Today in History:

Fort Donelson (1864-1865)

USS Fort Donelson, a 642-ton iron-hulled side-wheel gunboat, was built in 1860 at Glasgow, Scotland, as the commercial steamer Giraffe. In 1862 she became the Confederate blockade runner Robert E. Lee and, during the next year, successfully penetrated the Federal blockade of the South more than twenty times. While attempting to reach Wilmington, North Carolina, on 9 November 1863, the ship was captured by the U.S. Navy ships James Adger and Iron Age.

Purchased in January 1864, converted to a warship and placed in commission in June 1864, Fort Donelson was sent back to the waters off North Carolina as a unit of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Her most notable action was participation in the mid-January 1865 operation that captured Fort Fisher, thus eliminating Wilmington as a blockade-running port. Some months later, when ordered to the Gulf of Mexico, she was found to be in poor condition and was sent back north. USS Fort Donelson was decommissioned at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in August and sold in October 1865. She subsequently returned to civilian employment under the name Isabella and, in 1869, became the Chilean Navy ship Concepcion.

This page features the only views we have of USS Fort Donelson and the Confederate Blockade Runner Robert E. Lee.

Photo #: NH 63888

Robert E. Lee
(Confederate Blockade Runner, 1863)

Watercolor by Erik Heyl, 1951, painted for use in his book "Early American Steamers", Volume I.
Built in Scotland in 1860 as the commercial steamship Giraffe, Robert E. Lee was captured on 9 November 1863 and later became USS Fort Donelson. Sold after the Civil War, she was renamed Isabella. In 1869 she became the Chilean Navy ship Concepcion.

Courtesy of Erik Heyl.

Photo #: NH 53934

USS Fort Donelson

At anchor, circa 1864-1865.
This steamer was previously the Confederate blockade runner Robert E. Lee.

Another image: The Mariners Museum holds another photograph of this ship, taken while she was still named Giraffe. This view shows her in drydock at Meadowside, Glasgow, Scotland in 1862. Taken from off her port bow, with an unidentified steamer partially visible in the foreground, she is being prepared for use as a blockade runner. Several men are working on stages alongside Giraffe's port bow, probably painting her underwater hull. Contact the Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia, for information about obtaining copies of this photograph and reproduction rights. That institution's address can be readily found via standard Internet search engines.