Resting in an honored spot in the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia, is an artifact that holds a significant place in the history of Gadsden County.
The C.S.S. Chattahoochee was a Confederate warship completed at Saffold, Georgia (near today's U.S. Highway 84 crossing between Dothan and Donalsonville) in 1863. Built of green timber by craftsmen who had never constructed a warship, the Chattahoochee was a massive gunboat with both masts and steam propulsion. Mounting a number of heavy guns, she was manned by a crew of more than 100 men. Her original captain, Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones, fully expected to steam her into action against the Union blockade ships in Apalachicola Bay.
Damaged on her initial trip down the river from Saffold to Chattahoochee, the gunboat was repaired in a makeshift facility at Chattahoochee Landing. Once the repairs were completed, the Chattahoochee became a fully operational Confederate warship. With Chattahoochee Landing as her home port, the boat steamed up and down the Apalachicola River and conducted artillery drills.
The high hopes of the Confederate Navy for the ship, however, were never realized. The assignment of Lieutenant Jones to command the vessel was a clear indication she was intended for combat. He was a Southern hero at the time, having commanded the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia during the second half of her monumental battle with the U.S.S. Monitor. The Confederate army, however, placed obstructions in the Apalachicola River before the Chattahoochee became operation. The barrier prevented Union warships from coming upstream, but also prevented the Chattahoochee from going down to the Gulf.
In May of 1863, while responding to a report of a Union raid up the river, the Chattahoochee sank in an accidental explosion at Blountstown. The dead from the accident were brought up to Chattahoochee and buried, while the wounded were taken upriver to Columbus, Georgia, as soon as they could be moved. Several others died and are buried there.
The Chattahoochee itself was raised, taken to Columbus and repaired. By the end of the war she was again ready for action and was awaiting the completion of the ironclad C.S.S. Jackson in anticipation of an attack on the blockade vessels at Apalachicola. Union troops captured Columbus before the Jackson was finished, however, and the crew of the Chattahoochee took her downstream a few miles and set her on fire. She burned to the waterline and sank in the Chattahoochee RIver.
The boat's stern section was raised by the snagboat Montgomery during the 1960s and now is preserved at the Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus. To learn more about the museum, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/navymuseum. The story of the Chattahoochee is told in much more detail in my 2008 book, The Early History of Gadsden County.