Archive for the 'Civil War' Category

Dec 31

The loss of MONITOR off Cape Hatteras, 31 December 1862

Friday, December 31, 2010 12:01 AM

On the morning of December 29, 1862, Commander John Bankhead, recently appointed commanding officer while Monitor repaired at the Washington Navy Yard, ordered his crew to prepare to put to sea. The weather finally clear, Monitor departed Hampton Roads that afternoon in the tow of the sidewheel steamer Rhode Island to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in offensive operations against Confederate ports.

After Monitor rounded Cape Hatteras at approximately 7:30 in the evening on the 30th, the starboard tow hawser gave way in reaction to the pounding waves and current rubbing the rope against the hull. At 9pm, Commander Bankhead signaled Rhode Island to halt her engines to better ride out the storm, but by this time water poured into Monitor at a pace greater than the bilge pumps could evacuate. A large steam pump arrested the rising water within the vessel, but the respite proved to be temporary. At approximately 10:30pm, the situation hopeless, Monitor asked that Rhode Island send rescue boats.

Bankhead ordered the remaining towline connecting his vessel to Rhode Island cut, but a wave swept two of the three volunteers for this duty overboard to their deaths before Master Louis Stodder hacked the hawser in two with a hatchet. Unfortunately, the severed hawser became entangled in one of Rhode Island’s paddle wheels which left the large wooden ship drifting toward Monitor and threatening to crush one of the rescue boats. The rope that fouled the paddle wheel was cleared with an axe, but not before Rhode Island slammed into the first lifeboat and barely avoided a potentially calamitous collision with Monitor. The two ships got so close, that five or six sailors attempted to climb ropes to safety on Rhode Island; but only three reached their destination. Despite being damaged by Rhode Island, the first lifeboat took on survivors as the waves swept several of the ironclad’s crew overboard to their death. The heavy seas had grown so violent that the second lifeboat nearly struck the first as it made the treacherous, now nearly half-mile, return passage.

Some of the sailors in Monitor heroically remained in the engine room stoking the boilers that powered the pumps as they fought a losing battle against the incoming water. At about midnight, the water extinguished the boilers and the last of the men inside scrambled to the top of the turret as a second lifeboat was taking on survivors and a third approached. Traversing the short distance to the lifeboats proved a treacherous task and several men lost their lives in the attempt. Some, perhaps unable to swim, petrified by the gruesome spectacle, or waiting for others to be saved first, continued to cling to the turret even as the third lifeboat filled to capacity. For those fortunate enough to make a lifeboat, the danger was far from over as several men lost their lives attempting to board the paddle wheel steamer. Rodney Browne, skipper of the second lifeboat, made one last gallant attempt to save those remaining on Monitor, but failed to reach the vessel before it disappeared beneath the waves around 2 o’clock on morning of the 31st. Despite the rough seas, his boat managed to survive the night and was rescued by another ship mid-morning.

In all, four officers and twelve sailors from Monitor lost their lives. The heroism of the volunteers from Rhode Island who manned the rescue boats kept the human toll from being much worse.

 
Nov 29

UAB Loans MAC Lab a piece of Civil War History

Monday, November 29, 2010 5:05 PM

Loading the 3-ton cannon onto a trailer for transport. UAB photograph.

This morning, UAB welcomed members of the Maryland Archaeology Conservation (MAC) Laboratory team for the transport of a Civil War iron cannon. The 3-ton cannon was made in Liverpool, U.K. in 1862 and served aboard Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama until she was sunk in 1864 by USS Kearsarge. The cannon was recovered from the shipwreck in 2002 and conserved at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL). It will be displayed under a UAB Loan Agreement in the MAC Lab facility at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard, MD until 2015, with the possibility of renewing the loan at that time. UAB is very pleased to have the cannon available for public appreciation and thanks colleagues at MAC Lab for making this successful partnership possible.

The cannon ready for transporation to MAC Lab.

 
Nov 16

Rescue under Fire of Ironclad Lehigh

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:01 AM

During the American Civil War the vast majority of guns mounted in Confederate forts not be easily penetrate the armor on Union monitors. Even so, ironclads were fragile machines, especially vulnerable when stationary and struck repeatedly by enemy fire. When these iron behemoths accidently ran aground in the shallow coastal waters of the South, it sometimes took the heroics of flesh and blood to save them from destruction.

On the evening of 16 November 1863, Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie, near Charleston, South Carolina, unexpectedly opened a very heavy, long-range fire on Federal troops in their field works on Morris Island. The Union Army commander, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gilmore, immediately requested help from the Navy, and Rear Adm. John Dahlgren ordered the monitors on picket duty, including U.S.S. Lehigh, to move up and cover approaches to the Union position in case the Southerners intended to launch a boat attack. Cmdr. Andrew Bryson ordered his ship, Lehigh, to anchor in three and one half fathoms of water at half-ebb tide, believing the monitor would be perfectly safe. During the flood tide that night, however, the vessel swung and gently grounded on a sand bar.

Upon discovering after daylight that Lehigh was aground, nine different Confederate batteries opened an intense bombardment at about 2300 yards, firing over 300 rounds and striking the ironclad twenty-two times, including eleven hits on the deck plating, six of which broke through the armor. One hit struck the hull, bent the plating in and eventually started a leak that let in nine inches of water per hour. The monitors Nahant and Montauk came to her assistance, the former making three attempts to pass a line with small boats to begin a tow. Gunner’s Mate George Leland, Coxswain Thomas Irving, and Assistant Naval Surgeon William Longshaw twice succeeded in passing the line under heavy fire, only to have it severed by enemy guns. The third attempt by Seaman Horatio Young, Landsman William Williams, and Landsman Frank Giles succeeded as well, and this time it served to provide the tow that rescued Lehigh from her precarious position. Dahlgren praised all for risking their lives to save an invaluable warship, and the enlisted men each received the Medal of Honor for their heroism under heavy enemy fire.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 7:27 AM

On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863. Remarkably, New Ironsides left the blockade for Philadelphia for repairs. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 1:30 AM
On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863.

Remarkably, New Ironsides remained on duty without repair until May 1864. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Oct 5

The Herreshoff Brothers

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 12:01 AM

In the middle of the Civil War, two brothers in Bristol, Rhode Island started a ship yard that would make their name, Herreshoff, one of the most respected engineering names in the world: the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.

John Brown Herreshoff was completely blind at age 15. He managed his own sail-boat building company until his brother, Nathaniel, joined him in 1878. John’s blindness did not prevent him from receiving commissions for boats that were renowned for their seaworthiness, speed and beauty. He used hull models and full hull models to make suggestions to improve the performance of the vessels.

Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, John’s brother, was known as the “Wizard of Rhode Island.” Nathan had worked long at building boats, and through photographic memory, he could help his brother correct ship designs. The brothers’ clean design and efficient engines captured the attention of the U.S. Navy. They were asked to place bids for new Navy torpedo boats.

The Herreshoff steam generator boilers were a significant breakthrough in small steam powered boat design. Their extremely light boiler design enabled them to fire up to a full head of steam in minutes. Not only were these water craft light, they were also fast.

The “Lighting” a double ender craft, was ordered by the US Bureau of Naval Ordnance, to be built at a cost of $5,000.00. The entire boat was so well built and so light that it could be stopped within her own length, while moving at full speed. She was a great test bed, and just too small to be a torpedo boat.

The brothers built the high-speed motor yacht, Stiletto and included a new engine design that gave her a remarkable speed of a sustained 20 knots and top speed of 26.5 knots, which was unheard of at that time. The hull was light-weight, wooden with five watertight bulkheads, and large compartments for engine room and crew. She had a forward conning tower that would earmark the outward design of all torpedo boats for years to come.

The Stiletto was purchased by the U.S.Navy on March 3, 1887, then ordered to the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport Rhode Island and later designated by the Navy as Wooden Torpedo Boat No. 1. This ship fired a torpedo from a deck mount in 1892. Thus she was the U.S. Navy boat to launch a self-propelled torpedo.

The Herreshoff company built six torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy from 1890 to 1897: (Cushing, TB-1, Porter,TB-6, Dupont,TB-7, Morris,TB-14, Talbot,TB-15, and Gwin,TB-16). All of the boats served in the Spanish American war.

The brothers experienced great difficulty in dealing with the federal government and naval officials. They faced a constant battle to receive funds and complained about hundreds of hours negotiating with clerks. Like many, the brothers actually lost money on government orders. After the Gwin was completed, they turned their talents to building racing and pleasure yachts.

These two remarkable men left their mark on American and world maritime history. The Navy was wise to recognize these American innovators at a time of rapid naval development. The problem of government machinery, however, has always been with us.

 
Aug 5

“Damn the Torpedoes!” The Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864

Thursday, August 5, 2010 6:21 AM

Lashed in the rigging of Hartford’s mainmast high above the deck, Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut had a bird’s-eye view of his squadron of eighteen ships as it fought past the booming guns of Fort Morgan into Mobile Bay, Alabama. Everything was going according to plan until the monitor Tecumseh suddenly rolled to starboard, her bow knifing into the water and stern rearing up with the propeller still spinning, then plunged out of sight like an arrow shot from a bow. Farragut knew instantly that Tecumseh had struck a torpedo, as mines were called in those days. As the gunfire from the Confederate fort intensified, Brooklyn, the lead ship in the main column just ahead of Hartford, started backing down, her skipper reporting a line of torpedoes across the channel.

Farragut realized that the decisive moment had arrived. The column was bunching up under the enemy guns. To try to maneuver around the torpedoes would lengthen the ships’ exposure to the cannonade. To go forward would hazard the fleet against the torpedoes. To retreat was out of the question. Farragut reflected on everything he knew about the Confederate defenses, offered a silent prayer, and then acted. “Damn the torpedoes!” he shouted. “Full speed ahead!”

Farragut’s ships passed through the enemy’s underwater defenses to confront a Confederate squadron of four ships. The Union ships quickly defeated or ran aground the three smaller ships. The fourth ship, a heavy ram, surrendered after an intense hour-long battle. The last major Confederate port in the south was now sealed.

 
Jun 25

Review of Howard J. Fuller’s Clad in Iron

Friday, June 25, 2010 2:29 PM

 

Fuller, Howard J. Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

Civil War naval histories are itself a niche market in the spectrum of scholarship written about the five year conflict. As we draw near the beginning of the sesquicentennial celebration of the American Civil War, a cursory examination of previous scholarship reveals an obsession with fleet operations and technology. It is no surprise then that monographs written about famous naval battles and leaders of the Union and Confederacy will continue to increase in their appeal. Yet what is perceived as new scholarship about the dawn of modern naval warfare more often a metaphorical “slight of hand” to previous arguments. University of Wolverhampton Senior War Studies lecturer Howard J. Fuller’s recent work, Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power, breaks this chain, offering readers an interesting and insightful interpretation to the Civil War’s most overlooked aspect.

Amidst the greatest test in our nation’s history, massive technological, political, and social change occurred on all fronts in the United States. Between these lines of conventional wisdom, a far more pressing issue occurred between policymakers in Washington and London over the threat of war. Fuller discusses these issues thoroughly from a naval perspective, examining the diplomatic and strategic goals of Britain’s budding ironclad navy in direct response to American sea power.

Clad in Iron is not a narrative of conflict so often found in Civil War historiography. The focus instead resides in how conflict was ultimately avoided with Britain. Even in the wake of an international crisis like the TrentAffair, an unnecessary war between Britain would be an equally unprepared one between fleets on either side of the Atlantic. That possibility of war from the British perspective, Fuller suggests, became a necessary challenge to the growth of a large maritime force in the pre-Dreadnaught era. Victory in 1865 became a dual one over the Confederacy militarily and the British diplomatically.

Clad in Iron begins with an informative discussion on why Anglo-French naval policy before the Civil War inexorably altered the course of change in America. Although the British ironclad program “began purely as a response to the establishment of the French ironclad fleet of Napoleon III,” focus shifted after the introduction of the American program in the first two years of the war. It is interesting to note how Fuller details the naval rivalry between France’s La Gloire and Britain’s Warrior occurred well before the Monitor and Virginiaever engaged in combat. Naval architects like Captain Cowper Coles and Dupuy de Lôme are given due credit to the evolution and revolution of ironclad navies normally reserved only for John Ericsson.

Several chapters are devoted to the “war within,” as the debate and hesitancy of Union political and military officials mirrored that of Great Britain. The need to satisfy Washington of a sufficient coastal force with the possibility of foreign intervention became the ammunition to the argument for the ambitious program initiated by Ericsson. Fuller posits the necessity of such ambition in correlation to the “vested interest” of Britain in the failure of the southern blockade. He notes how Union War Secretary William H. Seward feared British reception during the beginning years of the war under the backdrop of events like the 1861 Trent Affair and Battle of Hampton Roads. The best chapter in the book, “Two Ironclad Adversaries,” sums up a large portion of this central theme. Fuller feels that necessity of an effective ironclad navy was built in direct response to both the Confederacy and Great Britain, one being “actual” and the other “potential.”

With regards to Hampton Roads, it is one of Fuller’s main points to mention how Monitors were used not for their capacity to become the scourge of Confederate fleets and coastal force, but as a technological “check” to competing programs in Britain as well. The Trent Affair is used “in direct contrast to the battle of Hampton Roads,” because “the Anglo-American naval balance of power was completely upset” in a mere three month window. Fuller also suggests the greatest loser in mid-19th century naval innovations was the French. Through clash of armor, Union and Confederate ironclad warships confirmed British suspicions while damning the French’s narrow disregard for such vessels. It would be multi-turreted ships that survived and evolved after the war, not broadside and sail ironclads as the French suspected. The Monitor’s innovation brought forth the emergence of the first turreted capital ship in the Royal Navy, HMS Devastation. Fuller makes good use of the ironclad-era to detail how events occurring in one conflict continually shaped others.

One of Clad in Iron’s hallmarks is the method Fuller uses to formulate his arguments. Interpretations of events are taken from letters and reports written by sailors, foreign ministers, and politicians. The analysis is evenhanded and methodical, often offering comparisons in minute details like tonnage and budgetary restrictions. Indeed, Fuller intends to leave no stone unturned. More interesting is the analysis of print media in the United States and Great Britain. Fuller makes the reader believe that the threat of foreign intervention was at a state of near paranoia in both countries, with its only solution through the use of iron-wielded steam power, not amassed troops and musket fire.

Flaws to Clad in Iron are merely superficial. More attention might be paid in future scholarship on the relationship Britain and Confederate blockade running, which is mentioned only in passing. Fuller also gives very little credit to the Union’s broadside ironclad USS New Ironsides, which many consider to be a comparable vessel to the Monitor.

Civil War historians will champion the level of care taken by Fuller to accurately document and chronicle the challenge British naval experts and politicians had on the American ironclad program. His work is highly recommended for scholars and layman alike who might find interest in the unspoken foe across the Atlantic chessboard. Clad in Iron is not the definitive Civil War naval history written on the heels of the sesquicentennial, but it is a fantastic and fresh start.

 
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