VNMP event to observe Navy’s birthday

Published 10:24 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

Re-enactors, displays and demonstrations of period firearms will mark the observance of the 240th birthday of the U.S. Navy and the role of the USS Cairo in the Civil War Saturday at the Vicksburg National Military Park’s Cairo Museum.

The program runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes interpretive programs about the U.S.S. Cairo, kid’s activities, musket demonstrations, and a display of Civil War Navy Equipment.

“We will have people dressed in period Navy costumes, we will be firing off muskets and have displays of naval artifacts,” said Jake Koch, the park’s historic weapons supervisor and living history coordinator.

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The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats called the “city class” gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers and was part of the Navy’s “brown water navy,” which patrolled the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The fleet was one of three brown water navies in the Navy’s history. The other two were in China before World War II and during the Vietnam War.

Koch said the brown water navy had a tremendous impact on the Civil War.

“It cut the Confederacy in two and was instrumental in the battle for Vicksburg. The navy tried by itself to take the city and was unsuccessful, the army tried by itself and was unsuccessful, but the army and navy working together were able to capture it.”

The Cairo was sunk Dec. 12, 1862, during an early attempt by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to take Vicksburg. The boat was part of a flotilla of attempting to clear the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, of Confederate batteries and torpedoes, or underwater mines. It was hit by two explosions that sank the gunboat in 36 feet of water — the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo.

“It’s our claim here that the Cairo was the first piece of U.S. military equipment to be destroyed by an IED (improvised explosive device),” Koch said.

The gunboat was removed from the Yazoo in 1964, and later restored.

Koch said the Cairo’s presence served as the inspiration for the observance of the Navy’s birthday.

A resolution creating the Continental Navy was passed on October 13, 1775. The infant Navy was composed of just two vessels, with 10 cannon each, and a total of 160 men. Authorization for an additional 13 vessels was given that December.

From such humble beginnings the United States Navy has grown into the world’s largest with nearly 330,000 active duty personnel, over 270 deployable ships, and over 3700 operational aircraft.

For further information on Saturday’s program, visit the park’s website at or call 601-636-0583.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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