Navy veteran to tell the tales of two sunken battleships in the James River

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The USS Cumberland at the Portsmouth Navy Yard circa 1860. (Courtesy Williamsburg Regional Library)
The USS Cumberland at the Portsmouth Navy Yard circa 1860. (Courtesy Williamsburg Regional Library)

Just feet below the surface of the James River in Newport News, two mysterious Civil War ships – one Confederate and one Union – lie together in their final resting place.

On Dec. 13, local U.S. Navy veteran and former Hampton Roads Naval Museum assistant curator Rob Haas will tell the 150-year-old tales of the two ships, the USS Cumberland and the CSS Florida, according to a Williamsburg Regional Library news release.

Haas, who is also the Williamsburg Regional Library’s program services director, will tell the little-known stories during the year’s final installment of the Williamsburg Regional Library’s Talks@2 series, the release said.

The talk will be held at 2 p.m. at the Stryker Center, located at 412 North Boundary Street, in Williamsburg.

Haas came to know the stories of the two ships during his time as a lieutenant in the Navy and the assistant curator at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, the release said.

“Rob’s extensive knowledge on this particular chapter in the United States’ naval history lends an interesting perspective to a story that is largely unknown, despite our close proximity to the sites where these ships fought and were wrecked,” the release said.

Although the Cumberland and Florida were sunk in 1862 and 1864, respectively, and never saw each other in battle, their stories are connected by their common resting place, the release said.

During the talk, Haas will describe the fate of the USS Cumberland, which was sunk by the CSS Virginia on the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862.

Haas will also illuminate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sinking of the CSS Florida, the sister ship to the infamous Confederation raider, the CSS Alabama, the release said.

“If you enjoy the naval history of the Civil War, this talk is for you,” Haas said. “It’s some of that familiar story along with the lesser known story of these two ships and how they intersect.”

Talks@2 is a free, informal lecture series featuring library staff sharing information about topics they have particular interest or expertise in.

The series’ spring season will begin again in January with a talk about the history of the banjo in America.

Click here www.wrl.org/events for more information about these talks and other similar events taking place at the Williamsburg Regional Library.