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Ship Building 1869-77 - Grant, Ulysses S.

Late in the administration of Andrew Johnson, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant quarreled with the President and aligned himself with the Radical Republicans. He was, as the symbol of Union victory during the Civil War, their logical candidate for President in 1868. When he was elected, the American people hoped for an end to turmoil. Grant provided neither vigor nor reform. During his campaign for re-election in 1872, Grant was attacked by Liberal Republican reformers. He called them "narrow-headed men," their eyes so close together that "they can look out of the same gimlet hole without winking." The General's friends in the Republican Party came to be known proudly as "the Old Guard." Grant allowed Radical Reconstruction to run its course in the South, bolstering it at times with military force.

Following the Civil War the United States was at peace with all the world, with no disputes with foreign powers serious enough to call for more than the exercise of diplomacy. Again the resources of the nation were exhausted. The national treasury faced a war debt of $2,000,000,000 in round numbers. Congress was compelled to set itself to the task of financing this enormous undebtedness, of finding, the money for the rehabilitation of a country wrecked by the ruin of a four years' war. American commerce had been swept from the seas and the US had no merchant ships to protect in foreign waters. There were no apparent reasons in the years between 1865 and 1883 why the United States should build or even maintain a strong navy.

At the close of the American Civil War, the U.S. Navy had in commission more than 600 vessels. Nearly all of the new ships were wartime purchases, hastily constructed, or made from unseasoned timber. After the war, most were sold off or destroyed.

The American navy in the years immediately following the Civil war consisted of nine monitors, three ironclad cruisers of small tonnage, six modern warships of the type made famous during the war of 1812 but propelled by steam power, and a few sailing vessels. Of the nine armorclad monitors, five, the Canonicus, Jason, Lehigh Montauk and Nahant, were built during the Civil war, their keels being laid in 1862. The Canonicus had a displacement of 2,100 tons and the other four, of 1,875 tons. They were not built for cruising and their engines developed only 340 horse power and enabled them to steam from 5 to 6 knots an hour. Each was armed with two 15-inch smooth bore guns, mounted in a single turret. They were unwieldy vessels, unseaworthy, and practically useless except for harbor defense against vessels of lighter construction and less powerful guns. Yet at the time they were constructed they represented the highest type of naval construction and embodied all the modern ideas of up to date architecture.

They served the purpose for which they were built, and it is worthy of note that at the beginning of the war with Spain in 1898, the five old monitors were dragged from the obscurity of their long retirement, supplied with new boilers, their engines overhauled, and officered and manned they took their places among the warships assembled to protect the cities of the New England coast from the ravages of the Spanish fleets that were supposed to be lurking everywhere in the Atlantic, from the bleak wilds of Newfoundland to the sunny shores of Jekyl island.

For a number of years after the close of the Civil war congress clung to the tradition of the Monitor's victory of the Merrimac, and the few plans for additions to the navy refused to depart from the monitor type. In 1874 congress authorized the addition of three monitors to the navy - the Terror, the Amphitrite and the Miantonomah. They represented a great advance over the crude type of the Monitor of 1862. In displacement they recorded 3,990 tons. Their engines were capable of 1,600 horse power, and they were planned to develop a speed of 10.5 knots an hour. In armament, too, they were vastly superior to the original monitors. Instead of one revolving turret each was supplied with two, with a pair of 10-inch breech loading rifled guns in each turret. Each was supplied with a secondary battery of two 6-pounder rapid fire guns, and 9 rapid firing guns of smaller caliber.

They were also designed as cruising ships, and indeed, all three took an active part in the naval operations of the Spanish-American war, participating in the blockade of the Cuban coast and two of them accompaning Rear Admiral Sampson's fleet in his first attack on the port of San Juan, Porto Rico. But the futility of the monitor as a cruising ship was forever settled in that one expedition. Their low rate of speed only retarded the movements of the rest of the fleet, and Rear Admiral Sampson waa compelled to tow them with his faster cruisers. Still, they served a useful purpose in the blockade of Havana, the Terror even signalizing itself by running down and capturing at least one Spanish prize. Their service to the nation ended with the Spanish-American war, however, and they have long sinct been consigned to that haven of derelicts, the junk heap.

But in 1875 congress had not yet looked far enough in the future to discern the inevitable doom of the monitor type, for in that year the construction of a still larger monitor, the Puritan, was authorized. The Puritan was given a displacement of 6,060 tons, with engines of 3,700 horsepower and a speed of 12.4 knots. She was armed with four 12-inch breech loading rifled guns, mounted in pairs in two turrets, with a secondary battery of six 4-inch guns, six 6 pounders and 11 rapid fire guns of smaller caliber. The Puritan repre8ented 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.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:52:25 ZULU