The C.S.S. Neuse Gunboat
When the Civil War began in 1861, the Confederate states were faced with the daunting prospect of entering into a war heavily outnumbered and outsourced with regards to soldiers, military supplies and ammunition, and places where they could plan their war strategies. They were forced to become very resourceful with what they had and with their ideas for how they could match the power of the Union army. The Secretary of the Confederate Navy, Stephen Mallory, was sure that the use of ironclad warships would put them on equal footing with the Union navy. Mallory was already facing a huge hurdle with his proposal, in that the South lacked the needed quantities of iron that were used to create iron plating for these warships. Nevertheless, the importance and necessity of having these warships was undisputed as North Carolina was the site of many significant naval skirmishes.
On October 17, 1862, a contract was drawn up for the construction of an ironclad gunboat. This gunboat was to be named the C.S.S. Neuse, so named for the river upon which it was built. It was one of 22 ironclad ships that were commissioned by the Confederate Government and were constructed for the Civil War. Construction began shortly after the contract was made official and workmen used local timber to build the keel of the ship.
One of the biggest obstacles while constructing the C.S.S. Neuse, was how to defend it and the construction area in the event of an attack. Union troops were making sporadic raids in the area so the fear of an attack was justified. After General Foster's expedition reached Kinston and ransacked it in December 1862, they moved up the banks of the Neuse River and noted the construction of the gunboat. An objective was made to destroy the construction of the boat, but their attempts to cross the river in order to do so were thwarted by the Confederates who set fire to various supplies and sent them downriver to prevent the Union troops' crossing. The Union troops then proceeded to use artillery fire to destroy to boat. After a brief battle, the Union troops eventually departed on December 17 and continued their trek towards Goldsboro.
Despite the attack, the C.S.S. Neuse was not severely damaged and construction resumed quickly. By mid-March 1863, it was ready to sail downriver to Kinston to get outfitted with machinery and iron plating. Unfortunately, various problems administrative issues such as worker's pay and acquiring crew members, as well as the lack of iron needed to outfit the gunboat, caused huge delays in the completion of this ship and its readiness for battle did not occur until April 22, 1864. It ran into another snag when the river level had sunk too low and left the ship stranded. The river finally rose again in mid-May, but the opportunities for the gunboat to see any action were very slim, as many of the troops had left North Carolina for Virginia.
The ironclad C.S.S. Neuse was finally completed in June 1864, but lack of troop support caused the ship to remain inactive and inactivity continued through December 1864. After the New Year began, Confederate strongholds began to fall as the Union Army advanced southward and prepared to attack the vital port town of Wilmington. Confederate troops that were sent to help defend Wilmington destroyed any hope of ground support for the C.S.S. Neuse. In March 1855, Union forces began advancing steadily down through Goldsboro and towards the Neuse's location at Kinston. The C.S.S. Neuse, which Confederate troops had dubbed the "Neuse'ance" due to its seemingly endless string of bad luck and construction woes, would not get its glorious moment in battle. As Union troops approached the area on March 12, 1865, Confederate General Braxton Bragg ordered the crew to shell and fire upon the advancing enemy and then destroy the boat. These were the only shots that the C.S.S. Neuse ever fired in battle. After the Confederates set fire to the luckless gunboat, an explosion sent the ship to the bottom of the river.
The C.S.S Neuse took almost two years to be fully constructed and outfitted for use by the Confederate Army, but never got the chance to participate in the glorious battles that were envisioned for it. The muddy waters of the Neuse River managed to preserve the boat for almost 100 years. Recover efforts began in the 1960s and almost 15,000 artifacts have been recovered from the ship as well as part of the original hull. Visitors to the Kinston, North Carolina area can see these remnants and memories of a historical gunboat that infamously never had its day in the Civil War.