The Puritan represented the highest development of the monitor type of warship ever constructed. It was heavily protected with steel armor and its low freeboard made it almost an impossible target. As a vessel for coast and harbor defense pure and simple it possessed capabilities of enormous value. The construction of the powerful monitor Puritan was the turning point in the history of the American navy. The best naval authorities were beginning to see the necessity of a warship that would not be compelled to cling close to the coast in time of war. A feeling was gradually growing that the honor and prestige of the United States demanded the construction of a modern type of cruising warship, able to carry the flag to foreign ports where its identity was unknown. The sentiment was of slow growth, but sure.
Puritan, a 4,912-ton seagoing monitor, was under construction at Greenpoint, New York, between 1863 and 1865. Originally intended to have two gun turrets, her designer, John Ericsson, recast her arrangement to feature only one turret. Puritan was launched in July 1864 but remained incomplete when work was stopped in 1865. During the years following the war, Puritan along with several other monitors suffered extensive deterioration with their combat value likewise decreasing.
In 1874-75 Secretary of the Navy George Robeson decided to carry out extensive repairs on Puritan and four monitors of the Miantonomoh class. Funds were not appropriated for new construction, but the condition of the ship's hulls particularly, necessitated building essentially new ships, bearing no real resemblance to the originals. A scandal resulted when the fact came to light that Robeson was paying for new ships with the old ones. The never finished PURITAN of the Civil War underwent the same kind of "rebuilding" as the four MIANTONOMOHs. All five of these ships had the superstructures, military mast, and tall stack which also identified the monitors built between 1881 and 1903. Her hull was apparently broken up in about 1874 when construction began on another monitor Puritan, which was officially listed as the old ship "rebuilt". It is important to realize that all of the "repaired" ships were actually completely modern ships of war bearing only a vague resemblance of the first ships of the name.
Although her original plans called for a single turret carrying 4 XX-inch Dahlgren smoothbores, the revised design of the "repaired" ship called for two turrets.
USS Puritan, a 6060-ton monitor, was built in the Roach ship-yard at Chester, Pennsylvania, and completed by the New York Navy Yard. Here length over all was 295 feet; breadth of beam, 6O feet ; depth, 20 feet 6 inches ; draft of water when launched, 6 feet 11 inches ; draft with guns, armor, coal, and engines on board ready for commission, 18 feet. Displacement when launched, 1,750 tons; displacement when down to her draft and in commission, 6,060 tons. Deducting the present weight of the ship without machinery, &c., 1,750 tons, there was left for armor, turrets, guns, machinery, coal, and other supplies, ready for commission, 4,310 gross tons.
With 500 tons of coal it is estimated that she would steam the following distances at the tabulated rates of speed, viz : With a speed of 14 knots, 1,545 nautical miles; of 12 knots, 2,266 nautical miles; of 10 knots, 3,331 nautical miles ; of 9 knots, 4,316 nautical miles ; of 7 knots, 6,477 nautical miles. On 400 tons of coal it is estimated she can steam from Portland, Me., to New Orleans and return at the rate of 9 knots per hour, and, in case of an emergency, can make a speed of 338 nautical miles in twenty-four hours, or at a rate of 14 knots per hour. That is at a speed which is two knots faster than any other American man-of-war, and equal to the best of her class in the world. During trials in 1884 her machinery proved a great success, and there is no doubt she will make 14 knots. She can carry 15- inch steel armor plate, with her guns, crew, and 400 tons of coal.
When on April 10, 1875, the Puritan was designed and contracted for, the armor then used on all similar vessels was made of iron, and was much lighter than that employed to-day. Roach saw the progress which was being made in Europe, and after the contract was signed he advised a change in the ship that enabled her to carry 40 per cent, more armor, gave her two knots more speed, permitted her to carry heavier guns, and yet increased her cost only about $25,000. Had this change not been made, this ship, in view of the modern improvements in heavy armor and in puns, would to-day have been worthless.
There, is no other armored vessel in the world with the same thickness of armor and weight of guns which has so light a draught of water. European vessels of the same speed, weight of armor and guns draw much more water, and can enter only a few of our harbors at high tide, while the Puritan can enter most of oilr harbors at almost any state of the tide, either to coal or to retreat from a more powerful enemy; and in any emergency she could leave most of our ports at once without waiting for the tide. No foreign vessel of her power has these advantages.
She has a double bottom, which, should the outside plating be broken, would by means of an inner skin and the eighty-four separate water-tight compartments still keep the vessel afloat. The advantages of the double-bottom system are shown in an accident to the Pilgrim, which is built on this plan. In 1884 she ran on the rocks below Hell Gate, and tore ? hole in her outer bottom about 40 feet in length, but the inner skin being intact she was saved, and brought her 400 passengers and a valuable cargo safely to wharf. She was put on the dry dock, repaired, and in two weeks was on her route again.
As the Puritan has a surface above the water line of but 2 feet 6 inches, her turrets alone are targets for an enemy's guns. This gives her a great advantage over other ships.
Commissioned in December 1896, she was actively employed off Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After that conflict, she served as a Naval Academy practice ship, a receiving ship and a naval militia training vessel. Decommissioned for the final time in April 1910, Puritan was subsequently used for target duties. The old monitor was sold in January 1922.
This vessel is considerably larger than those named, being two hundred and eighty-nine feet six inches long, slightly over sixty feet wide, and eighteen feet in mean draught, with a displacement of 6060 tons. She had an indicated horse-power of 3700 and a speed of 12.4 knots per hour. Like the Monadnock, she was fitted with a twin-screw, horizontal, triple-expansion engine, and can carry a coal-supply of four hundred tons. The belt of armor of this ship tapers from fourteen inches amidships to ten inches at the bow and six inches at the stern. Her turrets are barbetted, the barbettes being plated with fourteen inches of steel armor and the turrets with eight inches. Her protective deck is plated with two inches of steel armor.
Her main armament surpassed that of any of her fellow-vessels, being composed of four 12-inch breech-loading rifles, and six 4-inch rapid-fire guns. Her secondary armament includes six 6-pounder and two l-pounder rapid-fire guns and two Hotchkiss revolving cannon.
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