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Chapter 32: Navy Department.--energies displayed.--building of iron-clads

  • Condition of the Navy Department at the breaking out of the rebellion.
  • -- Secretary Welles, his character and ability. -- Commodores Stringham and Paulding connected with the Navy Department to assist Secretary Welles. -- Paulding drives the secessionists out of the Department. -- President Lincoln selects Mr. G. V. Fox as assistant to Secretary Welles. -- preparations of the Confederate leaders. -- Confederate iron-clads. -- policy of the United States government in building ships and mounting guns. -- Slowness of the government in taking in the situation. -- apparent supineness of the Navy Department. -- Department overwhelmed with plans and contractors. But rises to the occasion and puts forth its energy. -- difficulties in the way of adopting the right kind of iron-clad. -- the Department at first doubtful of the plans of Ericsson's Monitor. -- Boards appointed to discuss the matter of iron-clads. -- mistake in not cutting down some of our heavy steamships and converting them into iron-clads. -- Mr. Fox bends all his energies towards introducing iron-clads into the Navy. -- Mr. Lenthall Chief-constructor. -- Mr. Isherwood Chief of Bureau of engineering. -- Rear-Admiral Dahlgren and his guns. -- Mr. Fox introduces the 15-inch gun into the Navy. -- Ericsson's claim as an inventor. -- Congress wakes up in regard to the requirements of the Navy. -- citizens to whom credit was due. -- twenty single and four double turreted monitors contracted for. -- preparations to attack Charleston.

When the civil war broke out, the Navy Department, like every other branch of the government, was totally unprepared for the event.

The right of secession had been openly declared in the Senate and House of Representatives, and Southern members were daily leaving their seats; yet the Administration held back, and, deluded by Confederate sympathizers, sat still and looked on with dismay at the dismemberment of the country without seeming to take any steps to prevent it.

No department of the government seemed to rise to the occasion, and the Navy Department was no exception to the rule. The Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Gideon Welles, was not a naval man in any sense of the word. His life had been passed amid civil pursuits, and the only connection he had ever had with the Navy was for a short time when he was Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing — a purely political appointment. He had spent many years of his life as editor of a newspaper, and during his administration of affairs in the Navy Department gave evidence of ability in the use of his pen. The numerous dispatches and reports which he wrote during the war showed that as a literary man he had few superiors.

But Mr. Welles was far advanced in years when he took charge of the Navy, and had reached a period when men generally desire to retire to the shades of private life, and follow pursuits more congenial to their tastes. He was not a rapid thinker — was cautious by nature and extremely methodical in all he did. Having been at the head of a bureau where he constantly came in contact with contractors, he naturally surrounded himself with guards of all kinds, and introduced so much red tape into the Department, that it must have been a bold man who would have attempted to break through it all with the hope of overreaching the chief or his assistants. [355]

Some of the bureau officers were inoculated with secession sentiments, and their rooms were daily filled with officers who exchanged opinions hostile to the government, meanwhile leaving the Secretary to assume that they were loyal. The Secretary, as a matter of course, received no aid from these men; on the contrary, they held him back and delayed his doing what good he attempted.

Mr. Welles began to find out gradually that he was not surrounded by the kind of men it was desirable to have about him under the circumstances, and he called to his aid in the department Commodore Stringham, the best dock-yard officer in the Navy and a thorough seaman, loyal to the last degree and of a most honorable character. But he possessed no administrative abilities, disliked an office life, and soon sought relief from it by applying for active duty afloat. He was therefore appointed to the command of a small squadron, to attempt the capture of the forts at Hatteras Inlet, which he succeeded in doing.

To show how slowly secretaries or officers had risen to the occasion, and how little all concerned could form any estimate of what was actually necessary to be done at the breaking out of the civil war (though the coming events cast their shadows plainly before them), the Hatteras expedition was looked upon as a great event, and it was thought that the success of it was likely to carry such terror into the hearts of the Confederates that it would break up any further attempt to fortify the Southern coast!

Commodore Paulding relieved Commodore Stringham in the Navy Department. He was a faithful officer, who looked upon the flag of his country as the emblem of all that was great and glorious. He regarded secession as the worm at the root of the flower, sure to destroy it unless speedily removed, and he was in favor of exterminating every man in the Navy of whose loyalty there was even a doubt. He had served many years of his life in active duty at sea, but he now began to show the advance of age, and did not at once realize the gravity of the situation. Running in a groove, as he had done for so many years, he was not able to change his nature suddenly and adopt new methods.

He soon found that he did not suit the place, nor the place him, and as his ideas of naval discipline were so dissimilar to the system which governed a civil department that he had at times to defer to the opinions of the chief clerk, and the associations were not pleasant, he soon tired of the position, especially when he found that he would have to bear responsibilities which he did not care to shoulder.

In fact, Commodore Paulding disliked the atmosphere of the Navy Department as much as Commodore Stringham had done, and soon obtained duty at the New York Navy Yard, where he thought he could be of more service to his country. But before he left the Department he not only rooted out the disloyal officers who were attached to the different bureaus, but forbade any man who uttered disloyal sentiments. or who hesitated to espouse the Union cause, from entering the building.

It never struck these loyal old officers, when they heard that the Confederates were building iron-clads, that something might be done in that direction by the North. They had fought their battles on the open decks of ships and they thought that was a good-enough way for any one to fight. They did not believe in men who would resort to a shelter of iron for protection against shot or shell, and rather had a contempt for any one who would suggest such a mode of fighting. Consequently, their thoughts did not run in the direction of iron-clads.

It was absolutely necessary that Mr. Welles should have an adviser in his department who could take charge of the practical part of naval affairs, and who by his knowledge of the wants of the Navy could assist him to meet the difficulties which were daily accumulating, and almost overpowering him. It would not have been looked upon favorably had he selected a naval officer below the highest grades, no matter what his abilities were, for such a thing had never occurred in the Navy! That was argument enough, without mentioning that it would have been a reflection upon the older officers. It was for this reason that Mr. G. V. Fox, late a lieutenant in the Navy, was selected by President Lincoln as naval adviser, and finally appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was not until Mr. Fox was appointed that due attention was paid to the building of iron-clads and other vessels appropriate for coast and river service, and it was to Mr. Fox that we were indebted during the war for the life and energy that pervaded the naval administration, and his ready compliance with the requisitions of officers, which enabled them to carry on naval operations with vigor.

Secretary Welles was not an eminent statesman, yet he had qualities of a high order. He was loyal to his government, held no intercourse with men of disloyal sentiments, and drove out of the service all those officers who wavered in their allegiance. He was a man of good judgment in many matters relating to the business that came before him, and he never showed more wisdom than when he acquiesced in the President's appointment of Mr. Fox as his naval adviser. [356]

The civil war had now assumed such large proportions, and so rapidly, that even the wisest men were at fault as to what should be done to meet the style of warfare which the Confederates were inaugurating all over the South. With the assumed resources of the North, every step the Confederates made in military or naval warfare should have been more than met by a corresponding move on the Federal side; but this was not done. It was known early in the war that the Confederates were building iron-clads of a peculiar character, but no one seemed to know exactly what their character was.

There is no doubt of one thing, viz., that long before the prominent secession leaders had signified their intention of leaving their seats in Congress, every move had been determined. It was known exactly how many small arms were wanted, and how many great guns and pieces of artillery; and it was known that for a beginning there were enough of these arms stowed away in the Government arsenals scattered through the Southern States, to say nothing of the great armament that had been supplied from time to time to the States for the use of their militia. It is thus seen that in respect to arms the Confederates had no right to complain of deficiencies. At the battle of Bull Run they were as well supplied with all the appliances of war as were the government troops, who were forced to retreat on that day before the fire of this first army of the insurgents.

For some time all these matters had been considered by the southern leaders; and when the time came to act, eleven States rose as one man, and the government had not only to put down the State of South Carolina, with a small number of insurrectionists, but millions of people from Kentucky to Maryland, all armed and equipped and formed into battalions, as if they had been the great reserve of the nation, ready to jump to their arms at the call of the general government. This system of preparation extended to the Navy as well as to the Army. The Confederate leaders knew, two years before the war, what officers of the Navy would unite with them in humiliating the old flag, and though these officers made no pledges, and doubtless hoped that the event would never take place that would disturb their position under the United States Government, yet they had made up their minds what to do in case the struggle ensued.

It is not likely that the Southern leaders would lose any opportunity of gaining information from Southern officers that would enable them to carry out their plans, and it is free to presume, from what we now know. that a full discussion of all matters was carried on between the promoters of secession and officers of the Army and Navy up to the last moment; many of the latter may have entered into these discussions and given all the desired information without realizing that they were unfaithful to the trusts confided to them by their lawful government.

We believe that all the iron-clads that finally got afloat or were burned on the stocks were calculated for before the war, the places of building them decided upon, the difficulties the Federal Government would have to contend with to get at them, the material required for their construction, the time required to build them, and the officers and artisans who were to be employed in the work selected. This may seem doubtful, but the Confederates could never, with all their energy and determination to win, have achieved such work as they performed in the building of an iron-clad navy without having had preconceived plans.

It is a compliment to their energy and ingenuity to say that they could build anything at all at the South beyond their light river-steamers. They had so long depended upon the Northern machine-shops for all heavy work needed in the South, that they had no great factories of their own. Even the Tredegar Works at Richmond, which supplied a large number of the Brooke rifles for the Confederacy, owed its existence to the fact that it was sustained by the United States Government in the first instance, and by large contracts given it for naval ordnance up to 1861, some of which was on the lathe when Sumter fired the first gun.

If the Southerners did not make their plans before the war actually broke out, they deserve unbounded credit for the energy displayed in getting into existence such formidable vessels as they did before the North had done anything but build the little Monitor, which was ready nearly on the same day that the Merrimac created such consternation at Hampton Roads.

It is true, that through the enterprise and energy of a western man, Mr. James B. Eads, we got some iron-clads afloat on the Mississippi, but it was not until the 17th of June, 1861, that the Quartermaster-general of the Army issued proposals for building the vessels. Great progress was made upon these quasi iron-clads when the work was once under full headway; but with all the remarkable services they performed, what were they when compared with the Virginia, the Louisiana, the Albemarle, Atlanta, Mobile, and three large vessels built or building at Yazoo City — the Mississippi, burnt at New Orleans — the Tennessee, that fought a whole squadron (including three iron-clads) in Mobile [357] Bay — and the Arkansas, that passed through a fleet of vessels (carrying 150 guns), without receiving more serious injury than the wounding of some fifteen men and the slight derangement of part of her armor and machinery?

Previous to the civil war it had been the aim of the United States Government to excel all other nations in the quality and size of its vessels-of-war. If a steam-frigate was built in Europe of large size and heavily armed, the U. S. Government at once laid down the lines of a larger vessel carrying many more guns, and these guns of a calibre hitherto unknown in naval warfare. We had, in fact, reached the point of excellence in our ships some years previous to the breaking out of the Rebellion, and the great steam-frigates which figured during the war in attacks on heavy earth-works were sample vessels of our Navy. They had all steamed to different parts of the world, and their appearance and power called forth the applause of all foreign officers who visited them. There were no vessels in Europe of this class that could compare with them; yet, with all these triumphs over foreigners, we had only one vessel at the time of the Merrimac's appearance that was able to compete with her. The only vessels we had building were the New Ironsides (a splendid ship of her class) and the Galena, a perfect failure as an iron-clad, as proved by her weakness on the James River, where she attacked the Confederate batteries.

It required some time for the Department to take in the true situation of affairs, and it was not until after the battle between the Monitor and Merrimac that they saw how nearly the nation escaped a great calamity, which had been averted by the invention of John Ericsson, and the gallant officer who fought the Union iron-clad with so much skill and bravery. Then the Navy Department rose to the occasion, and putting forth all its energy, more than redeemed itself for the apparent supineness of the past.

At first neither the constructors nor the Navy Department had a fair conception of what was needed in the Navy to meet the new order of vessels that were being built in the South. The Department was overwhelmed with a multiplicity of plans that were presented by outside parties, who were backed by strong political friends in Congress whom it was advisable the Secretary should conciliate. Some of these plans were so wild and impracticable that they could not be considered for a moment. The attention required by these claimants and their political backers hampered the Department greatly; and they were not so much indebted to John Ericsson for driving the Merrimac into port, as for getting rid of the pack of inventors and advisers who had been hanging about the doors of the Secretary of the Navy.until none but a person of Mr. Welles' placid temper or Mr. Fox's inflexible will could have been able to stand the strain. The little Monitor settled all these inventors at the same time that she settled the Merrimac, and Ericsson not only rose at once in the estimation of the public, but his standing with the Government became assured.

From that time forth the Navy Department may be said to have assumed new life and vigor, and the most hypercritical historian can scarcely find fault with it for want of energy displayed in building vessels of the new type, which, when finished, could bid defiance to the heaviest ships of any foreign navy.

There was at one time in England a large number of British naval officers who would not listen to the idea of having an iron-clad navy. The French were trying to introduce iron-clads into their service, but on a small scale; and their want of success did not encourage Englishmen to copy their traditional enemies. They still clung to their idols, the staunch old wooden three-deckers, seventy-fours and frigates, and scouted the idea of laying aside these noble structures for a class of vessel that had never been tested at sea, and which, in the opinion of many, would go to the bottom in the first gale of wind they encountered. They had in some cases partially protected the wood-work abreast of the guns, but not to any extent.

There was no master-mind to take hold of the subject, and to evoke a system that would at once show up the weakness of the British navy, and convince the authorities that the days of the wooden monarchs of the sea were numbered.

The Federal Navy Department long before had its eyes on the great English navy that made no move in the direction of changing the character of its vessels — a navy full of clever and scientific men, who should have been ever alive to any theory that makes one navy superior to another, but who now refused to listen to the talk about iron-clad ships and scouted the idea of adopting them.

It would have been a bold man, indeed, who, as Secretary of the Navy, would have taken the responsibility of building any number of untried “Monitors” without something to justify him in doing so. The Secretary of the Navy himself and those about him had no positive belief at first in the success of Ericsson's Monitor. The plan was so contrary to all preconceived ideas of a fighting-ship that they could not believe it would do what Ericsson predicted for it. [358]

The chief constructor of the navy, Mr. John Lenthall, at first condemned the Monitor in toto, and he was at that time the ablest naval architect in any country, having built some of the most effective ships afloat.

All these things were enough to have deterred Secretary Welles from embarking in the iron-clad business; but he did take hold of the Ericsson plan, and in view of the fact that it was necessary to have something With which to meet the Merrimac, he made a contract with this inventor which in the end led to much larger vessels. As soon as the invulnerability of the Monitor was established by her encounter with the most powerful iron-clad afloat, Secretary Welles was no longer backward in advocating this class of vessel.

John Lenthall, chief of Bureau of construction.

To show how little was known about iron-clads in the U. S. Navy and how little support the Department received from that direction: A Board, established by Act of Congress, “to consist of three skillful line officers of the Navy,” was appointed to look into the subject of ironclads; and, if their report was favorable, the Secretary of the Navy was to be authorized to build one or more armored or iron-clad, or steel-clad, steamships or floating batteries, etc., etc. This law was passed in September, 1861. The Board of Officers appointed to decide upon this matter approached the subject very carefully, saying: “Distrustful of our own ability to discharge this duty, which the law requires should be performed by three skillful naval officers, we approach the subject with diffidence, having no experience and but scanty knowledge in this branch of naval architecture.”

This Board was governed very much in their reports by the information and opinions which they could obtain from English authorities. They recommended three out of seventeen plans that had been submitted (one of them John Ericsson's), but with reservations and a proviso (which was enough to frighten off any constructor) that the vessels must be a success in all respects, or else be thrown back on the hands of the contractors!

The Board on their own account recommended that armor and heavy guns be placed on one of our river craft; “or, if none will bear it, to construct a scow that will answer, to plate and shield the guns for river service on the Potomac; to be constructed or prepared at the Washington Navy Yard for immediate use!” The Board did not say how this iron-clad warrior was to be propelled.

When three of the most skillful officers of the Navy could give the Secretary no better information than this, it is no wonder that he was doubtful of his own ability to decide in such a case; but he did decide. and in favor of Ericsson, who proposed not only the most reasonable price for his vessels, but the unity of the design seemed to strike the Board as something likely to succeed. The New Ironsides was also contracted for with Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia, and the Galena, to be armored with three-inch iron, to be built by Bushnell & Co., New Haven, Connecticut. These three vessels, it is said, were to represent the three types of the American idea of iron-clads-though, with the exception of the New Ironsides, very few persons had any faith in them.

This was the first attempt at building an iron-clad navy for operations on the coast, [359] and the Monitor was the only one of them that was ready to meet the enemy's greatest fighting-machine, “just in the nick of time.”

There was one thing which the Navy Department lost sight of altogether, and that was that the Merrimac was simply a large frigate being metamorphosed into an iron-clad. We had five vessels similar to the Merrimac, and any two of them could have been cut down and armored much more effectively than the Merrimac was. The work could have been done at our northern navy yards in half of the time it could be done by the Confederates, and we would have had two heavy ironclads ready to meet the Confederate monster if ever she should get out of Norfolk.

What matters it? some will say. The Monitor drove the Merrimac back, and demonstrated the superiority of the American type of iron-clad over the most powerful war-ship ever until that time built in any navy, placed us on an equality with England and France, and gave our government a sure plan they could follow with safety.

Yes, but we would have been saved the disgrace and disaster of seeing two of our finest frigates sunk or destroyed at Newport News, 250 gallant officers and men slain almost in cold blood, three frigates run on shore and at the mercy of the Merrimac, and every ship at Hampton Roads thrown into a state of panic, which unfortunately was witnessed by a foreign man-of-war lying at anchor off Fortress Monroe. It would have saved the government a shock which it did not recover from for some time, and the Northern people from the mortification of knowing that our entire fleet at Hampton Roads had been beaten by one Confederate vessel in the first naval encounter of the war.

With all this, the lesson learned was a useful one. It opened the eyes of Congress to the necessity of making more liberal appropriations for the Navy, and made them listen at last to the appeals of the Secretary of the Navy to strengthen this branch of the service.

The Board above referred to recommended that the Department should ask Congress, at the next session, to appropriate $10,000 for experiments on iron plates of different kinds! As if the Department could wait while the enemy was thundering at its doors! But it is due to the Navy Department to state that it was not at all influenced by such a procrastinating policy. Mr. Welles while Secretary of the Navy received his share of abuse, and on no point was he more severely criticised than on his selection of the Monitor as the type of American iron-clads, for the principle did not meet with favor among that class of officers who were expected to serve in them. Mr. Welles could not expect to be exempt from criticism, or be excused from the responsibility of any failure that might attend his experiments with the Navy. He was in the position of the commander of a fleet, being alone responsible for success or failure. Though his subordinates may do a great deal of the work, and make a great many suggestions, yet the Commander-in-chief is entitled to all the honors in case of success, and must also bear the blame of failure. Such has been the history of war since wars began. This rule also applies to heads of departments. They may have the ablest subordinates and be relieved of many of the cares of office, yet they must shoulder all responsibility and take the odium of every case of failure.

In writing history, one must be careful not to let his predilections in favor of one man lead him to do injustice to another, especially if this other is the head of a department and the responsible party.

No matter what the abilities of the subordinates are, or how much their services have conduced to the desired end, one must look only to the head of his department for reward, as a lieutenant does to his captain.

It is not always that men receive in their life-time the amount of credit due for their work; it oftener happens that they receive more honor after death. In the course of years history will do them justice. The patient, plodding historian will come along, and taking no account of time,will delve into the mass of records which lie at his disposal, when every word is carefully scanned, and the truth is sure to be evolved. Then men are weighed according to their merits, and assigned to their rightful positions.

All the sensational histories written during the war, or directly after it, have long since been consigned to that bourne from which sensational history never returns. He who now undertakes to write of the war must prepare himself for severe criticism if he tries to deprive any one of credit.

Time is a great promoter of good feeling and softener-down of asperities, enabling a writer of the present day to view things in a different light from what he did twenty years ago. It would be better, nevertheless, that a century should pass before the history of a war is written, when all the participators in it are dead; for history can be better told from the written or printed records of the day than from the recollections of any one who lived among the scenes he attempts to describe; but, if men will write, they must lay aside all personal feeling, and keeping the records before their [360] eyes, do their duty “thoa the heavens should fall.”

Thus, in this history, in speaking of the work done by the Navy Department to bring to an end the terrible rebellion that was devastating the country, the writer can only recognize Mr. Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, as the one who controlled the great machine that was turning out ships, gun-boats, iron-clads, etc., with a rapidity that astonished the powers of Europe, who were looking on with amazement at the Federal Government while the latter was building a Navy capable of setting at defiance even France or England.

While Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary, was bending all his energies to devise the class of vessels best suited for the purposes of our war, and to meet the necessities of the occasion, and Mr. Faxon, the chief clerk, was giving his undivided attention to the civil branch of the Department, Mr. Welles was presiding over all and giving to each his moral support.

Mr. Welles was the responsible head; it was his judgment that decided almost all matters; it was his coolness and placidity of temper that controlled those around him and smoothed over the little asperities and jealousies which would spring up among his subordinates — with a smooth word he brought back to his proper position anyone who attempted to assume more than his rightful authority — in this way making a unit of the department. Mr. Fox was the able assistant, in charge of the general naval duties that had in years gone by pertained to the Board of Naval Commissioners, while Mr. Faxon was the chief clerk in charge of the Civil Department and the records.

Secretary Welles was the judicial, financial, and political head, under whose direction everything was done; all plans were submitted to him, and no movement was made without his consent, and he weighed every matter before coming to a conclusion. He knew everything that was going on in the Navy; and as a proof that he understood and appreciated all that was taking place, and that he was observing the proper steps to provide for the future, it is only necessary for one to read the numerous able reports he wrote from time to time on the condition of the Navy and its requirements, or his descriptions of the operations of the different squadrons. These documents will convince any one that Secretary Welles had abilities of no ordinary kind, and that, with few omissions, he did everything that could be done to put the Navy in a creditable condition.

That he could have accomplished all he did without Mr. Fox's assistance no one pretends to claim; but he showed his judgment in listening to this gentleman's recommendations, and by placing confidence in one who had the best interests of the service at heart. Hereafter, then, when speaking of the Navy Department, we shall regard Secretary Welles as the responsible head to whom all under him owed proper obedience and their best efforts to aid in the difficult task he had before him.

In all that regarded the general increase of the Navy, the Department had made good use of the means at its disposal. The Navy Yards and private establishments were full of work to overflowing. Mr. John Lenthall, a constructor of the highest order, was always ready, with his practical skill and science, for any emergency. He had planned the great frigates, Colorado, Wabash, Minnesota, Merrimac, and Franklin, which had elicited the applause of the world. He planned the “90-day gun-boats” immediately after the breaking out of the war (a small class of vessel carrying one 11-inch gun forward and two light 32-pounders aft, drawing only eight or ten feet of water, and therefore able to enter any of the Southern ports). These vessels were of the greatest use during the war, and their value could not be overestimated.

On a requisition from Mr. Fox, Mr. Lenthall designed the double-enders, with their heavy batteries of 9 and 11-inch guns and ten feet draft of water, that could follow the “90-day gun-boats” through the most narrow and tortuous streams, where, not having room to turn, they could go out again stern foremost, like a New York ferry-boat going from slip to slip.

And when Mr. Lenthall was notified that the Confederates were having built in England fast clippers armed with English guns, manned by English seamen, and commanded by Confederate officers, he at once designed a score of swift and beautiful corvettes, that were able to overtake any of the Confederate cruisers and capture them when they got them under their guns. One of these did actually destroy the Alabama.

Mr. Lenthall also designed those large ships-of-war of over 3,000 tons (on Mr. Fox's suggestion), the first of which made seventeen and one-half knots per hour for twenty-four consecutive hours, the greatest speed that had been attained at that time by any naval power. In this case the ability of Mr. Isherwood, chief of Bureau of Steam Engineering, was brought into play. He designed the engines and boilers of these ships, as he did the machinery of all others planned by Mr. Lenthall.

Mr. Lenthall could not at first be made to admit that a vessel of the Monitor's build could be made efficacious for war purposes, [361] or live in a sea-way, and he did not hesitate to say, while she was building, that she would go down as soon as she was launched. It was not until after the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac that he had any confidence in the former. Then Mr. Lenthall's ideas underwent a radical change, and while lie sighed over what he knew would be the end of all his beautiful wooden vessels, with whose fine models he had spent so many hours of his life. his practical mind at once grasped the subject, with new ideas engrafted on the first project, and in the end he produced vessels of the Monitor type that had not their equals at that time in any European navy.

Whatever alterations may have been made in the Monitor system, the original idea was that of John Ericsson; any change

B. F. Isherwood, U. S. Navy, Chief of Bureau of steam-engineering.

or improvement that left the hull submerged, or nearly so, and retained the revolving turret, was his by right. The criticisms on his first invention led him to consider the importance of some what changing his plans, and out of this came the Miantonomah, Monadnock, etc., double-turreted monitors, which, with their four 15-inch guns, were more than a match for any threedecker.

Though there were some objections to the first Monitor, there was nothing to call for the bitter criticisms with which the vessel was assailed. Theoretically, the original plan had advantages over the later ideas: for instance, the armor projected over the sides, stern and bow on what was called the overhang, which carried out the idea Ericsson first conceived of building a raft that could not sink; which could not be struck by shot below the water line; which could not be rammed; where the rudder and propeller were entirely secure from slot or ramming; and where raising the anchor and all other operations could be performed without a single person appearing on deck.

If the Monitor was not as efficient a vessel as some of those that came after her, it is no reason why any of her arrangements should be condemned. She performed a more important part in the history of the war than any of her successors, and her name will go down in history when the names of other vessels of her class will have been forgotten. Had the original design been received by the government as it ought to have been, and money spent without stint to produce at the first such vessels as the Miantonomah and Monadnock, either of them would have destroy ed the Merrimac in twenty minutes.

We prided ourselves in those days on the character of our ordnance, which was the best of its kind in the world — we refer to the 11-inch and 9-inch smooth-bore — rifled cannon had not at that time made such an advance as to satisfy us that it would be the gun of the future. Admiral Dahlgren, who had brought our naval ordnance to a state of perfection, considered the 11-inch the most powerful gun in the world; and having accomplished what he considered the grandest feat of gun-making in modern times, he was contented to rest upon his laurels.

There was a diversity of opinion at that time between the ordnance authorities of the Army and Navy in regard to the kind of guns that were required, which engenered some ill-feeling between the heads of the two branches of the service, the result of which was that there was no interchange of ideas. The Naval Chief of Bureau was satisfied that he had found in the 11-inch gun all that was desirable for naval purposes, never considering the great change that might occur at any moment in the shape and character of war ships that would involve the necessity of using larger guns. The result was that the new era came and found us with only the 11-inch gun on hand in the Navy.

It is not certain that the original Monitor would have carried two guns of larger size, but her dimensions and steam power might easily have been increased at small additional expense, and she could have been provided with 15-inch guns.

The ordnance department of the Army had gone to work very quietly and cast some guns of that size, somewhat on the Dahlgren pattern. Whether the Naval Ordnance Department knew of the casting of [362] this 15-inch gun we are not prepared to say, but it is certain neither Secretary Welles nor Mr. Fox knew anything about it until after the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac.

The account of the destruction of the Cumberland and Congress had been flashed over the wires to the Secretary of the Navy, and Mr. Fox started at once for Hampton Roads to see if he could be of any service, and to report on the condition of affairs.

Mr. Fox was on the dock at Fortress Monroe, where he could witness the fight between the iron-clads. He noticed that the shot from the Monitor's guns glanced off from the sloping sides of the Merrimac, while the rifled shot of the Merrimac seemed to have no effect on the turret of the Monitor. I wonder, he said, mentally, “why no one has ever thought of casting larger guns with heavier shot, that would knock in that fellow's sides at the first broadside.” As this idea struck him, he cast his eyes on a monster gun that was lying on the dock under the lifting-crane, and on examining it he found it to be a 15-inch gun, army pattern, intended to be mounted at Fortress Monroe. This was a revelation to the Assistant Secretary, and he returned to Washington with his ideas much enlarged, and said to the Secretary, “We must have Monitors that will carry turrets large enough for 15-inch guns;” and Mr. Welles, on hearing his story, agreed with him in his conclusions.

When an invention which has been doubted and decried shows its superiority over all its competitors, and its detractors are set at naught, it immediately rises to the extreme of popularity; and so it was with the Monitor system, though some officers, who thought more of their personal comfort than they did of results to be achieved, greatly preferred the New Ironsides, with her sixteen 11-inch guns, to a Monitor with two, or even four, 15-inch guns.

The New Ironsides was without doubt a splendid vessel, and we ought to have built more of the same kind; but although she was better suited for attacking fortifications under certain conditions than the Monitors were (owing to the number of her guns and the consequent rapidity of her fire), she would have stood no chance in a contest with one of the single-turreted class — much less with the Monadnock or Miantonomah.

The New Ironsides did not represent an idea that could be carried out in all future naval ships; no vessels built on her plans have maintained their positions, while the Monitor system has been combined in all the grand fighting-ships of the line in England. The Monitor turret has even been used for land fortifications, and it will no doubt in the future be extensively applied to the defence of bays and harbors.

That Ericsson deserves the credit for the original idea of the Monitor system, no one will deny; but, next to Mr. Ericsson, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy did more than any one else to improve on this idea, and apply it to naval warfare. It was a matter which the Navy Department had to handle cautiously; for though the Monitor had demonstrated her superiority over the Merrimac, yet the plan was not altogether acceptable to the majority of naval officers; their objections were taken up by members of Congress, particularly those belonging to the “opposition,” who were averse to giving liberal appropriations to “oppress the Southern people;” and it was only when anxiety was felt lest we might be involved in a war with France or England that patriotic feelings got the upper hand of sectional tendencies, and Congress came forward and voted the necessary money to build as many vessels of the Monitor type as the Navy Department asked for.

To go further into an explanation of all the merits of the Monitor class of vessels would take the writer beyond the limits assigned to this history. The reader must judge of their merits from what has been done with them by intelligent officers.

To the uninitiated the history of the difficulties attending the introduction of this new type of vessel into the Navy will be very much less interesting than the battles in which they engaged and the hard service they performed on the Atlantic coast, in shelling forts and riding out heavy gales, while anchored out at sea — defying the elements in their most disastrous forms.

It is not only in regard to the men who fought the battles of the war that the public should be interested, but they should also be glad to understand the work done by those in official positions at headquarters in overcoming tiresome details, in fighting against ignorance and prejudice, or in providing for the thousand wants of fleets and ships, which, without proper forethought on their part, might have been paralyzed, perhaps in a time of great danger to the nation.

When the United States was drawn into the dreadful contest, which brought sorrow and desolation to so many homes, the country was in no condition to go into a war of any kind. Had we become involved at that time with a fifth-rate naval power. we should have been humiliated beyond anything one can conceive; our cities would have been bombarded and laid waste, our commerce would have been driven from the ocean to seek shelter under some neutral flag, and our Navy, instead of being in [363] condition to take the sea against our enemies, would have been laid up to prevent its being captured.

That is not exactly the kind of Navy a great country like this should possess, fit only to cruise in peaceful times and over summer seas. But such has been the policy of our statesmen from decade to decade, and the Navy has never received proper attention. Even the great civil war did not seem to stir up Congress to remedy the evils that had fallen upon it during the long peace.

The cry was in the halls of Congress, “We want no Navy,” and the Secretaries of the Navy, up to 1861, echoed the oft-told tale that we only wanted a “small but efficient Navy!” As if a small Navy could be at all efficient, when it would have been obliged to retire under the guns of our forts in case of a foreign war, or else be towed up some inaccessible river and stowed away until peace was restored.

We at times almost think that the rebellion was a blessing in disguise, if only to show how unprepared we were for hostilities with a foreign foe, by whom we would to a certainty have been humiliated and no doubt have been mulcted in damages to an amount that would have crippled the country for years to come. Though we might incur great losses by a civil war, yet there would be no humiliation in it. What chagrin may have been felt on both sides, we could share it alike; and having set fire to our estates and burned up each other's houses, it would be our free fight and not the business of any one else. We could put our shoulders to the wheel after the fight was over, and with the energy possessed by no other people we could gather the fragments of our greatness together again, and become stronger than ever. There would be no humiliation to the nation in such a strife, and we would show the world at large how impossible it would be for any foreign army to land on our shores without being exterminated. The naval officers who gained success in the war of the rebellion ought not to forget, amidst the honors and rewards they won, how much they were indebted to the herculean efforts of those in the Navy Department for the support they received under the most trying circumstances — how, after the first surprise of being forced into a great war, and the slow process of realizing the situation had been passed, ships and guns were furnished as if by magic; when at the beginning of the war, few officers counted on obtaining commands, and there was little prospect of our acquiring a class of vessels that would be impregnable against the heavy shot and shell which the enemy seemed to possess in abundance, even a year after the war began. Yet all this was provided for in less than a year.

Though the Navy Department has been at times severely criticised by those in opposition to it, yet the naval officers, as a whole, can but acknowledge that, with the exception of not keeping pace in the early part of the war with the Confederates in the building of heavy iron-clads, there was a remarkable degree of efficiency in all the civil branches of the Navy as well as in the Navy afloat.

It would occupy a large space to enumerate all that was done by the Department: the difficulties overcome, the resources created almost out of nothing, the opposition of partisans, the strife that had to be conciliated and the enemies that had to be opposed,

Captain H. A. Wise. U. S. Navy, Chief of Bureau of Ordance.

out of all which grew up a Navy that at one time bade defiance to France and England, who, in consequence, let us alone to work out our own destiny.

Among others who were in favor of building up an iron-clad navy were citizens whose names should ever be remembered. At the time when the greatest opposition was being manifested against Ericsson's invention, and the government would only authorize the construction of the first Monitor on a guarantee that she should prove a success in battle, John A. Griswold, Bushnell and Winslow. and Erastus Corning, came forward to the inventor's assistance, and it was mainly due to the capital furnished by these gentlemen that the [364] Monitor was ready in time to meet the Merrimac. It is thus seen that, although there was a want of liberality in Congress, our private citizens were more generous, and would not let an invention which common-sense told them was invaluable, be lost for want of money, even though they ran the risk of losing all that they ventured.

Men frequently occupy subordinate positions where their lives are expended in carrying on important work which without their services would result in failure. To such men great credit is due, although they generally receive but little.

Captain Henry A. Wise, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance in the Navy Department, was one of those steady workers who labored from the beginning to the end of the

Horatio bridge. Pay director, U. S. Navy, (Chief of Bureau of provisions and Clothing.)

war. Of him it may be truly said that the right man was in the right place while he occupied his important post.

Everything in Captain Wise's bureau moved like clockwork, and ships and squadrons lost no valuable time in waiting for guns and ammunition. The occasions were many in which commanding officers paid the highest eulogiums to Captain Wise's energy and ability, and he was thoroughly appreciated by the head of the Department and by Assistant Secretary Fox.

The Board of Admirals convened at the close of the civil war paid Captain Wise the high compliment of recommending his promotion to the grade of commodore, but owing to the wording of the law Mr. Secretary Welles did not feel himself authorized to recommend to the President to send Captain Wise's name to the Senate.

Paymaster Horatio Bridge. Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing, also made his mark in the Navy Department under the administration of Mr. Welles. He was Paymaster-General and Commissary-General of the Navy, and had over six hundred vessels-of-war of all classes to keep supplied. This important duty he performed in a most satisfactory manner, and his exertions contributed much to the success of naval operations.

Surgeon P. J. Horintz, Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, displayed marked ability in the Management of the Bureau over which he presided. Of the importance of the duties of Surgeon-General, particularly in time of war, it is not necessary to speak, and we can only say that Dr. Horintz did his duty in a most satisfactory manner.

To Rear-Admiral Joseph Smith, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, the country was largely indebted for the practical advice which he gave the Department, the fruit of his long and varied experience.

Rear-Admiral Smith, with the other officers whom Mr. Secretary Welles had to assist him, formed a fine combination, and although the former was advanced in years at the breaking out of the war, and not very robust, yet he was ever punctual in the performance of his duties.

Such men as we have mentioned assisted greatly in lightening the labors of the venerable Secretary of the Navy, and enabled him to carry the Navy successfully through a great crisis.

It was sometime in April, 1862, that the Department determined to build up an ironclad navy on the Ericsson idea, and by December of that year twenty single-turreted Monitors were contracted for, or under construction, all their plans having been made ready for the assembling of Congress. These vessels were to be of about 614 tons displacement, excepting a few of 844 tons. They were very much larger than the original Monitor and were designed to carry two 15-inch guns in a revolving turret. The idea of the first Monitor was carried out in these vessels to a great extent, but with such modifications as experience warranted. The side-armor was five inches thick, fastened to a three-foot oak backing, and the turrets of eleven 1-inch plates, bolted together with all the skill and ingenuity American mechanics were capable of.

There were also contracted for, or under construction, four double-turreted Monitors, to be armed with four 15-inch guns, the object of the government in building these vessels being to provide a turreted ocean-cruiser. They were large vessels of 1,564 [365] tons displacement, 257 feet in length, and 56 feet in breadth, and drawing about 18 feet of water. The side-armor was equal to 11 inches of solid iron, not counting the wood backing; the turrets were 12 inches thick, of laminated plates. Weight of broadside 1,800 pounds, more than equalling the broadsides of the heaviest French or English frigate.

This was a wonderful step for the Navy Department to take after hesitating so long over the contract for the first Monitor, but that little vessel had so effectually demonstrated her capability of coping with the great leviathan of the Confederacy that there was no longer, as regarded the Monitor system, a pin to hang a doubt on. It was evident that the principle could be carried out to any extent, and that vessels-of-war of this construction could be built to cross the ocean and withstand the heaviest weather.

Nine of the single-turreted Monitors were pushed to completion for the purpose of taking Charleston, and for such other work as could not be accomplished by wooden ships.

From the time Rear-Admiral Dupont took command of the squadron, Charleston had been closely watched from outside the bar, and the whole southern coast blockaded to the satisfaction of the Department.

This was good work to accomplish from November, 1861, to October, 1862, for it included, in addition to keeping up a vigorous blockade, a great many expeditions against the enemy in the numerous sounds and inlets; and these expeditions had often to be undertaken at the risk of neglecting the blockade for a day or two.

The Navy Department had not yet been supplied with a sufficient number of vessels to comply with all the demands made upon it. There was a large amount of coast under blockade from the capes of Virginia to the Rio Grande in Texas, and every commander of a squadron was applying for more vessels to enable him to carry out his instructions.

The great desire of Secretary Welles had been for the Navy to capture Charleston, the original seat of insurrection and disunion. Preparations were made for the occupation of the harbor and the reduction of the defences of this city. The completion of the iron-clad vessels was pushed with all the power of the Department, though it was found a difficult matter to urge the contractors to move faster than their limited means would permit. It was a new work on which they were engaged, and it was necessary to feel the way for fear of making mistakes; besides, in almost all cases, it was necessary to get up a new plant.

In order to enable Rear-Admiral Dupont to carry out the wishes of the Department, his squadron was now re-inforced by the following iron-clads: New Ironsides, Weehawken, Montauk, Keokuk, Patapsco, Nahant, Nantucket and Catskill. This was a powerful fleet, and the Secretary of the Navy depended upon it to close the port of Charleston so effectively that nothing in the shape of an enemy could get in or out; and finally, if opportunity offered, to make an attack on the batteries, remove the obstructions. and go on up to the city.

The New Ironsides carried sixteen 11-inch guns and one heavy rifle; the Monitors each carried one 15-inch and one 11-inch gun (except one that carried a heavy rifle instead of the 11-inch).

This was the force that would be called into play in case Dupont determined to attack the batteries, and with which he was expected to be victorious. For after the fight of the Monitor with the Merrimac, and her success, the turreted vessels had grown in favor with all classes of people, and many ran to the other extreme of supposing that the Monitors were invulnerable, that all they had to do was to haul up alongside the Confederate fortifications and drive the gunners away.

Some of these vessels arrived at Charleston bar as early as January, 1863, and Dupont, who was a sagacious and prudent officer, considered it his duty, before commencing any important operations, to have them tested to see what their turrets and hull would bear, and to ascertain whether anything could be done to improve their defensive power.

The turret principle had only been tried once in battle, and then only against guns the largest of which were the 7-inch rifles in the bow and stern of the Merrimac, neither of which, it is clear, ever struck the Monitor in hull or turret. To determine this point. Commander John L. Worden was sent down to Ossabaw Sound to operate up the Great Ogeechee River and capture, if he could, a fort at Genesee Point, under cover of which the steamer Nashville was lying, fitted out as a privateer, and only waiting an opportunity to get to sea and prey upon Federal commerce. He was also instructed to destroy the railroad at that point, if successful in taking the fort and destroying the Nashville.

Commander Worden arrived off the bar at Ossabaw Sound on January 24th, 1863, but a thick fog prevailed at the time, and the Montauk did not get under-way and stand up the river until the next morning. When just outside of the range of Fort McAllister's guns Worden again anchored, and was there joined by the gun-boats Seneca, Wissahickon; and Dawn. [366] The enemy had range-stakes or buoys planted in the river, and a boat expedition under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Davis was sent up to destroy them, and any obstructions or torpedoes that he might find in the way.

At 7 A. M., on the 27th, Commander Worden got underway with the “Montauk” (the gun-boats following), moved up to 150 yards below the obstructions — anchored — and opened fire on the fort. The enemy returned the Montauk's fire very briskly at first, no doubt wondering what kind of a nondescript they were firing at. After about an hour's practice the Montauk had the enemy's range so well that his fire began to slacken. At 11.15, A. M., all the shells of the Montauk had been expended and solid shot had to be used in their stead — but as they did not seem to have the same effect upon the enemy as the shells, Commander Worden, considering that he was throwing away ammunition, got underway and stood down the river, accompanied by his consorts.

The practice of the Confederates during this battle was very fine, striking the Montauk a number of times but doing no damage, and towards the end only firing at intervals. The report does not say what weight of shot or shell the enemy fired, whether smooth-bore or rifle, or how many times, or in what part of the vessel, the Montauk was struck; but we presume that Commander Worden was satisfied with the result of his experiment, and so reported to Rear-Admiral Dupont.

Worden, whose experience in the lighter Monitor at Hampton Roads ought to have made him a good judge of the strength of the Montauk on this occasion, seemed to treat the matter lightly, and it is probable that he thought his vessel would give a good account of herself when she was brought into action against the Charleston defenses.

As no battle of the war has been so closely criticised as the one between our iron-clads and the forts at Charleston, we will give a separate chapter to the operations of Rear-Admiral Dupont while he commanded at that point.

In the next chapter we will also give an account of such events as occurred prior to this attack, which cannot help but be interesting to the reader.

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