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[56] in process of construction at the close of the year in the Government shipyards, and one at the New York Navy-Yard being built by a private contractor.

Every place where serviceable ships could be laid down was soon put to use, and in private yards, at the close of 1861, twenty-eight sailing vessels were being constructed, fourteen screw sloops, twenty-three screw gunboats, and twelve side-wheelers. Besides these, there were early on the ways three experimental iron-clad vessels, the value and practicability of which in battle was at this time a mooted question.

One of these three soon-to-be-launched ironclads was an innovation in naval construction; one hundred and seventy-two feet in length, she was over forty-one feet in beam, and presented a free-board of only eighteen inches above the water. Almost amidships she carried a revolving turret, twenty-one feet in diameter and nine feet high. The inventor of this curious craft, which was building at the Continental Iron Works in New York, had absolute faith in her future, a faith that was shared by very few naval men of the day. On the 9th of March, 1862, this “freak,” this “monstrosity,” this “waste of money” fought her first battle, and marked the closing of one era of naval history and the opening of another. Ericsson and the Monitor are names linked in fame for all time to come.

The other two ironclads that were contracted for in 1861 were on the lines of the battle-ship of the day. Heavily armored with iron and wood, they were adapted to the mounting of heavier guns than were then generally in use. No wooden vessel could live for a moment in conflict with them, broadside to broadside.

From the very first, the Lincoln administration had fully understood and comprehended the naval weakness of the South. But not only this, it knew well her dependence on other countries for supplies and necessities, and how this dependence would increase. Almost the first aggressive act was

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John Ericsson (1)
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