National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus
It is 1864. Columbus, Georgia, is a bustling river port, the second largest contributor of goods to the Confederate military. The Chattahoochee River provides energy to power nearby textile, grist, and paper mills as well as access to the Gulf of Mexico. Cotton plantations make the city of 15,000 a major railroad and shipping center. This west Georgia town is also the birthplace of the last and one of the largest ironclads to be commissioned in the Confederate Navy.
The CSS Muscogee, launched in December 1864 and renamed the CSS Jackson in honor of the Mississippi capital, was initially designed as a paddle wheeler, but at more than 2,000 tons she was too heavy. Two propellers were installed at the Columbus Navy Yard, and the ship was lengthened to 225 feet. The Jackson was never manned nor did she fire a shot in anger before she was captured by Union Brigadier General James Wilson in 1865. Yankee troopers set the vessel ablaze and sent her down the Chattahoochee, where she sank in a bend of the river.
The Jackson was raised from her watery grave in 1963 and is now magnificently displayed as the gem of the National Civil War Naval Museum. About 180 feet of the wooden wreck and 200 pieces of her 4-inch-thick armor plate have been preserved and can be examined from several vantage points.
Also conserved are some of the remains of the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee. The boat was brought to Columbus for repairs in 1863 after she was damaged by a boiler explosion. The steam-powered sailing ship was scuttled by Confederate naval officers in 1865 to prevent her capture.
There is much more to the museum, which is also known as Port Columbus. Displays illustrate the development and operation of both Union and Confederate navies as well as showcase some important artifacts of the time. An image of 13-year-old Aspinwall Fuller, a powder monkey from New York in 1864, is used to direct visitors through the 40,000-square-foot facility.
The museum highlights several of the Civil War's most important naval battles, including the face off between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, the clash between the North's Kearsarge and the South's Alabama, and the Battle of Mobile Bay.
The Monitor-Virginia conflict is showcased, because, as the first battle between ironclad warships, it is considered the beginning of modern naval warfare. The visitor can view a full-scale replica of the Monitor's gun turret, getting a first-hand look at the technology of the day. Among the displays is a significant uniform—that of Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, the Virginia's executive officer who was in command of the ship during her battle with the Monitor.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the culture of the era by viewing reproductions of the berth deck, ward room, and captain's quarters of the USS Hartford. Guests can also stroll a re-created Plymouth, North Carolina, wharf. In the battle theater on board a re-creation of the CSS Albemarle, visitors can experience Civil War naval combat from the viewpoint of an ironclad-ship Sailor.
A million-dollar collection of Civil War naval-related flags is the latest addition to Port Columbus. Among the 16 flags from both sides of the war are those from two famous Confederate Navy ironclads: the Atlanta and the Tennessee. The Atlanta went aground after a brief battle off Savannah, Georgia, and the Tennessee was captured by Rear Admiral David G. Farragut's fleet at Mobile Bay following his famous exclamation: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
Under construction in front of the museum is a full-scale replica of the USS Water Witch. This Union paddlewheeler served in a variety of roles including mail runner, resupply ship, and blockader. She was boarded by Confederate Sailors and captured in June 1864. In December of that year she was burned to prevent her from falling back into the hands of the Union Navy. Her final resting place has not been found, but her likeness will steer visitors to the National Civil War Naval Museum.
The museum is located on the Chattahoochee River off Victory Drive near downtown Columbus, Georgia. It is open daily from 0900 to 1700 except Christmas Day. Admissions are $6.50 for adults, $5.00 for students, and $5.50 for active military and senior citizens. For more information, see the museum's Web site at www.portcolumbus.org or call (706) 327-9798.