Sunday, April 2, 2023

Brunswick Civil War Round Table guest speaker Ed Bearss will discuss finding, raising the Union ironclad USS Cairo at January meeting

CASWELL BEACH — December 12, 1862, naval history was made when the Union ironclad USS Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo River in Mississippi in 36 feet of water by an electronically-detonated underwater mine, then known as a “torpedo.”

She went down in 12 minutes, and was the first vessel that ever sank in this manner. The vessel was involved in the campaign against Vicksburg, with a goal of taking control of the Yazoo River.

A computer rendering of the Ironclad USS Cairo in battle. (Courtesy: Brunswick Civil War Roundtable)

After the Confederates sank the Cairo, she laid largely forgotten for the next 98 years until a group led by then Vicksburg National Military Park Chief historian Ed Bearss discovered the hulk resting on the bottom of the Yazoo, north of Vicksburg. The discovery was clearly a defining moment for him in his illustrious career as Civil War historian.

On Wednesday, January 4, the Round Table’s guest speaker will be none other than the now Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, Ed Bearss.

Ed Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service. (Courtesy: Brunswick Civil War Roundtable)

The story of the difficult salvage operations and its final restoration and deployment at Vicksburg National Battlefield Park, is a story only Ed can tell. At 93 years old, when he decides to retire, this fascinating first hand accounting of the Cairo will be lost forever.

As background, after three years of working the site on his own time, accompanied by two companions, Don Jacks and Walter Grabau, and using only a compass and iron bar probes, they discovered the Cairo.  Local interest grew when they were able to identify the conning tower and a gun.

This set the wheels in motion to help finance the salvage. When finally raised, the vessel and her contents, served as a virtual “time capsule” of life and service in the Civil War-era U.S. Navy.

The Cairo on display in her final resting place inside the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park, where she sits outside the National Cemetery beside a specially-built museum. (Courtesy: Brunswick Civil War Roundtable)

Sadly, the old vessel was retained as the property of the city of Vicksburg, Miss. , where she was supposed to be restored. Unfortunately, the city never realized its grandiose dream, eventually relinquishing the hulk to the National Park Service who salvaged as much as possible for display inside the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park, where she rests outside the National Cemetery beside a specially-built museum, including hundreds of artifacts discovered in the muck and silt which filled the vessel when she was raised.

As the Round Table’s special first guest speaker of the New Year, Ed is no stranger, returning to the Round Table  for his seventh visit. With his booming voice and encyclopedic knowledge of military history, he has been called a “living national treasure”  by the Smithsonian, and received virtually every award in the field of historical study. And thanks to a current bill in Congress, Ed may soon receive a new accolade to add to his lengthy resume: Congressional Gold Medal recipient!

The Wednesday (not Tuesday), January 4 meeting will be held at Hatch Auditorium on Caswell Beach. Everyone is invited to attend. Registration and refreshments begin at 6:30 p.m.; the program begins at 7 p.m. The guest admission fee is $10, and can be applied toward the $25 annual membership dues.

The Round Table continues to grow with each monthly meeting, and currently has almost 1,100 members, making it the largest Civil War Round Table in the country. The major reason for the Round Table’s success is the quality of its speakers, and Ed Bearss is an example of why so many members and guests here in Southeastern North Carolina look forward to each monthly meeting.

For more information about the Round Table or the upcoming meeting, contact president Mike Powell at (910) 278-3545, or email to The organization’s website is You are also invited to visit their new Facebook page for interesting Round Table developments and announcements.

-Content provided by the Brunswick Civil War Round Table

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