U.S.S. Cairo Museum and the gunboat are located within the National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The museum is open throughout the year from 8.30am to 5pm between October and March and 9.30am to 6pm for the rest of the year. It remains closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
The U.S.S Cairo is an ironclad gunboat commissioned in 1862 to help the North regain control of the lower Mississippi River. With this gunboat and six others they hoped to split the Confederacy in two, but the U.S.S Cairo's life on the water was short lived when in December 1962 it was sunk by a Confederate torpedo in the Yazoo River, 13 miles North of Vicksburg. All of the crew survived but the Cairo became the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo.
The ship was largely forgotten about for many years afterwards until three men; Edwin C. Bearss, Don Jacks and Warren Grabau discovered its whereabouts in 1956. The process of recovering the boat was very slow and laborious with a few well preserved artifacts being lifted out first. Alas the ship had to be cut in to three sections when it was lifted out at the end of 1964.
The vessel wasn't properly restored and moved to its current site at the National Military Park until 1977 with the exhibit finally opened in 1985. Visitors can now see the gunboat and the many artifacts such as weapons, munitions, naval stores and personal items of the sailors along the tour road at the U.S.S Cairo Museum. The entrance of the museum displays the only known photograph of the gunboat at her commissioning in 1862.
There are many weapons recovered from the ship displayed here including 19th century pistols, muskets, shotguns and ammunition for the 13 big canons used on board the gunboat. Some of the personal effects of the sailors remained intact over all that time with items such as shoes, belt buckles, shaving items and several ambrotypes on display at the museum. Visitors will also be able to see the various tools used to maintain the boat as well as medical equipment and various cooking utensils.
Although the U.S.S Cairo had to undergo extensive restoration after it was lifted out of the river, visitors can still see how the boat would have looked back in 1862 with many parts successfully recovered. This includes the big guns and the two and half inch thick iron plating that enclosed the gun deck. The vessel's five fire tube boilers are among the oldest and best surviving examples of their type, whilst the capstan and paddlewheel can also be seen.
The museum also has a six minute video on the sinking and salvaging of the U.S.S Cairo. More information can be found at the park's Visitor Center, which is open from 8am to 5pm throughout the year. Visitors should note that whilst pets are permitted in the park they are not allowed on the U.S.S Cairo exhibit.