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The birth of the ironclads

The river ironclad “Essex” : one of James B. Eads' Mississippi monsters, converted by him from a snag-boat, and completed in January, 1862


The type favored by Ericsson: the single turreted U. S. Monitor “Saugus This splendid picture of the vessel lying at anchor in the James, off Bermuda Hundred, shows clearly the details of the type of perfected monitor most favored by Ericsson. Only a few months after the duel of the “Monitor” and the “Merrimac” in Hampton Roads, no less than thirty-five ironclads of the monitor type were being constructed for the Federal navy. The old Continental Iron Works in New York, that had built the original monitor, were busy turning out six vessels of the “Passaic” class, while others were being rushed up by shipbuilders in the East, and on the Ohio and the Mississippi. Ericsson was already at work upon the huge “Dictator” and “Puritan,” each nearly five times as large as the first monitor. These were destined not to be completed till after the close of the war. But the navy-yards at New York, Philadelphia, and Boston were at work upon the four double-turreted monitors of the “Miantonomoh” class. Not satisfied with all this activity, the Navy Department, in September, 1862, let the contracts for nine more monitors similar to the “Passaic” class, but slightly larger. Among these was the “Saugus” ; [131] and one of her sister-ships, the “Canonicus,” gave her name to the class. The most famous of the nine was the “Tecumseh.” Her bold commander, T. A. N. Craven, in an effort to grapple with the Confederate ram “Tennessee” in Mobile Bay, ran through the line of torpedoes and lost his ship, which had fired the first two guns in Farragut's brilliant battle. Ericsson did not approve of the principle of the double-turreted monitor. In the “Saugus” is well exemplified his principle of mounting guns in such a manner that they could be brought to bear in any direction. This object was defeated somewhat in the double-turreted type, since each turret masked a considerable angle of fire of the other. The “Saugus,” together with the “Tecumseh” and “Canonicus” and the “Onondaga,” served in the six-hour action with Battery Dantzler and the Confederate vessels in the James River, June 21, 1864. Again on August 13th she locked horns with the Confederate fleet at Dutch Gap. She was actively engaged on the James and the Appomattox and took part in the fall of Fort Fisher, the event that marked the beginning of the last year of the war.


The latest type of “iron sea-elephant” in 1864: the double-turreted monitor “Onondaga After having steadily planned and built monitors of increasing efficiency during the war, the Navy Department finally turned its attention to the production of a double-turreted ocean cruiser of this type. The “Onondaga” was one of the first to be completed. In the picture she is seen lying in the James River. There, near Howlett's, she had steamed into her first action, June 21, 1864, with other Federal vessels engaging Battery Dantzler, the ram “Virginia,” and the other Confederate vessels that were guarding Richmond. The “Onondaga” continued to participate in the closing operations of the navy on the James. Of this class of double-turreted monitors the “Monadnock” and the “Miantonomoh” startled the world after the war was over. Foreign and domestic skeptics maintained that Gustavus Vasa Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who had earnestly advocated the construction of monitors while the type was still an experiment, had merely succeeded in adding so many “iron coffins” to the navy. It was asserted that no monitor would prove seaworthy in heavy weather, to say nothing of being able to cross the ocean. In the spring of 1866, therefore, the Navy Department determined to despatch the “Miantonomoh” across the Atlantic; and, to show his faith in the “iron coffins” he had advocated, Assistant Secretary Fox embarked on her at St. John, N. B., on June 5th. Meanwhile the “Monadnock” had been despatched around the Horn to San Francisco; her progress was watched with far greater enthusiasm than that of the “Oregon” during the Spanish War. The “Miantonomoh” reached Queenstown in safety, after a passage of ten days and eighteen hours, and about the same time the “Monadnock” arrived at her destination, thus proving beyond cavil both the speed and seaworthiness of the American monitor.



An epoch in naval warfare

Under the date of July 4, 1861, the Secretary of the Navy of the United States, the Honorable Gideon Welles, in his report, explained very clearly the exact position of the iron-clad vessel of war during its period of inception. Caution, and doubt as to the feasibility of such construction are clearly expressed here, and also a certain temerity in the way of expending the departmental allowance:
Much attention has been given within the last few years to the subject of floating batteries, or iron-clad steamers. Other governments, and particularly France and England, have made it a special object in connection with naval improvements; and the ingenuity and inventive faculties of our own countrymen have also been stimulated by recent occurrences toward the construction of this class of vessel. The period is, perhaps, not one best adapted to heavy expenditures by way of experiment, and the time and attention of some of those who are most competent to investigate and form correct conclusions on this subject are otherwise employed. I would, however, recommend the appointment of a proper and competent board to inquire into and report in regard to a measure so important; and it is for Congress to decide whether, on a favorable report, they will order one or more iron-clad steamers, or floating batteries, to be constructed, with a view to perfect protection from the effects of present ordnance at short range, and make an appropriation for that purpose.

For a long time the armored vessel had been the pet of the inventor, and the building of iron ships of war had been contemplated. To go into the history of such attempts would be to review, in a measure, all the records of the past, for ironprotected ships had been constructed for many years, and as far back as 1583 the Dutch had built a flat-bottomed sailing [135]

John Ericsson, Ll.D.-the precursor of a new naval era The battle of Ericsson's “Monitor” with the “Merrimac” settled the question of wooden navies for the world. Born in Sweden in 1803, Ericsson was given a cadetship in the corps of engineers at the age of eleven. In 1839, with several notable inventions already to his credit, he came to America and laid before the Navy Department his new arrangement of the steam machinery in warships. It had been regarded with indifference in England, yet it was destined to revolutionize the navies of the world. In 1841 Ericsson was engaged in constructing the U. S. S. “Princeton.” She was the first steamship ever built with the propelling machinery below the water-line, and embodied a number of Ericsson's inventions — among them a new method of managing guns. At the time Ericsson laid his plans for the “Monitor” before the Navy Department, there existed a strong prejudice against him throughout the bureaus because his name had been unjustly associated with the bursting of the “Princeton's” 12-inch gun, February 28, 1844, by which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, Captain Kennon, and Colonel Gardiner were killed. The Naval Board nevertheless had the courage to recommend the “Monitor,” and this last great invention of Ericsson brought him immortal fame. Ie died in New York in 1889. His body was sent back to his native land on board the U. S. S. “Baltimore” as a mark of the navy's high esteem.

[136] vessel that was virtually an ironclad. She accomplished nothing but successfully running ashore, and was captured by the Spaniards, who regarded her as a curiosity.

John Stevens, of Hoboken, New Jersey, submitted plans, during the War of 1812, for an ironclad to the United States Government. They were not acted upon, and America, for a time, watched Europe while she experimented with protecting iron belts, a movement that began soon after 1850, when ordnance had increased in power, penetration, and efficiency.

All that was lacking in the United States up to the year 1861 was a demand, or an excuse, for experiment along the lines of progress in naval construction. It came with the outbreak of the Civil War. As a naval writer, touching upon this subject, has written: “Instead of the mechanical genius of the whole country being devoted to constructions in advance for the discomfiture of a foreign foe, the inventive talents of the two sections were arrayed in hostile competition. The result was the creation of two types of armored steamer, different from each other and from constructions abroad, but each possessing features that have been lasting, and that have been repeated and improved in all subsequent naval shipbuilding.”

Being fully aware that there was being built in the old Norfolk Navy-Yard an iron-clad vessel, but quite misinformed as to its power and scope, the Federal Navy Department, on August 7, 1861, advertised for bids for the construction of “one or more iron-clad steam vessels of war . . . of not less than ten or over sixteen feet draft of water, to carry an armament of from eighty to one hundred tons weight.”

On September 16th, the board appointed to examine the ideas submitted made a long and exhaustive report. After the preamble occurs the following paragraph that is here quoted verbatim:

J. Ericsson, New York, page 19.--This plan of a floating battery is novel, but seems to be based upon a plan which will render the battery


U. S. S. “Galena” --one of the three first experiments in Federal ironclads The Civil War in America solved for the world the question of the utility of armor plate in the construction of war vessels. This problem had been vexing the naval authorities of Europe. France and England were vying with each other at building iron-belted vessels that differed only from the old wooden line-of-battle ships in the addition of this new protection. Following this foreign precedent, Lieutenant John M. Brooke, C. S. N., planned to raise the hull of the “Merrimac” and convert her into an ironclad of original design, which became the standard for all subsequent efforts by the naval constructors of the Confederacy. It was not till October 4, 1861, four months after the Confederacy had raised the “Merrimac,” that the first contracts for ironclad vessels were let by the Navy Department. For two months a naval board, appointed by President Lincoln, had been poring over various plans submitted, and finally recommended the adoption of three. A vessel of the foreign type, to be called the “New Ironsides,” was to be in effect a floating battery, mounting fourteen 9-inch smooth-bores in her broadsides and two 150-pounder rifles. She proved one of the most formidable vessels of her class. A small corvette, to be called the “Galena,” was also ordered, her sides to be plated with three-inch iron. The third was Ericsson's “Monitor.”

shot-and shell-proof. We are somewhat apprehensive that her properties for sea are not such as a sea-going vessel should possess. But she may be moved from one place to another on the coast in smooth water. We recommend that an experiment be made with one battery of this description on the terms proposed, with a guarantee and forfeiture in case of failure in any of the properties and points of the vessel as proposed.

Price, $275,000; length of vessel, 172 feet; breadth of beam, 41 feet; depth of hold, 11 feet; time, 100 days; draft of water, 10 feet; displacement, 1255 tons; speed per hour, 9 statute miles.

This was the first notice of the famous Monitor. The idea of her construction was not exactly new, but no vessel of this class had ever been launched. She resembled, in a measure, the suggested floating battery of Stevens, but still more that proposed in the plans of Theodore R. Timby, of New York, and submitted to the War Department by him in the year 1841. This included specifications and drawings for a revolving iron battery, and practically was the foreshadowing of the Monitor. In fact, when the backers of Ericsson came to look into the matter, it was considered advisable to purchase Timby's patents.

There were also built at this time two heavily and almost completely armored ships, both more or less experimental, one, the Galena, destined to be a failure, while the other, named the New Ironsides and built by contract with Merrick and Sons, of Philadelphia, became, with the addition of the turret principle, the war-ship of future years. She was 232 feet long, 58 feet in beam, and 4120 tons displacement, a large size for that day. Her battery consisted of sixteen 11-inch Dahlgren guns, two 200-pounder Parrott rifles, and four 24-pound howitzers. She was the most formidable ship afloat. Although containing powerful engines, traditions of the older navy still prevailed, and the New Ironsides was at first fully rigged as a bark. Soon, however, the cumbersome masts were taken out and replaced with light poles that gave her a still closer appearance [139]

Inadequate armor-deck of the “Galena” after her great fight The “Galena” early proved incapable of the work for which she had been planned. It was the belief that her armor would enable her to stand up against the powerful land-batteries of the Confederates. This the “New Ironsides” could do; her sixteen guns could pour in such a hail of missiles that it was difficult for cannoneers on land to stand to their posts. The “Galena,” with but six guns, found this condition exactly reversed, and on May 15, 1862, she was found wanting in the attack on Fort Darling, at Drewry's Bluff, the Federal navy's first attempt to reach Richmond. There, under Commander John Rodgers, she came into direct competition with Ericsson's “Monitor.” Both vessels were rated in the same class, and their tonnage was nearly equal. The engagement lasted three hours and twenty minutes. The two ironclads, anchored within six hundred yards of the fort, sprung their broadsides upon it, eight guns in all against fourteen. In the action the “Galena” lost thirteen men killed and eleven wounded. A single 10-inch shot broke through her armor and shattered her hull almost beyond repair. The “Monitor” remained entirely uninjured, without the loss of a single man. After the engagement the “Galena” was found to be so cut up that her armor plate was removed and she was converted into a wooden gunboat, thus continuing in service through the war.

[140] to the modern fighting ship. According to reports, the New Ironsides was more constantly engaged in action than any other vessel during the Civil War. She was struck by more shot of all weights than any ship that ever floated, yet she suffered little or no damage. Off Charleston, in the engagement with Sullivan's Island, where by constant practice the Confederate gunners had become experts, the great ironclad was hit seventy times within three hours. She survived also the attack of a torpedo that was exploded against her side. During the war she threw in the neighborhood of five thousand 11-inch projectiles. She was later destroyed by fire in the navy-yard at Philadelphia.

As the Monitor was being hastened to completion, the Merrimac, renamed the Virginia, under the direction of the competent and able designers, William P. Williamson, John L. Porter, and John M. Brooke, was being rushed to completion. To these Southern officers, to all the workmen, engineers, and to the men who fought her, belongs a credit that cannot be overestimated. They faced difficulties of which the shipbuilders of the North knew nothing. A wooden frigate burned to the water's edge and sunk, had to be raised, practically rebuilt inside, strengthened in every way, armored with such iron as could be obtained, a slanting deck-house constructed, and an iron bow, or beak, added for purposes of ramming.

The use of the ram was also a revival of an ancient mode of attack. As early as the days of the Greek and Roman triremes and biremes, when hundreds of slaves chained to the oars propelled the vessels through the water at a rapid rate, the ram was in usage. When the days of war vessels propelled by slave-power ended, the ram disappeared. It was not used again until the Civil War and its naval history is not complete without frequent reference to the successful work of this revived but ancient principle. As a Federal naval authority has written about the Merrimac: “Indeed, it may not be too much to assert that it was her example, rather than that of the [141]

The Ozark

This hybrid-looking vessel was the first of the Federal attempts to adapt the monitor type of construction to the needs of the navy on the Western rivers. She was a cross between the Ericsson design (which she resembled in her turret and pilot-house) and the early type of river gunboat, apparent in her hull, stacks, and upper works. Her armament consisted of two 11-inch smooth-bores in the turret and a 12-pounder pivot-gun at the stern. Having joined Porter's Mississippi squadron early in 1864, she was the last of the entrapped vessels to get free above the Falls at Alexandria, in the Red River expedition. Porter pronounced her turret all right but considered her hull too high out of water, and declared that she lacked three inches of iron plating on her fifteen inches of oak. Porter had discovered, in running the batteries at Vicksburg, that heavy logs, hung perpendicularly on the sides of his gunboats, prevented shot of heavy size from doing more than slightly indenting the iron plating. He recommended that the three-inch plating of the “Ozark” would be adequate if it were covered on the outside with a facing of wood in addition to the wooden backing within.

The first inland monitor — the “Ozark

The “Ozark's” pivot-gun

[142] Monitor, that drew the parting line between the old navies of wood and canvas and the new navies of steel and steam.”

There has been rather a controversy as to who first suggested making use of the sunken Merrimac as a ram or armored cruiser. It is proved beyond doubt that after the Confederate occupation of the all-but-destroyed and abandoned Norfolk Navy-Yard, many of the vessels that had been sunk were raised, not for use but because they were possible obstructions in the way of navigation. Some of the sailing ships had not been very much injured by submersion — in fact, two, the Plymouth and the Germantown, could have been refitted and put into commission at no great expenditure of money. But sailing ships, especially of their class, were of no use to the Confederate naval authorities. The Merrimac, as soon as she had been raised, floated low, for her topsides had been entirely consumed by fire, and this suggested, apparently to more than one person, the idea of converting her into a floating battery or ram.

There are many claimants to the suggestion. The Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory, in a report made to the Confederate naval committee, wrote as follows:

I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity. Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States, prevent all blockade, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire navy. If, to cope with them upon the sea, we follow their example and build wooden ships, we shall have to construct several at one time, for one or two ships would fall an easy prey to their comparatively numerous steam frigates. But inequality of numbers may be compensated by invulnerability, and thus not only does economy, but naval success, dictate the wisdom and expediency of fighting with iron against wood, without regard to first cost.

The suggestion here quoted was made two months before the above-mentioned paragraph in Secretary Welles' report [143]

The heyday of the monitor

On the Appomattox River, in 1864, lie five of the then latest type of Federal ironclad-all built on the improved Ericsson plan, doing away with the objectionable “overhang” of the deck, dispensed with in order to give greater speed and seaworthiness. By this time the Federal navy had found abundant opportunity to try out the qualities of the monitor type. A monitor presented less than a third as much target area as any one of the old broadside ships that could possibly compete with her armament. Her movable turret enabled her to train her guns almost instantly on an adversary and bring them to bear constantly as fast as they could be loaded, no matter what the position or course of either vessel. If a monitor went aground, she remained a revolving Fort irrespective of the position of her hull. A shot to do serious damage must strike the heavy armor of the monitor squarely. The percentage of shots that could be so placed from the deck of a rolling ship was very small, most of them glancing off from the circular turret and pilot-house or skidding harmlessly along the deck. Only the most powerful land batteries could make any impression on these “iron sea-elephants” which the Federals had learned how to use. Their only vulnerable spot was below the water-line. The boom across the river in the picture, as well as the torpedo-nets, arranged at the bows of the vessels, indicates that the Confederates strove constantly to seize the advantage of this one weakness. The monitors in the James and Appomatox were too vigilant to be thus caught, although hundreds of floating mines were launched in the current or planted in the channel. The fleet, ever on the watch for these, was kept busy raking them up and rendering them harmless for passing ships.

A fleet of five monitors in 1864

Deck of a Union monitor.

[144] was written, and before the Merrimac had been raised. Secretary Mallory had had good training for his position. For several years he had been chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs of the United States Senate, and had been foremost in his interest in the navy and in the changes that were taking place in naval methods. Although many people of inventive mind and constructive imagination had worked along the lines that were now to be seriously adopted, Secretary Mallory was the first one in a position of authority to take the initiative in a change which abruptly ended the past eras of naval ship building, and inaugurated that of the new.

It was in June, 1861, that a board was appointed to make a survey of the Merrimac, draw plans, and estimate the cost of the conversion of that vessel into an iron-clad battery. The board consisted of Lieutenant John M. Brooke, inventor of the Brooke rifled gun, Chief Engineer William P. Williamson, and Lieutenant John L. Porter, chief constructor of the Confederate navy. All of these gentlemen were officers who had seen long service in the navy of the United States. In a letter from Mallory, addressed to Flag-Officer Forrest, Porter and Williamson are mentioned as being the constructor and engineer of the Merrimac. John M. Brooke, however, had much to do with her completion. He supervised the placing of the battery inside the armored citadel, which consisted of one 7-inch pivoted Brooke rifle at each end, and eight guns, four in a broadside, six of which were 9-inch Dahlgrens, and two 32-pounder Brooke rifles. In appearance, the Merrimac, when completed, resembled very much the Eads ironclads which had appeared on the Mississippi River. An odd coincidence was that the Monitor was commissioned as a ship of war on the 25th of February, 1862, and only the day before the Merrimac, henceforth known in Confederate annals as the Virginia, had received her first commander, Flag-Officer Franklin Buchanan. In the orders issued to him by Secretary Mallory, occur some prophetic paragraphs: [145]

The monitor “Mahopac

The monitor “Mahopac,” as she floated in the James near Bermuda Hundred in 1864, illustrates one of the newer types completed in 1864. The lower picture gives a good idea of her deck. The gun-ports of her turret are open. The coffin-like hatchway in the foreground was the only means of entrance. In action or rough weather this was tightly closed. Air-holes with their gratings are seen at intervals about the deck, but these too had to be closed during a storm. It was almost a submarine life led by the officers and crew in active service. Every opportunity was seized to get above deck for a breathing space. The “Mahopac” had a crew of 92 men. Her first engagement was with Battery Dantzler in the James River, Nov. 29, 1864. In December, 1864, and January, 1865, the “Mahopac” was in the first line of the ironclads that bombarded Fort Fisher. Her men declared that she silenced every gun on the sea-face of that fort.

The “Mahopac” on active service

The monitor Mahopac.

You will hoist your flag on the Virginia, or any other vessel of your squadron, which will, for the present, embrace the Virginia, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, Teaser, Raleigh, and Beaufort.

The Virginia is a novelty in naval construction, is untried, and her powers unknown, and the department will not give specific orders as to her attack upon the enemy. Her powers as a ram are regarded as very formidable, and it is hoped that you may be able to test them.

Like the bayonet charge of infantry, this mode of attack, while the most destructive, will commend itself to you in the present scarcity of ammunition. It is one, also, that may be rendered destructive at night against the enemy at anchor.

Even without guns, the ship would be formidable as a ram.

Could you pass Old Point and make a dashing cruise on the Potomac as far as Washington, its effect upon the public mind would be important to the cause.

The reason that the Merrimac did not pass Old Point Comfort, or proceed to New York, is told in another place, when she and the little Ericsson Monitor met. However, as far as her anticipated work was done, it was successful. With the wooden vessels she had it all her own way. But as of the Monitor herself, after the engagement, too high hopes were formed, so, of her antagonist, before she had been tried out, too much was expected.

The monitors failed signally against well-protected shore batteries. As more and more of these turreted vessels were ordered to be constructed during the war, they were divided into classes that differed but slightly from the original type. There were two-turreted, and, even at the last, three-turreted monitors; although the low free-board was maintained, the protecting overhang had disappeared, and this added greatly to their seaworthiness. The tragic loss on the 31st of December, 1862, of the original little vessel, which became a coffin for sixteen of her crew in a gale off Cape Hatteras, had taught ship-designers more than a little. A war-ship must first be seaworthy, and beside having defensive and offensive qualities, [147]

The “Osage” in 1864: one of the new leviathans of the river The low, rotating monitor-turret of this ironclad and her great guns saved both herself and the transport “Black Hawk” from capture during the return of the Red River expedition. The “Osage” was a later addition to the squadron; she and her sister ironclad, the “Neosho,” were among the most powerful on the rivers. Porter took both with him up the Red River. On the return the “Osage” was making the descent with great difficulty, in tow of the “Black Hawk,” when on April 12th she ran aground opposite Blair's plantation. A Confederate force twelve hundred strong, under General Thomas Green, soon appeared on the west bank and, planting four field-pieces, advanced to attack the stranded ironclad. The brisk enfilading fire of the “Lexington” and the “Neosho” did not deter them. Lieutenant-Commander T. O. Selfridge waited till the heads of the Confederates appeared above the river bank. Then he let drive at them with his two big guns, pouring upon them a rain of grape, canister, and shrapnel. General Green, who behaved with the greatest gallantry, had his head blown off. After an hour and a half the Confederates withdrew from the unequal contest, with a loss of over four hundred dead and wounded. The “Osage” was sent to Mobile Bay in the spring of 1865 and was there sunk by a submarine torpedo on March 29th.


A veteran of the rivers — the “Pittsburg The “Pittsburg” was one of the seven ironclads that Eads completed in a hundred days. She first went into action at Fort Donelson, where she was struck forty times. Two shots from the Confederates pierced her below the guards. She began shipping water so fast that it was feared that she would sink. In turning around to get out of range, she fouled the “Carondelet's” stern, breaking one of her rudders. In going ahead to clear the “Carondelet” from the “Pittsburg,” Commander Walke was forced to approach within 350 yards of the fort, which immediately concentrated the fire of the batteries upon that single vessel, whose consorts were all drifting out of action in a disabled condition. It was only by great coolness and courage that the “Carondelet” was extricated after being exposed to a terrific fire for some time. The “Pittsburg” was conspicuous in the fight with the Confederate flotilla at Fort Pillow. She was sent by Admiral Porter on the famous “land cruise” up the Yazoo, which nearly cost him the flotilla. She ran the batteries at Vicksburg and helped to silence the batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. In May, 1863, she was with Admiral Porter on the first Red River expedition and distinguished herself in the action with Fort Beauregard. The next year she was in the second Red River expedition and shared with the other vessels the dangers of the return. She was one of the most serviceable of the first Eads ironclads.


The “Cincinnati,” a salvaged gunboat The “Cincinnati” was one of the first seven Eads ironclads to be built and was the second to meet disaster. She was Foote's flagship at Fort Henry and in the engagement she was struck thirty-one times. Two of her guns and one of her paddle-wheels were disabled, and her smokestacks, after-cabin, and boats were riddled with shot. She was soon in commission again and joined the flotilla above Island No.10. In the sudden attack by which the Confederate gunboats surprised the Federal squadron above Fort Pillow, the “Cincinnati” again met disaster and was towed to shallow water, where she sank. Again she was repaired in time to take part in the bombardment of Vicksburg, May 27, 1863, under Lieutenant George D. Bache. Here she gallantly engaged single-handed the batteries on Fort Hill to the north of the town. The terrific hail of grape-shot from the Confederate guns compelled her to close her bow ports. In endeavoring to get away, she was so badly hit that she could barely be gotten into shoal-water before she sank. The Confederates set fire to her a few days later, but even that was not to be the end of the gallant ironclad. After the occupation of Vicksburg, she was raised and found to be not so badly damaged as had been supposed. The next year she was on duty in the Mississippi between Fort Adams and Natchez. In 1865 she was sent by Admiral Lee to take part in the final naval operations that led to the fall of Mobile.


Monarchs of the flotilla

Below appears the Federal ironclad “Benton.” As James B. Eads went on constructing gunboats for the Mississippi squadron, he kept improving on his own ideas. The “Benton” was his masterpiece. She was finished soon after the original seven ironclads ordered by the army. Though her engines were slow, she proved to be the most powerful fighting vessel in the Federal Mississippi squadron. She held that distinction till late in 1864, when the river monitors began to appear. The “Benton” was Foote's flagship in the operations around Island No.10; and when the gallant old officer retired, it was on her deck that he bade good-bye to his officers and men. The “Benton” then became the flagship of Captain Charles Henry Davis, who in her directed the famous battle off Memphis where the Ellet rams proved their prowess. The first commander of the “Benton” was Lieutenant S. Ledyard Phelps. He fought the gunboat in both of the above engagements. The “Benton” was hit twenty-five times while supporting Sherman's unsuccessful assault on Vicksburg from the north, and she was Admiral Porter's flagship when he ran by the batteries at the beginning of the maneuver by which Grant approached and invested Vicksburg from the southward, thus accomplishing the fall of “the key to the Mississippi.”

The “Louisville,” one of the original Eads ironclads

U S. GunboatBenton,” tug “Fern


The Ellet rams.

After the “General Price” became a Federal gunboat, the pilot-house was protected and moved forward and other alterations were made. The Ellet rams continued their useful work. Charles Rivers Ellet took the first vessel past the batteries at Vicksburg after Grant had determined upon his venturesome movement upon the city from the south. Admiral Farragut, who had come up from the Red River, requested General Alfred W. Ellet to let him have two of the ram fleet to run the batteries in order to augment the blockade of the Red River. On March 25, 1863, Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Ellet, in command of the “Lancaster,” with his nephew, Charles Rivers Ellet, in command of the “Switzer-land,” chose a time near daylight for the attempt. “These Ellets were all brave fellows and were full of the spirit of adventure,” said Admiral Porter. Scorning the cover of darkness, they got abreast of the batteries, which promptly opened on them in a thundering chorus. A shell exploded the boilers of the “Lancaster” and she went to pieces and sank almost immediately. The “Switzerland” had her boilers perforated by a plunging shot and received other injuries, but she got through; and in her and in other of the Ellet rams, Charles Rivers Ellet performed other distinguished services.

The “General Price,” a captive by the Ellet rams

Charles Rivers Ellet

[152] must possess speed. As the class of monitors improved in size and power they rated among the fastest steam vessels afloat. The Monadnock and the Miantonomoh, the final types, could reach the then wonderful speed of eleven knots, and they proved their seaworthy qualities by riding out gales off the capes, holding to their anchorage when many large vessels and transports had been forced to cut and run.

Toward the end of the war, the various flag-officers who had had, in some cases, ironclads under their command made reports to the United States Navy Department after close observance of these vessels in action. Admiral Goldsborough wrote, in February, 1864, a report in which he says:

Every ironclad, as a matter of course, should be an unexceptionable ram, or, in other words, capable herself of being used as a projectile. She must be turned with every degree of quickness necessary. . . . The turret I regard as decidedly preferable (to broadside) and mainly for these reasons: it renders one gun of a class equivalent to at least two of the same disposed in opposite broadside ports, and this with a great reduction of crew. It admits of the use of much heavier guns. It does not necessarily involve a breadth of beam antagonistic to velocity. It affords a better protection to guns and men, and withal, it secures the fighting of guns longer in a sea-way.

Further on the admiral speaks of the other departure from old types and traditions. He says:

The New Ironsides, I regard as a much more efficient type of ironclad than the monitors just discussed, because of her possessing decided advantages over them in the particulars of fitness for general purposes, seaworthiness, relative strength of bottom, or absolute capacity to endure vibration thereat, security against an antagonistic vessel. . . . Had she been planned for turrets, instead of to use guns at broadside ports, she would have been, I think, still more formidable; nor is she unexceptionable in other respects, and among them speed and turning-qualities.

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