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Civil War Warship Types

Civil War Ships
Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 1862, depicting several contemporary U.S. Navy ironclad and conventional warships. They are: Puritan (in the original twin-turret design); Catskill; Montauk, Keokuk (citing her original name, "Woodna"); Passaic; Galena (behind Roanoke, with name not cited); Roanoke; Winona; New Ironsides; Naugatuck; Brooklyn and Monitor.

Ironclad Frigate
Designed by Stanislas Dupuy de Lone the La Gloire was laid down in April 1858, at Toulon, to be launched 24 November 1859. Gloire, a 5630-ton broadside ironclad battleship, was completed in August 1860. The World's first seagoing armored warship, she seemingly rendered obsolete the unarmored ships-of-the-line that had previously dominated seapower among the larger Western nations. Despite her revolutionary beginnings, Gloire's active service was relatively brief, as she was soon outclassed by newer ironclads and her wooden hull deteriorated relatively swiftly.

HMS Warrior, a 9137-ton ironclad frigate, was built at Blackwall, England, and launched on 29 December 1860. The first of the Royal Navy's many ironclad capital ships, she entered service in October 1861, somewhat over a year after the completion of the French battleship Gloire opened an international competition in armored warships that was to continue for over eight decades. HMS Warrior's "ultimate technology of 1860" was represented by iron hull and soft armor, broadside batteries of short-range guns, and dual propulsion of sail and box boilers to achieve a speed of fourteen knots. Warrior was clearly the product of an industrial age. She featured an iron hull, horizontal trunk steam engine, screw propulsion, breech loading guns [rifled instead of smooth bore], better stability through the innovative configuration of her single gun deck, watertight bulkheads and a sleek clipper bow.

Lovingly preserved at the Naval Base in Portsmouth, England, are two famous ships. The first is HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. The second is HMS Warrior. On the gun decks of the Victory and on the single gun deck of the Warrior, mounted on the bulkheads by each gun are the boarding weapons to be used when the fighting got up close and personal. Despite 100 years of progress in hull design, propulsion, and weaponry-and 100 years of technological improvements in just about every other facet of ship design, the ships were basically designed to fight by the same tactics. Creatively deployed, a ship like Warrior could have forced any ship then floating to surrender without having to draw alongside. Instead, it appears that she was prepared to fight the very sort of clawing battle her innovative design and features should have rendered unnecessary. Wouldn't it seem that the point of designing a ship with greater speed, better maneuverability, heavier fire power, and superior range would be to avoid fighting on terms that permitted battles to be decided by the physical strength of the sailors and marines?

Ironclad Sloop

The second of the original three Union ironclads, USS Galena, was a 950-ton ironclad gunboat, was built at Mystic, Connecticut with a two-masted schooner rig. This conventionally-designed sloop had an unconventional horizontally-laid interlocking iron side armor plating arrangement which proved ineffective. Commissioned in April 1862 as the second of the U.S. Navy's first three armored warships, she was immediately sent to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to join the Navy's pioneer ironclad Monitor in containing CSS Virginia. By mid-1862, while serving on the James River, Virginia, her sail rigging and masts were substantially removed. After Galena left the James in September 1862, she was stationed in Hampton Roads until May 1863, when she went to Philadelphia for repairs and alterations. Recommissioned in February 1864, Galena had been stripped of her iron plating, given a heavier gun battery and enlarged sail rig, and converted into a conventional unarmored steam warship.

Ironclad Turret Ship
Two turret ironclads were laid down in 1862 by Laird Brothers for the Confederate States. Intended to become CSS Mississippi and CSS North Carolina, they were seized by the British government in 1863, purchased in 1864 and completed in October 1865 as HMS Wivern and HMS Scorpion. HMS Wivern, a 2750-ton ironclad turret ship, was built at Birkenhead, England. Ordered by the Confederate government in 1862 as one of two sisters, her true ownership was kept secret under the "cover story" that she was to become an Egyptian warship named El Monassir. Upon delivery to the Confederacy, she was to be named Mississippi. Strong diplomatic pressure by the United States led the British government to seize the two ships in October 1863, while they was fitting out. This action undoubtedly prevented the Confederate Navy from posing an extremely dangerous threat to the Federal blockade, and to the Northern seaboard, as these two ironclads would have been more than a match for all but one of the United States Navy's seagoing warships. Purchased for the Royal Navy in early 1864, the ship was renamed Wivern and completed in October 1865. She served with the Channel Fleet until 1868. Following a refit that eliminated her square sails in favor of a fore and aft rig, the turret ship served for several months in 1870 as coastguard ship at Hull but then spent nearly a decade in reserve. In 1880, Wivern was returned to active service and sent to Hong Kong as part of that colony's defenses. In 1904 she was reduced to harbor support service. HMS Wivern was sold for scrapping in June 1922.

Broadside Ironclad

USS New Ironsides, a 4120-ton broadside ironclad, was built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last, and largest, of the initial group of three "salt-water" armored warships begun in 1861 in response to meet the needs of the Civil War, she was commissioned in August 1862. Initially fitted out as an armored frigate, she was the first American seagoing ironclad and soon was stripped of her rigging, acquiring a curiously modern appearance as a consequence. Many innovations in the areas of gunnery, protection (armor), and seaworthiness made this ship far ahead of any ship of its time. Originally named USS Ironsides, the name was changed to USS New Ironsides only one month prior to her launching to avoid confusion with the wooden frigate USS Constitution's nickname "Old Ironsides." Classified as a frigate, she was intended to be a "blue-water" warship but rarely had her rigging in place during the war. In many ways, she was a better equipped and more useful warship than any of the highly publicized monitors. Within seven months after the contract was signed the New Ironsides was steaming to Charleston. Splendid white oak timbers were used in her construction. There were 120 timbers in it, each 38 feet long, 22 inches wide, and 12 inches thick, all cut within 25 miles of Philadelphia in the middle of winter, and after the contract was signed. No white oak for ship-building may be found there now, but the iron mines and the forges and the furnaces took its place. The New Ironsides had a slightly sloping armor of 4 inches of wrought-iron on her sides, and the armor served her well. The vessel was of 3580 tons displacement, had a speed of 1O knots, was 255 feet long, 56 feet broad, 12 feet deep. USS New Ironsides, a first generation ironclad, was launched two months after the famous battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in 1862, and served with distinction until the end of the Civil War. The innovative turret design of John Ericsson's USS Monitor influenced American naval construction for decades after its draw with CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads. USS New Ironsides' much greater ability to deliver and receive punishment with its fourteen 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 150 pound Parrott rifles may have changed the outcome of this famous battle had she been delivered two months earlier. Although USS New Ironsides was unique and capable, she was the only one of its class; in contrast, "monitor mania" resulted in fifty ships. Following a lengthy fitting-out period, she joined the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in January 1863. For the next year, she operated in support of the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, and took part in several attacks on the Confederate fortifications defending that city. New Ironsides's heavy broadside battery of eight heavy guns on each side, coupled with her iron protection, made her a uniquely valuable ship for bombardment purposes. She took more hits from enemy guns than any other Federal ship but did not lose a single man to them. hers endurance was unmatched; she maintained uninterrupted blockade duty for sixteen months during the siege of Charleston, South Carolina. The veteran ironclad, probably the most powerful warship of her era, was destroyed by fire in December 1865. On the night of December 15, 1866, while in mothballs after decommissioning at League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia, New Ironsides burned to the waterline and sank, the victim of an unattended stove.

Ironclad Ram

CSS Manassas, a 387-ton ironclad ram, was originally built at Medford, Massachusetts, as the screw towboat Enoch Train. Purchased in 1861 by Captain John A. Stevenson of New Orleans, she was converted to a warship at Algiers, Louisiana. Her above-water hull was reshaped to a "turtle-back" form and covered with iron plating. She was given a pointed iron ram at the bow and carried a single gun that fired forward through a small opening. Her low profile made her a difficult target, while her armor protected her against all but the most well-directed enemy gunfire. Placed in privateer service in September 1861, Manassas was soon taken over by the Confederate Navy and was formally purchased by the Government in December 1861. Continuing her employment with the Confederacy's defenses on the Lower Mississippi, Manassas played a dramatic role in the major battle that took place during the night of 24 April 1862, when U.S. Navy Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut boldly took his squadron up the river past Confederate Forts Jackson and Saint Philip to capture New Orleans. During the action off the forts, Manassas attacked the large Union warships Pensacola, Mississippi and Brooklyn. She was able to ram the last two, though not fatally, before running aground. USS Mississippi then disabled her with withering cannon fire. Abandoned and afire, Manassas drifted downstream, exploded and sank.

CSS Stonewall, a 1390-ton ironclad ram, was built in Bordeaux, France, for the Confederate Navy. Embargoed by the French government in February 1864, prior to her launching, she was subsequently sold to Denmark. Upon completion of her construction in late 1864, the Danish government would not accept delivery and her builder secretly resold her to the Confederates. The United States, which took her over after the end of the Civil War, sold the ship to Japan in August 1867. She was delivered to the Japanese Shogun's government in April 1868, then reverted to American ownership and in 1869 was turned over to the forces backing the Japanese Emperor.

Ironclad Sidewheel Ram

CSS Nashville, an ironclad side-wheel steamer, was built at Montgomery, Alabama. Launched in mid-1863, she was taken to Mobile, Alabama, for fitting out, including the addition of armor plate taken from the dismantled ironclad CSS Baltic. However, this work had not been completed at the end of the Civil War, and Nashville was surrendered to Federal forces on 10 May 1865. She was taken into the U.S. Navy after the War, but remained incomplete and was sold at New Orleans in November 1867.

USS Choctaw, a 1004-ton ironclad river gunboat and ram, was originally built in 1856 at New Albany, Indiana, as a side-wheel merchant steamer. Acquired by the Government in September 1862, her conversion to a warship was begun using plans by Commodore William D. Porter but these were altered while work was underway. Commissioned in March 1863, Choctaw was a singular-looking vessel, probably the most imposing in appearance of any of her Mississippi Squadron contemporaries. In actuality, however, she was weakly-armored and very slow.

USS Eastport, a 570-ton ironclad river gunboat and ram, was originally built at New Albany, Indiana, in 1852 as a civilian side-wheel steamer. She was being converted to an ironclad by the Confederates when Union gunboats captured her at Cerro Gordo, Tennessee in February 1862. The vessel was susequently completed by the Federals. Eastport entered U.S. service in August 1862. Following a brief operational period in the upper rivers, she went back into the shipyard for further work, and was there in October 1862 when she was transferred to the Navy. Reentering active service in early 1863, Eastport was damaged by grounding near Vicksburg, Mississippi, in February, necessitating further repairs. Back on duty by mid-1863, she participated in the Red River expedition beginning in March of the following year. On 15 April 1864, near Grand Ecore, Louisiana, Eastport was damaged by a Confederate "torpedo". Salvage was thwarted by low water levels in the falling Red River, and capture by the enemy appeared likely, so she was destroyed on 26 April.

Ironclad Casemate Ram

To break the Union blockade, the Confederates planned to unleash ironclads on a predominately wooden Union navy; it would negate the North's seagoing superiority over the South. The main problem with this ironclad schemes was that the South placed too much hope in some miracle weapon. On 20 April 1861, when Virginia authorities took over the Norfolk Navy Yard after its evacuatuation by Federal forces, they found, among other valuable items, the hulk of the steam frigate USS Merrimack. Though burned to the waterline and sunk, the big ship's lower hull and machinery were intact. During the remainder of 1861 and the first two months of 1862, the Confederate States Navy raised, drydocked and converted her into a casemate ironclad ram, a new warship type that promised to overcome the Union's great superiority in conventional warships. The confederates laid iron plates on her side, and she was renamed the CSS Virginia by the confederacy. the ship's iron armor made her virtually invulnerable to contemporary gunfire. She carried ten guns of her own, a seven-inch pivot-mounted rifle at each end and a broadside battery of two six-inch rifles and six nine-inch smoothbores. Affixed to her bow was an iron ram, allowing the ship herself to be employed as a deadly weapon. She fought in Hampton Bay against the Federal fleet and sunk several large ships. After the successful initial foray of the CSS Virginia against the wooden Union force blockading Hampton Roads, had it not been for the timely and rushed intervention of the Union ironclad USS Monitor, the Virginia might indeed have wreaked havoc on the North.

The lesson learned by the South at Hampton Roads was the wrong one-that a single powerful ironclad could sweep the seas of Northern ships. Richmond insisted on building single ironclads at various points in the South-with underpowered engines, poor armor plating, and ordnance inadequate to confront a similarly iron-clad, numerically superior US Navy.

CSS Arkansas, an ironclad ram, was built at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1861-62. Incomplete when Union forces closed in on Memphis in May 1862, she was towed up the Yazoo River to Yazoo City, Mississippi, and finished as far as circumstances allowed.

Dunderberg, a 7060-ton casemate ironclad ram, was built at New York City beginning in 1862. Launched in July 1865, she was not formally taken over by the US Navy, which had little need for her after the end of the Civil War. The contract between the Government and Mr. William H. Webb, the builder, called for the furnishing of the vessel at a cost of $1,250,000, whereas the cost of her construction was over $2,000,000. She was legally returned to her builder in 1867 and was soon sold to France. This formidable vessel was said at the time to be the largest, stanchest, and most easily-handled engine of naval warfare which has yet been built in this or any other country. Her motive power is ample, her sea-goiing qualities admirable, and her speed is such that she can be managed with equal facility in an ordinary harbor and upon the broad ocean. Extreme length, 387 feet 4 inches; extreme beam, 70 feet 10 inches; depth of main hold, 21 feet 7 inches; height of casemate, 7 feet 9 inches; length of ram, 50 feet; draught of water when ready for sea, 21 feet; tonnage, 5090 tons; weight of iron armor, 1000 tons. This immense frigate displaces 7000 tons of water. Renamed Rochambeau by the French Navy, the ship had relatively brief service and was broken up in 1874.

Ironclad Floating Battery

In 1841, New Jersey businessmen Robert L. and Edwin A. Stevens proposed the construction of a fast armored steamer to defend New York harbor. After consideration by both the Navy and the Congress, the Stevens brothers received a contract for such a vessel in February 1843 and began building the ship at Hoboken, New Jersey. This visionary project, which came to be called the "Stevens Battery", represented a number of significant advances in warship technology. However, it rapidly grew beyond the available Government finances, absorbed a great deal of the Stevens' own money and went on for over three decades without coming anywhere close to completion. By the time of the Civil War the Navy had little interest in completing the ship, which would have been far too large for use against the Confederacy. A much smaller vessel, produced in 1861-62 to demonstrate some of the "Stevens Battery"'s proposed armament features, briefly served in 1862 as USS Naugatuck, but official enthusiasm for the larger vessel was never rekindled. However, Edwin Stevens never abandoned hope, and upon his death in 1868 left a large bequest to the State of New Jersey to finish the project. Though work resumed, with the design brought up to date with the idea of perhaps completing the Battery as a large, fast single-turret monitor, by 1874 the available funds were exhausted with the ship still far from completion. The "Stevens Battery" was ultimately broken up on her building ways, according to some sources as early as 1874-75 though others date place the project's end about a decade later.

CSS Georgia, a 250-foot long ironclad floating battery, was built at Savannah, Georgia, in 1862. Though similiar in appeareance to the Virginia, this vessel was not a ram. She was used to protect the river approaches to Savannah during 1863-1864. Georgia was destroyed to prevent capture when Union land forces threatened to take the city. Since she lacked effective locomotive power the Confederates found it necessary to fire and destroy her during the evacuation of Savannah on 21 December 1864.

Ironclad River Gunboat

On the Mississippi River ironclads functioned in almost every conceivable capacity: against fixed fortifications, against other ironclads, against wooden ships, as rams, and in support of army operations. For heavy combat, the Union's Western Flotilla squadron relied upon its ironclads. Their firepower and armor protection allowed them to trade blows with any enemy, ashore or afloat.

Seven of the squadron's ironclads were built to a common design, created for the War Department in 1861 by a US Navy "constructor" named Samuel M. Pook. "Pook Turtles" was the nickname given to seven Cairo class, also known as the "City" class, so called because each was named after a midwestern river town. The seven were the Cairo, Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburg, and St. Louis (later renamed the Baron De Kalb). On August 7, 1861, the War Department contracted with James B. Eads to construct the vessels. The gunboats, which cost $100,000 each, were all named for cities on western rivers. Besides the St. Louis, there were the Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Cairo, and Pittsburgh. Each round-nosed, flat-bottomed vessel was 175 feet long and 51.5 feet wide and drew only 6 feet of water. The Cairo, a "Pook Turtle," was the first warship in the world to be sunk by a mine ("torpedo").

The approved tactic for bombarding a fort was to fight it head-on from the downstream side of the fort-head-on to take advantage of the ironclad's heaviest armor (located on the forward surfaces), and from the downstream direction because the boats handled better with their bows facing the current. Moreover, by approaching the fort from downstream, any vessel disabled by enemy fire would drift to safety, away from the enemy guns. The range of engagement could be quite short-the ironclads might close to within 100 yards of the fortification, blasting with grape and exploding shell in an attempt to break down the earthen parapet (front wall) of the fort and disable its guns. Ironclads were also highly effective in combat against other vessels on those increasingly rare occasions when Confederate boats challenged the Mississippi River Squadron.


The tinclads were shallow-draft vessels and ideal for rivers. But they were not heavily armored enough to withstand the fire of field guns from the shore. The deeper draft ironclads were necessary against fortifications and heavier riverbank ordnance. The light draught vessels, or "tinclads," were, like the rams, modified riverboats, but by 1863, they were much more important to the day-to-day business of the squadron. Tinclads provided the naval presence that kept waterways under Union control, even when the riverbanks belonged to the Confederates. The tinclads got their name from the iron plating, 1/2-inch to 3/4 -inch thick, that protected the power plant and pilot house from small-arms fire. To drive off "bushwhackers," the typical tinclad mounted six 24-pounder howitzers facing to the sides, more than enough firepower to cope with most threats. Tinclads could even double as troop transports in joint operations, each one carrying up to 200 infantry. Their shallow draft enabled them to prowl waterways inaccessible to heavier war vessels. Some tinclads could float on as little as eighteen inches of water when lightly loaded. Diverse and dangerous duties in Mobile Bay and in nearby streams kept the "tinclad" busy until almost the end of the Civil War.

USS Glide, a 232-ton stern-wheel "Tinclad" river gunboat, was built in 1863 at Murraysville, Virginia. Purchased by the Navy late in that year and converted to a gunboat (wearing the "tinclad" identification number "43"), she was initially sent to New Orleans, for service on the Western Rivers. USS Signal, a 190-ton stern-wheel "tinclad" river gunboat, was built in 1862 at Wheeling, Virginia, for commercial use. Acquired by the Navy in August 1862, she was commissioned a few months later. USS Peosta, a 204-ton side-wheel "tinclad" river gunboat, was built in 1857 at Cincinnati, Ohio, for civilian employment. Purchased by the Navy in June 1863, she was converted to a gunboat and commissioned the following October. USS Saint Clair, a 203-ton stern-wheel "tinclad" river gunboat, was built in 1862 at Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, for commercial use. Acquired by the Navy in August 1862, she was placed in commission the following month.

USS Tyler, a 575-ton "timberclad" gunboat, was converted from the commercial side-wheel steamship A.O. Tyler, which had been built in 1857 at Cincinnati, Ohio. Acquired in June 1861 for the Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla, she was commissioned in September. USS Essex, a 1000-ton river gunboat, was converted in stages from the steam ferry New Era. Originally constructed at New Albany, Indiana, in 1856, the ship was purchased in September 1861 by the U.S. Army for its Western Gunboat Flotilla, an organization maintained, operated, and controlled by the Army but commanded by a naval officer. The ferry was converted into a 355-ton timberclad gunboat by James B. Eads of St. Louis, and retaining the name New Era, she took part in an expedition up the Cumberland River in November 1861 [Renamed Essex soon thereafter, she received iron armor and other changes and was then actively employed in operations during early 1862].

A total of 14 ships belonging to Charles Morgan's Southern S. S. Co., were impressed as public vessels at New Orleans, 15 January 1862, by Maj. Gen. Mansfield Lovell, CSA, acting for Secretary of War Benjamin. The original intention was to arm them all as cottonclad rams to defend the Delta, but further consideration argued in favor of smaller, low-pressure steam towboats, with lower fuel consumption and easier to shield for battle, and few of the high-pressure seagoing steamers were used for this essentially inappropriate role. Although equipped with low-pressure steam plant, Texas was considered too large for a cottonclad ram; she proved far more valuable as a Government-operated blockade runner.

CSS Governor Moore, a 1215-ton side-wheel "cotton-clad" ram, was originally the civilian steamship Charles Morgan, which had been built at New York in 1854. Seized at New Orleans in January 1862, she was converted to a warship by the State of Louisiana and attached to the Confederacy's Mississippi River Defense Fleet. As a gunboat, renamed for the State's Governor, her stem was reinforced for ramming by two strips of flat railroad iron at the waterline, strapped and bolted in place, with pine lumber and cotton-bale barricades to protect her boilers. Defiance, a high pressure steamer, was built at Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849. She was purchased for the Confederate Army, in the latter part of 1861. Capt. J. E. Montgomery, a former river steamboat captain, selected her to be part of his River Defense Fleet. On 25 January 1862 he began to convert her into a cottonclad ram by placing a 4-inch oak sheath with a one-inch iron covering on her bow, and by installing double pine bulkheads filled with compressed cotton bales. General Bragg, originally Mexico, was impressed her for Confederate service on 15 January 1862. On 25 January the Confederates ordered her conversion to a cottonclad ram with a 4-inch oak sheath and a 1-inch iron covering on her bow, and double pine bulkheads filled with compressed cotton bales. CSS General Bragg in 1862 and was captured off Memphis, Tennessee, on 6 May of that year. Following repairs, she entered Federal service and operated along the Mississippi River and its tributaries during the rest of 1862 and into 1863.

Mortar Boat
If the tinclads were the most versatile, certainly the most specialized instruments at Porter's disposal were the mortar boats. These were unpowered scows or rafts, each carrying one squat, kettle-shaped 13-inch siege mortar. The mortar itself weighed 17,120 pounds. With a full 20-pound charge, it could lob a 200-pound shell a distance of over two miles. During the siege of Vicksburg, thirteen mortar boats anchored on the western side of De Soto point, from where they maintained a steady barrage against the invested city.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:58 ZULU