Explosion Sinks the USS Cairo

Hole blown in the port bow of the USS Cairo
Hole blown in the port bow of the USS Cairo

NPS Photo

On December 12, 1862, the USS Cairo was busy clearing Confederate torpedoes (today called underwater mines) from the muddy Yazoo River. Upon hearing small arms fire, Commander Selfridge thought his vessel was under attack and ordered Cairo into position. Two Confederate sailors, Acting Masters Zedekiah McDaniel and Francis M. Ewing, names now lost to history, hid behind a river bank and waited as the Cairo maneuvered to the front of the flotilla.

At the right moment, the two Confederates detonated the torpedoes with an electric charge. Two explosions ripped a large hole in the port bow causing the Cairo to quickly fill with water. Within 12 minutes, it sank to the bottom in six fathoms (36 feet) of water, but with no loss of life. The USS Cairo became the first armored warship in history to be sunk by an electronically detonated mine.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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