The Battle of Wassaw Sound (or the Capture of the CSS Atlanta) was an American Civil War naval battle between the Confederate ram CSS Atlanta and the Passaic-class ironclad monitors USS Weehawken and USS Nahant and the gunboat USS Cimmerone (later named Cimmaron), which took place on 17 June 1863 in Wassaw Sound, a bay in the present day state of Georgia. Atlanta ran aground while attempting to break the Union blockade, and after a short battle surrendered to the Union forces. Captain Rodgers became a national hero, and he was promoted to Commodore and received the Thanks of Congress as a result of his decisive victory.
On 10 June 1863, Rear Admiral du Pont had received reports Atlanta was about to descend the Wilmington River for a foray into Wassaw Sound and ordered monitors USS Weehawken and USS Nahant and gunboat USS Cimmerone to enter Wassaw Sound to stop the Southern ironclad ram’s attack, should she make one, and to prevent her escape. Captain John Rodgers in Weehawken had overall command of this Union force.
Five days later, in the early evening of the 15th, Atlanta got underway and passed over the lower obstructions in the Wilmington River to get into position for a strike at the Union forces in Wassaw Sound. Webb dropped anchor at 8:00 p.m. and spent the remainder of the night coaling.
The next evening “. . . about dark . . .,” Webb later reported, he “. . . proceeded down the river to a point of land which would place me in 6 or 7 miles of the monitors, at the same time concealing the ship from their view, ready to move on them at early dawn the next morning.”
CSS Atlanta, accompanied by wooden steamers CSS Isondiga and CSS Resolute, got underway before daylight on the 17th. A percussion torpedo was fitted to a long spar projecting forward from the ram’s bow which Webb intended to detonate against the Weehawken. During battle maneuvers the Atlanta suddenly ran aground and swayed at an angle which made it difficult to shoot. The USS Weehawken held fire until it was at 300 yards and then pounded the immobile ship. The USS Nahant had “drawn the fire” of the CSS Atlanta allowing the USS Weehawken to draw within firing distance.
After receiving five of the Weehawken’s 350-pound shots, which knocked a hole in her casemate, crushed the pilot house and port shutter and severely wounded its pilots and several helmsmen, Webb was compelled to surrender immediately. The “battle” lasted only a few minutes, and the Atlanta became the first Confederate ironclad to surrender to the Union. Meanwhile, the two boats escorting the Atlanta scurried upriver for safety.
The CSS Atlanta suffered the sole fatality of the battle, as well as 16 wounded. At the time of capture, 21 officers and 124 men, including marines were taken captive. Atlanta was condemned by a prize court in September 1863, repaired and commissioned as USS Atlanta on 2 February 1864. Captain Rodgers became a national hero, and received the Thanks of Congress along with a promotion to Commodore.
The USS Nahant was involved in the action but withheld fire, which later led to a Supreme Court case which determined the commander and crew of the Nahant deserved participation in the prize for the captured vessel.