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The early monitors.

by Captain John Ericsson.
Impregnability, proved by capability to keep out Confederate shot, being demanded by President Lincoln and promised by the constructor of the monitor fleet which was built during the early part of 1862, it will be proper to inquire how far the performance accorded with the anticipation. Admiral Dahlgren, the distinguished naval artillerist, commanding the blockading fleet at Charleston,

Interior view of the turret of a sea-going monitor. The compact form of the gun-carriages, the simplicity of the massive port-stoppers, and the enormous size of the spherical projectiles (15-inch diameter) were surprises to naval experts.--J. E.

reported to the Navy Department that from July 18th to September 8th, 1863, a period of 52 days, the monitors Weehawken, Patapsco, Montauk, Nahant, Catskill, and Passaic engaged Forts Sumter, Moultrie, Wagner, Gregg, and the batteries on Morris and Sullivan's islands, on an average ten times each, the Montauk going before the muzzles of the enemy's guns fifteen times during the stated period, while the Patapsco was engaged thirteen times and the Weehawken twelve times. The number of hits received by the six vessels mentioned amounted to 629; yet not a single penetration of side armor, turret, or pilot-house took place. Admiral Dahlgren observes that the Montauk was struck 154 times during the engagements referred to, “almost entirely,” he states, “by 10-inch shot.” Considering that the hull of the Montauk was nearly submerged, and hence presented a very small target, the recorded number of hits marked splendid practice on the part of the Confederate gunners. The report of the experienced commander concludes thus: “What vessels have ever been subjected to such a test?” It merits special notice that the same monitors which Admiral Dahlgren found to possess such remarkable power of endurance had led the unsuccessful attack at Charleston three months before,--a circumstance which shows that difficulties presented themselves during that attack which had not been foreseen, or the magnitude of which had not been properly estimated. The following facts rebut the allegation that injudicious advice to certain officers induced the Navy Department to adopt hazardous expedients in connection with the attack on Charleston. A letter from the Assistant-Secretary of the Navy to me in reference to the contemplated attack, written before the news of its failure had been received, contained the following sentence:
Though everybody is despondent about Charleston, and even the President thinks we shall be defeated, I must say that I have never had a shadow of a doubt as to our success, and this confidence arises from careful study of your marvelous vessels.

To this letter I sent the following reply the next day:

I confess that I cannot share in your confidence relative to the capture of Charleston. I am so much in the habit of estimating force and resistance that I cannot feel sanguine of success. If you succeed, it will not be a mechanical consequence of your marvelous vessels, but because you are marvelously fortunate. The most I dare hope is, that the contest will end without the loss of that prestige which your iron-clads have conferred on the nation abroad. A single shot may sink a ship, while a hundred rounds cannot silence a fort, as you have proved on the Ogeechee. The immutable laws of force and resistance do not favor your enterprise. Chance, therefore, can alone save you.

The discomfiture of the “marvelous” vessels before Charleston, however, did not impair their fitness to fight other battles. It will be recollected that the Weehawken, commanded by the late Admiral John Rodgers, defeated and captured the Confederate ram Atlanta, in Wassaw Sound, June 17th, 1863, ten weeks after the battle of Charleston, consequently previous to the engagements in [31]

Section of the Hull of a sea-going monitor. The cut represents a transverse section through the center-line of the turret and pilot-house of the Montauk and other sea-going vessels of the monitor type. For an account, of the original Monitor, see Vol. I., p. 730.

which this monitor participated, as reported by Admiral Dahlgren. The splendid victory in Wassaw Sound did not attract much attention in the United States, while in the European maritime countries it was looked upon as an event of the highest importance, since it established the fact, practically, that armor-plating of the same thickness as that of La Gloire and the Warrior could be readily pierced, even when placed at an inclination of only twenty-nine degrees to the horizon. Moreover, the shot from the Weehawken struck at an angle of fifty degrees to the line of keel, thereby generating a compound angle, causing the line of the shot to approach the face of the armor-plate within twenty-two degrees. The great amount of iron and wood dislodged by the 15-inch spherical shot entering the citadel, protected by 4-inch armor-plating and 18-inch wood backing, was shown by the fact that forty men on the Atlanta's gun-deck were prostrated by the concussion, fifteen being wounded, principally by splinters, a circumstance readily explained, since penetration at an angle of twenty-two degrees means that, independent of deflection, the shot must pass through nearly five feet of obstruction,--namely, eleven inches of iron and four feet of wood. Rodgers's victory in Wassaw Sound, therefore, proved that the 4 1/2-inch vertical plating of the magnificent Warrior of nine thousand tons — the pride of the British Admiralty — would be but slight protection against the 15-inch monitor guns.

The destruction of the Confederate privateer Nashville by the Monttauk, February 28th, 18 63, also calls for a brief notice. The expedient by which this well-appointed privateer was destroyed, just on the eve of commencing a series of depredations in imitation of the Alabama, must be regarded as a feat which has no parallel in naval annals. The commander of the Montauk, now Rear-Admiral Worden, having received stringent orders to prevent the Nashville from going to sea, devised a plan for destroying the privateer (then occupying a safe position beyond the torpedo obstruction on the Ogeechee River), by means of the 15-inch shells which formed part of his equipment; but in order to get near enough for effective shelling, he was compelled to take up a position under the guns of Fort McAllister, then commanded by Captain G. W. Anderson, a Confederate officer of distinguished ability. Obviously, the success of the daring plan of not returning the concentrated flanking fire from the fort while shelling the privateer depended on the power of endurance of the Montauk, then for the first time subjected to such a crucial test. The result proved that Worden had not over-estimated the resisting power of his vessel. The fifth shell had scarcely reached its destination when signs of serious damage on board the privateer were observed; a few additional shells being dispatched, a volume of black smoke was seen rising above the doomed Nashville. The shelling was continued for a short time, with the result that the entire hull of the intended depredator was enveloped in flames. The magazine ultimately exploded with terrific violence, tearing part of the structure into fragments. The gunners in the fort had in the meantime continued to practice against the Montauk; but no serious damage having been inflicted, the anchor was raised and the victor dropped down the river, cheered by the crews of the blockading fleet. [32]

The monitor “Montauk” beached for repairs.

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