Virginia class (CSA):
The first true “line of battle” ships to see service in the Americas, the Virginia
class was quite revolutionary for its day, but like with all warships of this era was quickly relegated to history by the torrent of technological advancement in guns, armor, and propulsion which occurred during the 1880’s and 1890’s. Worst for the CSN, the new ships would spark the naval arms race between the Americas that many historians maintain hastened the outbreak of war between the two nations (a situation which would later develop between Britain and Germany in the years leading up to the Great War).
Originally proposed in late 1876 as modified Memphis
class armored frigates, Naval Secretary Lagrange came to realize that the ships, although advanced for the time they were designed, would be obsolete by the time the last; CSS Richmond
, entered service (completion had been delayed by the outbreak of the Mexican-Confederate War in 1877).
Trying again to leapfrog their constant rival – the United States – the Confederate government turned again to their allies in the British government. Prime Minister Disraeli’s Conservatives quickly endorsed the idea of two new ironclad battleships to be built for the CSA. Events moved quickly and the keels for the ships were laid down in Portsmouth Dockyard – where the innovative HMS Devastation
had been built and upon whose design the new Confederate ships would be based.
class was 320 feet long overall, with a 64 foot beam and a nominal draft of 26 feet. They displaced 8,350 tons normal and 9,269 tons full load. They were armed with four British 12”/25 Mk.II’s in two twin turrets fore and aft. No secondary battery was fitted. They were propelled by twin shafts using two three-cylinder compound engines generating nearly 6,000 horsepower. Design speed was 14 knots and range was a respectable 5.700 nautical miles. Armor comprised a heavy belt of 14” compound armor, 3” armored deck, 14” turrets, and a 9” conning tower. Crew complement was 522.
commissioned in 1881 and her sister-ship CSS South Carolina
entered service a year later. They spent their entire service life in the Home Fleet based in Norfolk but traveled extensively “showing the flag” for the CSA in Central and South America as part of the Confederacy’s expanded diplomatic initiative. Considered front-line units even after the turn of the century, the Virginia’s
actually changed very little, primarily due to limitations in the original design – which was functionally obsolete by that time, having been replaced by true battleship (pre-dreadnought) types. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in the Central American Crisis (1900-1901) protecting troop convoys and engaging coastal defenses, thus freeing up more modern ships for other duties.
Both survived the brief conflict – although Virginia
was heavily damaged by shore batteries protecting the port of Puerto Cortes, Honduras, in September of 1900 – and was under repair in Mobile for nearly six months. After that the ships were kept close to Confederate home waters and were used primarily in training exercises and barracks ships due to their increasing obsolescence. Both were retired in 1906 and sold for breaking up by 1909.
Next up: Confederate protected cruisers - Persephone