The Confederacy’s last ironclad was Japan’s first

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(We Are the Mighty) – It’s not uncommon for warships to serve the navies of different countries in their lifetimes. The Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano (C-4) that was sunk during the Falklands War in 1982 was first commissioned as the USS Phoenix (CL-46) in 1938. In a similar vein, Japan’s first ironclad warship was originally built for the Confederate States Navy.

On October 12, 1861, CSS Manassas became the first ironclad to see combat at the Battle of the Head of Passes on the Mississippi River. Protected by iron or steel armor plates, ironclads held a significant tactical advantage over conventional warships made of wood. During the Civil War, the Union built dozens of the type. The Confederacy built ironclads domestically but also purchased them from Europe. While the CSA was able to place ironclad orders overseas, getting the ships to America was a challenge. Most were confiscated, especially by Russia which openly supported the Union.

In 1863, the Confederacy struck a deal with French Emperor Napoleon III. French shipbuilder Lucien Arman, a close acquaintance to Napoleon, would construct two ironclads for the CSA in secret so as not to openly violate the French law against providing warships to a nation at war. To that end, the guns for the ships were manufactured separately and the ironclads were named Cheops and Sphinx to suggest they were commissioned by Egypt.

However, prior to the delivery of the ironclads, the U.S. discovered France’s secret arrangement with the Confederacy. Under political pressure, the French government…

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