Originally rebel Mexican-flagged (under the name of Marqués de la Havana), the wooden sloop was captured as a pirate ship by the United States Navy ship, USS Saratoga during the Battle of Anton Lizardo in 1860. A construction plan authorizing the building of ten fast gunboats was funded by the Confederate Legislature on March 15, 1861. Recognizing that no yard could turn out the vessels fast enough, Stephen R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, sent a commission to New Orleans to convert existing steamers to commerce raiders. The Mexican vessel was purchased by the Confederate States Navy at New Orleans on 17 March 1861, and duly fitted out as the CSS McRae as part of this plan. Extensive engine repairs prevented the McRae from going to sea before the arrival of the Union Fleet.:26
Placed under the command of Lieutenant Thomas B. Huger, the McRae served as part of Flag Officer G. N. Hollins' defense of the lower reaches of the Mississippi River, and provided cover for blockade-runners. This led to the McRae seeing combat with the Union blockading fleet on 12 October 1861. The McRae took part in the Battle of the Head of Passes as part of Hollin's mosquito fleet, driving the Union blockading forces from the Head of Passes in the Mississippi Delta.
The McRae again saw action on 24 April 1862 as the Union fleet attempted to pass Fort Jackson and Fort Saint Philip and reach New Orleans. The McRae suffered little damage in the beginning due to its resemblance to the Union Unadilla class gunboats. The leading union ships passed by her without firing. The USS Iroquois was an exception, and replied to the McRae's fire with an 11-inch shell that set fire to the McRae's sail room and threatened her magazines. The officers and crew fought hard in this latter engagement but suffered severe casualties (Huger being amongst those mortally wounded), and the McRae itself was severely damaged. She was run against the shore to put out her fires, and remained there till dawn, after which she returned to the forts. Loaded with wounded from the forts McRae was allowed to return to New Orleans on 27 April under a flag of truce. After landing the wounded at the city, her crew scuttled and abandoned her at Algiers, after cutting all her steam pipes.
- ↑ Silverstone, Paul H. (1989). Warships of the Civil War Navies. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. ISBN 0-87021-783-6.
- ↑ Hearn, Chester G. (1995). The Capture of New Orleans, 1862. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London. ISBN 0-8071-1945-8.
- ↑ hearn, The Capture of New Orleans, 1862 pp. 232-3
- ↑ hearn, The Capture of New Orleans, 1862 p. 246
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