One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, the USS Cairo was sunk by Confederate forces on December 12. To mark that event, Vicksburg National Military Park will have a special commemoration on Saturday.
The USS Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. These powerful ironclads, each bearing 13 cannons, carried Northern hopes to regain control of the lower Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.
According to park historians, on the cold morning of December 12, 1862, Lt. Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., "led a small flotilla up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg, to destroy Confederate batteries and clear the channel of torpedoes (underwater mines). As the Cairo reached a point seven miles north of Vicksburg the flotilla came under fire and Selfridge ordered the guns to ready. As the gunboat turned towards shore disaster struck. Cairo was rocked by two explosions in quick succession which tore gaping holes in the ship's hull. Within twelve minutes the ironclad sank into six fathoms of water without any loss of life. Cairo became the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo."
On Saturday park staff will offer a day of living history programs and artillery demonstrations, plus an evening candlelight tour of the ironclad gunboat, USS Cairo. These activities will be presented at the USS Cairo Exhibit and Museum. The day's programs will conclude with four evening tours of the "Hard Luck" ironclad, when visitors will be introduced to historic personalities involved with the sinking and loss of the USS Cairo.
Tours begin at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 7 p.m, and will last approximately 30 minutes. Participants are urged to wear comfortable walking shoes and dress appropriately for the weather while onboard the historic gunboat. No flash photography during the evening tours please.
The evening event is free, however, reservations are required, with each tour limited to 20 participants. Reservations are not required for the daytime activities (10 a.m. - 4 p.m.). For reservations and directions, please call (601) 636-2199.