Save the Fantail
We are proud to announce that the Museum is in the process of the largest conservation project undertaken here in quite some time. As we approach the 20th Anniversary of the opening of the new museum, we acknowledge there were some hopes and dreams that went unfulfilled back in 2001. Today, we have grant funding in place to begin the process of conservation, transportation, and interior exhibition of the CSS Jackson fantail.
To understand what a fantail is to understand the story of the Jackson as well as a basic concept of ship design. Construction of the vessel began in 1862 under the name of Muscogee at the navy yard in Columbus. Involved in this process were men who were secured in Navy lore, such as John L. Porter and Catesby ap R. Jones, but the men who oversaw the daily management of the construction of the ironclad were Chief Engineer James Warner, Lieutenant Augustus McLaughlin, and a local civilian shipwright by the name of Charles Blain. He built steamboats in Columbus prior to the war.
The Muscogee was intended to be built on the same plans of the CSS Missouri, already under construction in Shreveport, Louisiana. This design included a flat bottom and a large paddle-wheel in the center of a large casemate. The design is intended to sit shallow in the water, or in maritime terms, to have a shallow draft. As a means of propulsion, the paddle-wheel is extremely vulnerable to incoming weapons fire, thus an extensive casemate is needed for protection to prevent the vessel from becoming immobile during combat.
By December 1863, Warner, and company were ready to attempt a launch. They waited for high water typical for this time of year to float the ironclad. On New Years’ Eve, the water began rising fast, in fact too fast for the workers at the yard to remove all the blocks that the vessel rested on. On New Year’s Day 1864, the river rose ten feet. Even with the help of the steamboat Marianna, the ironclad would not budge. Working overtime to remove river debris, trash, and the blocking, the workers still could not get the job done. Then, over the next 48 hours, the water level on the river dropped about a foot per hour. The Muscogee was stuck.
Following a visit by Chief Constructor John L. Porter on January 23rd, the design of the ironclad was changed. First the paddle-wheel was removed and the wheel well was planked over. Moving the vessel would now be handled by two propellers. Second, with weight as an issue, the casemate was shortened by fifty-four feet. The new design extended the overall length of the ironclad to about 225 feet. This redesign makes this vessel the most modified of any of the Confederate ironclads.
By the end of May 1864, the planking over of the stern section began. This section was built in a half-moon shape, hence the name “fantail.” The design was quite common on the hybrid sail/steam warships by the 1850s. But, even this concept is heavily modified to fit on this vessel. Two layers of pine timbers create the structure of the fantail, while two-inch iron plating is placed on top, curved around the waterline for protection of the rudder and the propellers. This configuration is a demonstration of the technical and manufacturing capabilities of the industrial complex and the workers employed. Sometime during the next few months, the name of the vessel was changed to Jackson, and on December 22, 1864, the Jackson was launched.
Of more than 75 ironclads built during the Civil War, only four exist in a way that allows us to see the remains and really study them. These are the USS Cairo, USS Monitor, CSS Neuse, and of course, the Jackson. The half-moon shaped fantail of the Jackson is a unique piece of maritime history that was built in Columbus, GA and now sits outside under a pole barn exposed to the elements. Keep tabs as we move forward with this complicated conservation project that exemplifies the stories you’ll hear nowhere else.
The Jackson fantail was recently damaged in a fire that destroyed our outside storage shed. The wood pieces were most affected by the fire, but the iron armor is still intact. This is a setback to the project, but we are committed to the conservation of this one of a kind artifact. You can support this effort by making a donation online today. Just click the donate button at the top of the page. Thanks for your support!