Location: Kinston, North Carolina
Webpage: North Carolina State Park
General Description: Beginning in 1862, the Confederate Army contracted for the construction of an ironclad gunboat to be built in White Hall (now Seven Springs), North Carolina. Following many delays due to skirmishes with the Union Army in New Bern and difficulties with supplies, the ironclad CSS Neuse was finally completed in April 1864. It was ordered to rendezvous with its sister ship CSS Albemarle to attempt retaking of New Bern, however, it got stuck on a sand bar a mile down river and remained there until mid May when the river rose high enough to free the ship. Unable to obtain ground forces needed elsewhere there were no further attempts to take New Bern and the CSS Neuse did not see any action until March 1865 when the Confederate Army was retreating from the taking of Wilmington. The CSS Neuse was ordered to hold the river at Kinston allowing the Confederate forces to withdraw and then to burn the ship. It remained a wreck in the Neuse River for a hundred years when interested citizens started the process of raising the remains of the ship. The machinery, armor plating, and guns in 1866 leaving only the wooden hull that did not burn. Over the years there had been a lot of looting of the wreck whenever the river was low. In 1961 a formal salvage operation was attempted, but the operation was not concerned with preserving the wreck, only in finding artifacts and raising the hull from the bottom. Eventually they removed and discarded most of the wooden structures remaining in the ship to lighten the wreck. Finally only the bottom hull remained and still the wreck had to be cut into three pieces to be able to recover it from the river. This lower hull is now housed inside a climate controlled museum to preserve what little is left of the wreck. Constructed by volunteers from 2002-2009, Kinston also boasts the only full scale replica of an ironclad known as CSS Neuse II.
1) The full scale replica of the CSS Neuse is worth the trip by itself. These ironclads were a lot larger than I had thought they were. It only had two cannons that could swivel to shoot out any of four ports each, but by itself it ruled the river. The armor plating was thick enough and backed by wooden planking that it could shrug off any cannon balls that could existed at the time. So long as the soldiers on board could keep the ship from being boarded, it was invulnerable to attack. Very impressive. Of course it depended on ground support and had to keep off of sand bars!
2) The new museum (2012) that now houses the remaining lower hull of the ironclad has only completed Phase I of three phases. It has a lot of potential to be a great museum when it is finished. Currently there are a couple of displays about the history of the ironclad and recovery efforts, but the main draw is the preserved hull. They have constructed a plastic frame to show the rest of the ship. It was certainly worth seeing! We also learned from the museum guide that it was built to be a ram, which I found interesting because I am not sure what ships they thought they would be ramming on the Neuse River. He also told us the ram was built using black gum wood. I did not know that black gum was considered to be a tougher wood than oak, which was the outer planking on the rest of the ship over yellow pine for the interior.
3) We spent only a couple of hours at the museum and looking at the CSS Neuse II located a couple of blocks from the museum. It was worth it and I would recommend a visit once they complete the museum.