In 1852, the Austro-Hungarian Navy’s high command proposed the construction of a modern steam frigate, to be declined into a class of three vessels, the first built in Britain and the two others in Austria, bringing with it valuable technological and engineering lessons. SMS Radetzky and her sister ships Donau and Adria were modern frigates of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, a bit wider and shorter than the previous SMS Novara (1850). They were not built in Austria, which lacked large facilities and expertise to make them, but were ordered to Money, Wigram & Sons of London for the lead vessel.
The lead ship was named after nobleman and field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz and launched in 1854. She participated in the Battle of Heligoland during the Second Schleswig War in 1864 and the Battle of Lissa, but sank due to the explosion of her powder magazine off Vis, Croatia.
Austro-Prussian Squadron after its defeat, in Cuxhaven: SMS Schwarzenberg and Radtesky on the foreground.
The construction of the SMS Adria ordered at the San Marco Shipyard (Tonello brothers, Muggia) started when laid down in 1855. She was launched on 24 November 1856 in presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Empress Elisabeth, from the corvette Kaiserin Elisabeth. She was completed in 1857 and entered active service in the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine on 1 July. Like her sisters she had a three square-rigging, bowsprit and mainsail for 2,711 m² total of sail area. She was propelled by the same horizontal cylinder drive unit on three shafts, working at 300 PSi for a top speed of 9.5 knots (17.59 km/h). She was a bit larger than the lead ship at 2,198 tons standard and 2,430 GRT, 64.02 m long for 13.09 m in beam and 5.2 m of draft. Her crew comprised 368 officers and ratings.
Her armament when completed was four 60-pdr howitzers, twenty-four 30-pdr mortars, three breech-loading 24-pdr pieces, and two swivel-mounted 2-pdr for close quarters, plus ample provision of rifles and grenades.
As for SMS Donau, she was also ordered at the San Marco Shipyard, of Tonello bros. in 1853, but laid down in 1855 at the “Squero Cadetti”. She was launched on 20 November 1856 in the presence of Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg. Completed in 1857 she was soon under service. Her specifications were the same as SMS Adria, but with a 2,334 tons displacement, 3 shafts and the same steam engine capable of 9 knots (16.67 km/h) and a Crew of 368. Her armament was the same until upgraded in 1864 (see below).
56(wl), 69(oa) x 12 m x 5 m
1 shaft HT 2cyl, 2 Boilers 8 kts
16x 30lb, 4× 60-pdr Paixhans, 2× 24-pdr, 2× 4-pdr
Adria on it.wikipedia.org Donau on it.wikipedia.org/
“Southampton”. Evening Mail. No. 13153. London. 14 April 1854. p. 5. Retrieved 5 December 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
“Nsval and Military Intelligence”. The Sun. No. 20013. London. 11 August 1856. p. 4. Retrieved 5 December 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
“Military and Naval Intelligence”. The Times. No. 22488. London. 2 October 1856. p. 10. Retrieved 5 December 2022 – via Gale.
“The Austrian frigate Radetzky”. No. Volume: 54, Issue: 1529. The Illustrated London News. 13 March 1869. p. 269. Retrieved 18 April 2021. “The terrible disaster which happened on the, 20th ult. to the Austrian frigate Radetzky, by the blowing up of the powder-magazine and total destruction of the ship, while cruising off Lissa, in the Adriatic, has been mentioned in this Journal. Only twenty three men were saved, and most of these had suffered more or less injury. The Radetzky, which was built in England, was a wooden frigate of 1826 tons, 300-horse power, and 30 guns, and had 368 men on board, mostly recruits. This ship took an active part in the fight against the Danes before Heligoland in 1864. She was not engaged in the naval battle of Lissa in 1866, but most of the officers on board were; and Captain Danfalik, who commanded, was there on board the ship Donau”
Chesneau, Roger; Kolesni, Eugene. Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1860–1905.
Scotti, Giacomo. Lissa, 1866. La grande battaglia per l’Adriatico. Trieste, Lint.
“SMS Graf Radetzky (+1869)”. Wrecksite. 2017-06-04.
D. Zeljko Selak (2014-04-26). “Commemoration and scientific conference ‘Viški memento’ held”. hrsvijet.
“Last Clash of Wooden Warships: Heligoland 1864”. Iron Mike Magazine.
The construction of SMS Graf Radetsky from the British shipyard Money, Wigram & Sons in London in 1852, was followed by a launch on 13 April 1854, and she entered service in the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine in September 1854, arriving in Trieste on 11 November. She was in maintenance in 1859 and by the autumn of 1860, under command of Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm von Tegetthoff she sailed in Syrian waters.
By 1864, she took part in the Second Schleswig War, in von Tegetthoff’s naval squadron sent in the North Sea to coalize with the Prussians to break Denmark’s naval blockade against Schleswig-Holstein and from March 8, all Prussian ports. With SMS Schwarzenberg which acted as flagship she took part in the battle of Heligoland on May 9 against the Danish naval squadron (Commodore Eduard Suenson).
Later she took part in the third Italian War of Independence, under command of Captain Josef von Aurnhammer, assigned to the 2nd Division (Anton von Petz) of von Tegetthoff’s naval squadron and took part in the battle of Lissa in 1866 (all three of the class took part). She was engaged against Italian units from RADM Admiral Giovanni Vacca’s division. She survived the battle with very few casulaties and returned to her peactime duties.
She was the first of the class to be lost, due to an internal explosion at 10:00 on 20 February 1869, off Lissa Island, killing 344 of her crew of 368. Her wreck was rediscovered by Croatian navy minesweepers HRM Korčula in 2014, under 90 m near the island of Vis.
On July 20, 1857, Adria left the harbor of Trieste for the squadron’s summer maneuvers, stopping at Brindisi, Naples, Livorno, Alexandria, Corfu, and back to Fiume on 29 september. By April 1859, she took part in the second Italian war of independence, present in the Spignon Canal and Malamocco when blockading Venice. In 1861, she took part in the blockade of Durazzo, and in 1863 became a training ship for naval cadets.
In 1866, she was involved in the Third Italian War of Independence assigned to the Second Division, under command of Commodore Anton von Petz and Rear Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff’s Naval Squadron. On July 20, under command of Fregattenkapitän Adolf Daufalik she took part in the battle of Lissa, firing 221 shots and receivinh 27 hits in return for the loss of only two crewmen, three more seriously injured, two 2 lightly wounded.
On 1 October 1868, she returned to her cadet instructional duties and made a cruise with the Marineakademie in Rijeka. Departing from Fiume, she stopped in Pola, Messina, Naples, Zara, Lissa, and back to her gome port. Later she had her artillery modified with newer guns to serve at the Pola Artillery School as a gunnery training ship. On 1 August 1870 she was disarmed and stricken. Hulked, by December 1872 her boilers machineru and funnel were all removed, the bridge was covered by a fixed wooden roof and she served for 18 years as a floating barrack. By 1st October 1 1888 at last she was sold for BU.
Her early years of service since 1857 were without notable incident, she took part in cruisers and yearly manoeuvers with the fleet squadron. She underwent a modernization between 1863 and 1864 with an all-new armament of six Paixhans 60-pdr guns, forty 24-pdr smoothbore guns and four 24-pounder breech-loading rifled guns. In 1866 after the outbreak of the Third Italian War of Independence, she was part of the Second Division commanded by Commodore Anton von Petz as part of RADM W. von Tegetthoff’s Naval Squadron.
She was commanded by Maximilian von Pittner during the battle of Lissa, only loosing a single crew member, Marsgast August Arnold.
Between 1868 and 1871, she carried out an educational and diplomatic trip to Japan, with the corvette S.M. Erzherzog Friedrich. She made several Mediterranean cruise, the last being made between 30 June and 15 September 1872 with students of the Naval Academy aboard. When back, she was directly laid up and scrapped.
Austro-Hungarian Navy 1843-1900, SMS Novara, Schwarzenberg
The Novara class was one of two largely similar, but not sister-ships, two frigates with various interesting backstories and fates, with long and illustrious career for the Austro-Hungarian Navy. At thei design core, two typical sailing frigates whch later received steam engine. Powerfully armed, with a large sail area, and quite large for Mediterranean theater, both took part in the Battle of Lissa, and saw the 1880s an the radical transformation and modernization of the fleet.
These were the first modern, large steam frigates of the new Austro-Hungarian Navy. But since the rising Empire lacked facilities and expertise for large warship construction, they were built in Venice Naval Yard. The first of the two near-sister, SMS Novara, was in reality the ex-sailing frigate Minerva, laid down on 4 November 1843, but still not launched years after. She was partially completed when renamed “Italia” by Venetian revolutionaries in 1848. Finally she would be launched with the name “Novara” in 1850:
The name commemorated the Austrian Vicory of Novara in March 1849, as following the Austrians’ retaking of Venice in August 1849, Field Marshal Radetzky visited the shipyard and saw the “Italia” in construction there; Officers petitioned him to have the the frigate take for the Austrian Navy and renamed renamed in honour of his victory over King Charles Albert. Construction restarted under Austrian supervision and the completed hull left the slipway in November 1850. Novara entered service for the Austrian Navy and had a ten years sail-only career.
Overview of the ship, profiles and deck plans
Novara in 1861 and 1862
A world tour under sails
SMS Novara made a circumnavigation of the earth lasting from April 1857 to August 1859. This was an important journey of research and exploration which brought enough material and data to create the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. A team of brillant natural scientists were part of the trip like Georg Ritter von Frauenfeld, curator in the invertebrate department of the Imperial museums. The volume of materual collected was so important searchers are still making discoveries today.
The Novara expedition of 1857–1859 was also a world’s first: The first large-scale scientific and round-the-world mission of that scale, for the Austrian Imperial navy. One of the goals was to dicover potential colonial investments and interesting trade spots for the young Austrian Trade Company. Authorized aboardnd blessed by Archduke Maximillian, the journey of the largest Austrian Frigate lasted two years three months total.
To be exact, it started on 30 April 1857, until 30 August 1859 under command of Kommodore Bernhard von Wüllerstorf-Urbair. The crew comprised 345 officers and rating but the scientific team comprised seven scientists with a lot of equipments. Preparation were made at the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Specialized scholars under the geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter and zoologist Georg von Frauenfeld recruited the scientist and planned the exploration in detail.
Engineer Selleny’s drawing of the interior
During the expedition, the team gathered the first coca plant to be examined, notably when stopping at St. Paul in the Nicobar Islands, and on New Zealand. The latter island received the first thorough and precise first geological mapping by Hochstetter. The oceanographic research done in the South Pacific collected samples at various dephts, made an earl underwater mapping, collected hundreds of species and revolutionized both oceanography and hydrography in their time.
The total of botanical and zoological collections amounted to 26,000 preparations as well as cultural artefacts collected in these islands, which considerably enriched the Austrian museums as a whole. Another scientist of note was Johann Natterer, a veteran scientist whioch already collected specimens for the Viennese Natural Museum for 18 years in South America. Geomagnetic observations all along the expedition boosted the field of study in an unprecedented way, and contributed to scientific knowledge. From the coca plant leaves, the first pure cocaine was produced in 1860.
Expedition book cover
These results were compiled into a 21-binder report, now still exposed at the Viennese Academy of Sciences: The “Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde (1861–1876)” published several times in various forms and extract along the following decades. The english-language account was published in three volumes by Karl Von Scherzer. Among others, the frigate visited Gibraltar, Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, St. Paul island, Ceylon, Madras, Nicobar Islands, Singapore, Batavia, Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Puynipet Island, Stewart Island or Stuart Island, Sydney, Auckland, Tahiti, Valparaíso, Gravosa, before heding for Trieste.
The result was a book that was very important at the time, reproduced to 30,000 copies and second most successful popular scientific work in German language after von Humboldt’s 5-volume Cosmography. The 1200 pages, richly illustrated were titled: Karl von Scherzer: “Narrative of the Circumnavigation of the Globe by the Austrian Frigate “Novara” (B. von Wullersdorf-Urbair,) Undertaken by Order of the Imperial Government, Under the Immediate Auspices of His I. and R. Highness the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, Commander in-Chief of the Austrian Navy.”
Then, she was towed to Trieste’s San Rocco Naval Yard, to be completed as a steam frigate, screw-driven with the help of STT yard. But the conversion only took place between 1861 and 1865, so ten years after. For this, the Austro-Hungarian yard had to basically cut the hull in the middle to add a large section in order to house the 2-cyclinder horizontal steam engine, single screw, four-bladed. The hull was also much strenghtened to cope with the extra lenght and displacement. She also had an interested mix of armament and the largest crew for an Austrian steam frigate, 550 officers and ratings.
Novara in Martinique 1864
An important part of her early carrier was to carry in April 1864 Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife Charlotte to Veracruz for their establishment as the new Emperor and Empress of Mexico during the Second Mexican Empire (with the full support of French Emperor Napoleon III). She arrived in port on 28 May 1864 but his reign, back by French troops, was short. The hated regimed ended iona bloody revolution and 3 years later, Maximilian I of Mexico was captured and executed by the constitutional Mexican government headed by Benito Juárez. Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff arrived against with SMS Novara to bring his body to Austria, arriving in Trieste on 16 January 1868.
Noavara at Lissa
But the shining point of her career was incontestably the Battle of Lissa: On 20 July 1866 she was part of the Austrian fleet, formed in a wedge, off the island of Vis, as part of von Tegetthoff’s 2nd Division. She was commanded by Baron Anton von Petz, as flagship, alongside other wooden steam warships and as captain, had a Swedish naval officer named Erik af Klint. The latter was killed during the battle. Indeed, the vessel led the line, and under Kommodor von Petz took the 2nd Division exchanged broadside fire on the Italian rear, in direction of the 3rd Division.
Facing ironclads, Von Petz still hold his formation despite punishing damage and little on Italian vessels. SMS Novara was hit 47 times, killing many gunners, salors, officers includung the captain, and SMS Erzherzog Friedrich took a shell below the waterline while SMS Schwarzenberg eventually was completely destroyed, unable to steer and set afire and adrift.
SMS Novara served afterwards for another decade 1867-1877, and she was eventually examined in 1879, but estimated in poor conditions. She was not to be modernized due to the age of her wooden hull and instead, hulked in 1881, as permanently anchired training ship and broken up 18 years later, in 1899.
SMS Schwarzenberg’s design was generally similar to Novara. She came from Venice arsenal too, towed and convered back in Austria, in 1861/62 at the Arsenal of Pola. She had been launched a first time on April 23, 1853, and after conversion was relaunched on April 11, 1862. As modernized, she displaced 1871 tons standard and 2,656 tons fully loaded. After conversion her draft went to 6.20 m and 6.50 fully loaded. She kept her frigate sail so to ensure best performances and sparing for long cruise her engine. The latter was a CP type steam with an output of 400 hp for 11 knots on steam alone. Under sail in optimal conditions she could reach about 12 kts. Before conversion she carried fifty-four 30-pounders, six 60-pounders. After conversion she was rearmed with just four 60-pounders on rails for a 90° arc of fire.
She also had two deck smoothbore 15.0 cm guns, while her main battery deck housed forty two 30-pounders. She also had four towed 24-pounders. From 1866 she carried thirty-six smoothbore 30-pounders, six smoothbore 60-pounders, four rifled 24-pounder breech-loaders, and to arm the crew for landing parties and close battles, some 200 rifles, 100 pistols, 36 revolvers, and 170 sabres. After her 1876 refit she carried eight modern rifled Krupp 15.0 cm guns, two 7.0 cm guns and still a provision of 104 carbines, 24 revolvers and 28 sabers. Her crew comprised 557 men as a sailing frigate, down to 498 as screw frigate alone.
1855 Schwarzenberg Specifications
74 oa/64.40m pp x 14.88 m x 6.50 m
1 shaft 2-cyl H engine 1,700 ihp, 11 kts
6× 60-pdr Paixhans, 40× 30-pdr BL, 4× 24-pdr BLR
Career of SMS Schwarzenberg
In Pola in 1955
After her commissioning in 1854, SMS Schwarzenberg served mainly in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1859 she was deployed in the Sardinian War, patrolling the Spignon Canal. In 1860 she was deployed to protect Austrian interests in Sicily and Naples. On October 17, 1861, she was rebuilt at Pola and had for new commander, Wilhelm von Tegetthoff himself. She cruised the eastern Mediterranean and visited Alexandria, Port Said, Jaffa, Beirut, Larnaca and Rhodes.
Painting of the battle by Ludwig Rubelli von Sturmfest
Closing on Smyrna on February 27, 1864, she met an Austrian Lloyd steamer, from which she received the order to march to the North Sea, for an operation in cooperation with the Prussian Navy against the Danish Navy (German-Danish War). Ammunition and coal were loaded in Corfu in March. She stopped in Malta, then Gibraltar and Algiers. On March 16, she already captured the Danish brig Grethe (Captain Jans Jansen), brought to Pola by a prize crew. She arrived in Cuxhaven on May 4th. Five days later she took part in the battle of Heligoland, as a flagship of the Austrian squadron.
At around 13:59, she opened fore on the Danish line at 3,500 m, and during the fight, closed down to 380 m. She received incendiary shots which set alight her foremast, and the fire rage on until after the battle. The fallen were buried in Ritzebüttel on May 11. On May 24, Max von Sterneck took command in place of Tegetthoff. By July 22-30 she was docked in Bremerhaven, receiving a new foremast. She remained in the North Sea until the end of the war and peace negociations, and orders to get back home in the beginning of October. She arrived in Pola on December 21, 1864 to be drydock for a long maintenance and refit. Her severed mast was recovered and acquired by King George of Hanover, in Herrenhausen and by 1938 taken to Vienna.
In repait in Cuxhaven after the battle
Battle of Lissa and fate
Wilhelm von Tegetthoff and crew, 1864
In 1865, SMS Schwarzenberg was sent in the Levant (Lebanese-Syrian coast) as flagship under overall command of Rear Admiral Tegetthoff. In February 1866 she was refitted in Pola for a long trip to East Asia and South America, later cancelled due to the rise of tensions with Prussia and Italy. On July 20, 1866, indeed war broke with Italy and she took part in the naval battle of Lissa under command of captain Georg Milossich. In the same division as her sister Novara, which was the lead vessel and flagship, she fired 286 rounds but received nine hits from the Italian ironclads, wounding only two. But damage was so considerable she was set adrift and no longer took part in the battle.
In 1869, like her sister but sooner, she was converted as a stationary hulk, a training ship in Pola. She was stricken from the list on November 25, 1890, and broken up.
SMS Schwarzenberg at Heligoland
“The Crustacean Collection of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna” (history), Peter C. Dworschak & Verena Stagl, 3rd Zoological Dept., Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna
“Novara-Expedition” (port-by-port description), Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, 2005, webpage: KHM-Novara-Expedition
“The Austrian Imperial Frigate SMS Novara” (history + photos), Michael Organ, 25 October 2006, Australian webpage
Organ, Michael (March 5, 2001). “Incident at Sikayana: A so-called Outrage carried out upon the Inhabitants of the Stewart Islands, by the Crew of the Austrian Frigate Novara, 16-17 October 1858”. Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia: University of Wollongong. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
Scherzer, Karl (1861–1863). Narrative of the circumnavigation of the Globe by the Austrian frigate Novara. London: Saunders, Otley & Co. Available online from copies digitized by various libraries. Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin (monochrome): BBM
Donko, Wilhelm, “An Austrian View of the Philippines. The Austrian Scientist Karl von Scherzer on his visit in Manila aboard the frigate “Novara” in June 1858″. Published by epubli.de, Berlin 2012, 176 pages
“Embarkation of the Body of the Late Emperor Maximillian at Vera Cruz, Mexico”, The Illustrated London News, 11 January 1868, p. 32
Sieche, Erwin F. (1990). “Austria-Hungary’s Last Visit to the USA”. Warship International. XXVII (2): 142–164.
Treffer, G. (ed.), Die Weltumseglung der Novara, 1857-1859 (“The Round-the-World Voyage of the Novara”)
Turner, Brian, “Novara: Austria’s Ship of Fate” from “Heligoland Bight – Wooden Ship’s Last Sea Battle (9 May 1864)”
The twisted origins of the first Japanese Ironclad
The “ship with five lives”
Kotetsu was quite unique as being an ironclad changing at least five or six times names and flags during her 20-years long career. She was planned for the Confederate navy under cover, first laid down as the Egyptian ship “Sphinx”, then during construction as the Danish “Stærkodder” to fight Prussia, transferred after completion to the Condeferacy as USS Stonewall, making a single sortie before the capitulation, being purchased by the Cuban Spanish fleet, then to the US Navy, and resold to a Japanese Faction in the Boshin War, the Tokugawa Shogunate. From 1871 she became IJN Azuma, the first Imperial Japanese ironclad, a flag under which she served until 1888.
CSS Sphinx/Stonewall (1863-65)
Soon after the start of the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy planned to either convert and acquire ironclads ships they knew could break the Union blockade created since the start of hostilities. The ex Union Frigate Merrimack was being converted, and at the same time, a commission was sent in Europe to order one or several ironclad vessels.
In June 1863 John Slidell, Confederate commissioner to France asked Emperor Napoleon III in a private audience if it would be possible to build an ironclad in France. However this, for a recognized belligerent was illegal under French law. Slidell and his agent James D. Bulloch however would find simpathy from the Emperor of France, which had the time had many personal and business connections in Souther States. They were confident he would be able to circumvent these laws. Eventually Negociations succeeded with Arman Bros. Yards in Bordeaux (SW France), with the official sanction of Emperor Napoleon III. The ironclad ram was built for the Confederate Navy, but under cover of a sell to Egypt at first as “Sphinx”. Napoleon made clear their destination would remain a secret.
View of the Sphinx in construction in Bordeaux, forward forecastle turret.
In July 1863, Bulloch signed a contract with Lucien Arman at the head of the Bordeaux-based yard, a French shipbuilder which was recommended due to its personal ties with Napoleon III. The initial plan was even to build not a single, but a pair of ironclad rams, each capable of breaking the blockade. To avoid suspicion, their guns were manufactured separately without informations about their destination. Both vessels were initially named “Cheops” and “Sphinx”, spreading rumors about a sell to the Egyptian Civilian Navy as trade and transport teamers, on which nobody enquired.
View of the Sphinx in construction in Bordeaux: The ram bow and forward gun port.
However in 1863 the white house made an official warning not to sell any armaments to the Confederacy under threats of ending displomatic relations. In fact, the Arman shipyard clerk betrayed his boss for personal divergences, and went straight into the U.S. Minister’s office in Paris with a wallet containing documents proving clearly Arman’s intention to arm the vessels, and that he was in contact with Confederate agents. It was not long before the US attaché, under orders fro the White House, rushed into Napoleon III’s office and had the French government blocking the sale. Arman however had a ackup plan. Rather than Egypt, now that the ships were known to be armed, he declared having new owners and that contracts had been signed both by Denmark and Prussia as the Second Schleswig War was looming. Cheops even had a document attesting she was to be sold to Prussia as Prinz Adalbert, and Sphinx to Denmark as “Stærkodder”, on 31 March 1864.
Launch of Sphinx in 1864
So the armoured ram steamer, already laid down in 1863 was now planned to be under cover of a sale to Denmark, by the time hard-pressed by Prussia for territorial concessions (which would end with the Second Schleswig War in 1864). This became the official version and credible cover, allowing the Yard to proceed with the construction without alarming more Union delegates in France. The true project however later was no longer to resell the vessel to the Confederacy. Arman really hoped a sell to Denmark. There was no undervover resell prospect not agreement between the Confederacy and Denmark, which really needed the ship.
The “Stærkodder”, as named from 31 March 1864, was eventually launched on 21 June 1864, completed in January 1865 and presented to Denmark. Danish sailors arrived in Bordeaux before her commission. She was completed and awaited commission, departing with this Danish crew from Bordeaux, for her shakedown cruise, on 21 June 1864. The crew tested her seaworthiness and performances. Meanwhile final negotiations for transfer were conducted between the Danish Naval Ministry and Arman.
The final price caused issues, the Danish Government notably asking compensation from the company for delays (as the war was now in full swing with Prussia), and problems reported during early trials. This led to and eventual completed breakdown of negociations on 30 October. This did not prevented nevertheless HDMS Stærkodder to be en route for Copenhagen, from 25 October. The Danish government refused to relinquish her, despite their apparent refusal, claiming confusion in regards to the negotiations and she indeed arrived in Copenhagen, on 10 November.
The ship as completed with her Danish crew
However the war ended on 30 October 1864 (This infortunate ship was a few days late in two wars as we will see). There, she was anchored in the Orlogsværftet dockyard in January 1865, pending her fate. It should be noted that SMS Prinz Adalbert was delivered effectively to Prussia and active until 1878. She will be seen in a standalone post, as noticealbly different.
However the position of Denmark at that stage was that they were not concerned by the non-belligence stance adopted by major powers, ship-builders like France or UK. The Danish Navy had a ship no longer needed as the war just ended, and authorities felt free to transfer her ownership via a newly signed contract to the Confederacy, whuich already had delegates in Stocckholm, hoping for precisely that decision. On 6 January 1865, she was renamed CSS Stonewall after the famous Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, and the flag was hoisted under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Page.
However, the crew being still Danish (it was quite difficult to muster a confederate crew on site), she was still commanded by a Danish captain. This did not prevented her departure, after coaling, in order to cross the Atlantic. At that stage, although the situation was desperate in the south, but there was still time to attempt an offensive against the blockade. Thus, her short confederate career started (see later).
Design of Stonewall/Kotetsu
CSS Stonewall in 1865
Hull and construction details
Compared to France’s early ironclads, Stonewall was rather small. She was an ironclad ram, with a few heavy guns, but her ram was a primarly weapon alongside artillery. She displaced 1,390 long tons (1,410 t) for a lenght of 186 ft 9 in (56.9 m) overall, a beam of 32 ft 6 in (9.9 m) and draft of 14 ft 3 in (4.3 m).
Therefore her most distinctive feature was a promiment ram bow, protruding way well forward of her hull, perhaps seven meters (300 feets) from her forward forecastle deck. It was well reinforced too, with an upper thick reinforced iron piece, thick and large iron socket, and upper bow piece. The rest of the ship was merely wooden but the forecastle was protected by vertical iron plating 5.5 in (140 mm) thick, as the bow (2 or 4 in).
The deck plan, showing her gun arrangement
Her general silhouette was one of a brig, and she was rigged as such with a three square sails foremast, bowsprit and focsails, and aft mainmast with two squares and a trapezoid boom sail. The helm was located on the aft forecastle deck. She had an aft ovale platform for a traversing gun, while her single, tall funnel and access to her engine room was in the center. She carried also five service boats all in davits, two either side and one at the poop. As for the crew she carried 135 officers and sailors. The deck view shows also her “rectangle” shape, quite bulky, which made her poorly steerable and sluggish at the helm.
She had a waterline belt with 4.5 in (114 mm) plating backed by teak, the aft turret had 5.5 in (140 mm) walls, all in wrought iron. Her protective design scheme was intended to withstand 15-inch (381 mm) guns hits. Her armored belt extended 2.12 meters (6 ft 11 in) below the waterline, backed by 15 inches teak. Above it was 12 centimeters (4.7 in) amidships, tapering to 9 cm (3.5 in) towards the bow and stern. The was an upper strake of armor, 76 mm (3 in). The turret amidships was fitted with 4-inch (102 mm) plating.
Stonewall/Kōtetsu was propelled by 2 shafts direct-acting steam engines (HSE). These Mazeline horizontal two-cylinder single-expansion steam engines were mated to two Mazeline tubular coal-burning boilers, developing a total of 1,200 PS (1,184 ihp). Top speed as designed was 10.5 knots (19.4 km/h; 12.1 mph), but she reached a maximum speed of 10.8 knots (20.0 km/h; 12.4 mph) during her sea trials on 9 October 1864. Range was estimated to be 3,000 nmi (5,600 km; 3,500 mi). Coal consumption is not known with precision but she carried a a full load of 227 t (223 long tons) of coal.
Although this varied considerably during their career, both ships initially designed for the Confederacy were to carry a single Vickers 300 pdr (10 in (254 mm)) rifled muzzle-loading (RML) gun located in the bow turret, in a pivot mount. The latter was peculiar with its five bow ports. It is quite different from a regular Coles type turret, more a rotating platform for the gun and various ports to fire from. She also had two Vickers Armstrong 70 pdr (6.4 in (163 mm)) RML guns positioned in the oval fixed turret abaft the mainmast, one pivot mount on each broadside firing through two gun ports. This was modified later both by the Japanese and Prussians.
Waterline belt 4.5 in (114 mm), Turrets 5.5 in (140 mm)
1x 300 pdr/10 in, 2x 70pdr/ 6.4 in RML
The very short Career of CSS Stonewall
Stonewall (USNI archives)
After the sell to the Confederacy, from 6 January under Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Page she was to cross the Atlantic, but Heavy weather in the nort sea forced her soon after departure to take refuge at Elsinore (eastern Denmark). She was at sea again when the weather subsided, heading south, for the French coast. There, she was load supplies, ammunition and gather more crewmen. Her commission as CSS Stonewall was completed at sea, Thomas Jefferson Page now assuming full command of the ship. Her Danish Captain and crew were left behind.
Soon, Stonewall appeared to be a bad seabot in heavy weather, rolling heavily and notoriously unstable. Encountering foul weather in the Bay of Biscay, she had her rudders damaged. Sje was heading to the island of Madeira to gather coal for the final crossing, in Portugal, but instead she headed for Ferrol in Spain. This unfortunate accident had her stuck in drydock for months long repairs. This provided time for the Union to be notified of her clocation and prepare a small squadron to intercept her.
In February-March 1965 the Union Navy sent indeed the Frigate USS Niagara and the steam sloop USS Sacramento. They stayed at sea, keeping a look on Stonewall, now anchored off Coruña, with still repairs left. At last on 24 March, Captain Page decided to put to sea and prepared to engage the Union vessels. The latter, unarmored, declined to fight, allowing Stonewall to steamed for Lisbon and take coal for her crossing. CSS Stonewall eventually reached Nassau in the Bahamas on 6 May, the re-coal and sailed to Havana in Cuba. There, she received a courier announcing the war had ended on the 11th.
USoon afterwards, union ships arrived at Havana (15 May). They created a “security curtain” this month, constantly reinforced notably by the monitors USS Monadnock and Canonicus, largely up to the task of dealing with her. Captain Page decided that honour commanded instead of the Union, to turn his ship over to the Spanish Captain General of Cuba. The latter, on behalf of the Spanish government managed acquisition negociations, and accepted to pay $16,000 to pay for the crew’s wages, the ship being “leased” to the Armada in Cuba.
Eventually, the US Government negociated with the Spanish Governor, in order to have the ship turned over to their representatives, in return for a reimbursement of the same amount. The sum was delivered on 2 November, thus CSS Stonewall was examined while the crew was take into custody or proposed to stay aboard and man their vessel. Captain Page was discharged. The commission soon saw she needed some repairs before leaving Cuba. When done, she was escorted by USS Rhode Island and Hornet and departed Havana on 15 November for the Washington Navy Yard (24 November).
However as she proceed during the night of the 22-23 in the Chesapeake Bay she failed to spot and coal schooner off Smith Island, which was rammed and sank by accident. Fortunately no lives were lost, but this was her only “kill”, albeit in peacetime and accidental. Since the USN had no immediate projects to press her into service, she was paid off and laid up at the Washington Navy Yard.
Kōtetsu With the Shogunate (1868)
kotetsu flying Japanese colors
USS Stonewall (presumably holding her name) was still in suplus storage, decommissioned, when Japanese delegates arrived in the USA for a purchase commission. They seeked to acquire surplus vessels of the Union and captured confederate vessels, on behalf of the Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, which direct ancestor was no other than Tokugawa Ieyasu, the “Japanese Napoleon”, and unifier of the country in the Sengoku Jidai period (1600).
At the time, tensions between the Emperor Meiji, which councellors were favourable to the rapod modernization of the country, and the Shogunate factions, to restore traditional value and resist change. They were in power since the 1840s.
The Tokugawa shogunate however declined during the Bakumatsu era, from 1853, until overthrown by supporters of the Imperial Court (Meiji Restoration, which started in 1868) and the Empire of Japan established while Tokugawa loyalists continued to fight in what became the Boshin War, and “Republic of Ezo”. But in 1867, the Tokugawa shogunate was till ruling the country and seeked to acquire modern ships fro the West. After examining several surplus vessels, Ono Tomogoro while in the Washington Navy Yard in May 1867 was advised by the US delegate there to choose the former Stonewall, expecting to return the recent taspayer’s expense for this ship to Spain. Ono made a formal offer to the government for the purchase, which was concluded to $400,000.
Kotetsu (甲鉄艦 ‘kōtetsukan’) in the Shogun TW fall of the samurai expansion.
On 5 August, she was officially handed over, with the personal Shogunate flag hoisted. She was simply renamed Kōtetsu, which meant “ironclad”, and she became the very first ship of the type ever commissioned by Japan. She was refitted and prepared for the long crossing (probably started in September or October) with a US captain and crew taking her for a delivery, making many stops in between during this winter’s months journey. When she arrived in Shinagawa harbor on 22 January 1868, the Boshin War between the shogunate and pro-Imperial forces just started.
It seems she was also rearmed while in the US: One of the two 70-pounder guns was removed, a pair of Armstrong 6-pounder guns was added as well as four 4-pounder field guns, and a Gatling gun.
Trouble started immediately: Since the while house took a neutral stance in this war, they considered all weapons deliveries should be stopped, which included the Kōtetsu to the Shogunate. Indeed, she carried a Japanese flag but an American crew, making if for a very uneasy situation. US Resident-Minister Robert B. Van Valkenburg decided that she needed to be returned to the American flag and sail back to the US. Negociations were harsh, but eventually Kōtetsu took part into the war, hoisting a new flag for a new owner, being delivered to the new Meiji government in early March 1869.
Kōtetsu in the Boshin war (1869)
Naval Battle of Hakodate, 1869.
Tokugawa admiral Enomoto Takeaki at the head of what left of the Shogunate Navy refused to surrender after the fall of Edo Castle. He escaped to Hakodate (Hokkaido) in the north with which the few ships remaining, and a few French military advisers led by Jules Brunet (which inspired the figure in the movie “the last samurai”).
The Tokugawa fleet comprised eight unarmoured steam warships, and still this made the strongest naval force in Japan. On 27 January 1869, the foundation of the Republic of Ezo, with Enomoto as president angered the Meiji government which dispatched its own, newly formed Imperial Japanese Navy headed by the flagship IJN Kōtetsu and a bunch of unarmoured steamers seized in various feudal domains, loyal to the Emperor. On 25 March 1869, Kōtetsu distinguished herself at the Battle of Miyako Bay, repulsing a surprise night boarding by the Kaiten’s crew (Ezo flagship). Acquired the past yeat to the US, she had a Gatling gun, whih decidely showed its worth in this event.
Kōtetsu later supported with her guns the invasion of Hokkaidō and took part in many naval engagements, culminating in the Naval Battle of Hakodate Bay. There, she led a battle line comprising the IJN Kasuga, Hiryū, Teibō No.1, Yōshun, Mōshun (and three more steamers), under command of admiral Masuda Toranosuke (flagship Kōtetsu), decisively defeating the Shogunate’s fleet, 5 steamers strong (Kaiten, Banryū, Chiyoda, Chōgei, Kanrin Maru, Mikaho) under command of admiral Arai Ikunosuke. The Imperial ironclad proved imperveous to their fire and decisively crippled the Kaiyō Maru and Kanrin Maru, turning the tables.
Fourth and last career as the IJN Azuma (1871-1888)
Engraving of the Azuma
Following the war in August 1870, IJN Kōtetsu was gradually side-lined. It appeared her timber rotted quickly and she presented many structural problems. She became a third-class warship from 15 November 1871, renamed for the last time, now IJN Azuma from 7 December. In January 1873 an inspection reported her general poor state, and a small refit tried to remedy her problems. IJN Azuma was assigned as a moored guardship in Nagasaki, protecting the port during the Saga rebellion in February 1874. She was refitted enough to be part of the Taiwan Expedition in May 1874.
On 19 August 1877, she was caught in a typhoon, and ran aground at Kagoshima. Later refloated she was repaired at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal and was ready to take part in the Satsuma Rebellion later, as guardship in the Seto Inland Sea. Her fate after this is not known, apparently she became a TS and depot vessel. Eventually she was stricken on 28 January 1888, sold for scrap on 12 December 1889, with her armor plating recycled into electric generators in the Asakusa Thermal Power Station of Tokyo in 1895, still in existence.
Ballard C. B., Vice-Admiral G. A. The Influence of the Sea on the Political History of Japan.
Jentschura, Hansgeorg; Dieter Jung, Peter Mickel. Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945.
Onodera Eikō, Boshin Nanboku Senso to Tohoku Seiken. Sendai: Kita no Sha, 2004.
Canney, Donald L. (2015). The Confederate Steam Navy 1861–1865. Atglen, Schiffer Publishing
Case, Lynn M. & Spencer, Warren F. (1970). The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy.
Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro (1998). Ironclads at War: The Origin and Development of the Armored Warship, 1854–1891.
Lengerer, Hans (2020). “The Kanghwa Affair and Treaty: A Contribution to the Pre-History of the Chinese–Japanese War of 1894–1895”.
Scharf, J. Thomas (1977). History of the Confederate States Navy From its Organization to the Surrender of its Last Vessel
Silverstone, Paul H. (2006). Civil War Navies 1855–1883. The U.S. Navy Warship Series
Stepesen, Robert Steen (1968). Vore Panserskibe [Our Armoured Vessels]. Marinehistorisk Selskabs skrift
Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905. Conway Maritime Press.
After suffering against Confederate use of the torpedo, the Union decided to create a ship using the same weapon. This resulted in the creation of a very original vessel, at first called the USS Stromboli, and soon renamed Spuyten Duyvil. It became in essence the first United States Navy torpedo boat, to the meaning a “torpedo” had at the time: An explosive charge brought on target by a spar, not an autonomous device.
Context: The successful confederate use of “torpedoes”
Outside the sneaky “coal torpedo” invented by Confederate Captain Thomas E. Coutenay to damage Union ships boilers, the “fixed ones” were mines, and the “active” torpedoes were spar ones, brought to bear by a ship. E. C. Singer, private engineer in charge of the “secret project” branch of the Confederate States of America created a simple explosive device using like a pistol, a trigger mechanism, adapted from a rifle lock. This spring-loaded trigger was actioned by using a long cord along the spar, which carried the device until it reached the enemy ship’s flank.
The carrier vessel was generally an ad-hoc fast and small steamer, which was to be rammed on target, embedding the barbed torpedo into the hull before backing off, the trigger cord being longer than the spar for safety. Others were just exploded on contact, with great risks to the sailors that manned the vessel. There were also proto-mines, also called “torpedo” such as those designed by General Gabriel J. Rains (director of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau) which wrote a manual, the “torpedo book”, for the fabrication and use of land mines and water mines.
The most successful “fixed torpedo”, arguably, was the “frame torpedo”, which capitalized on earlier works, dating back to the war of 1813, from David Bushnell, Robert Fulton, and Samuel Colt. After Rains, the other brainchild of the mine offensive was Confederate Navy Commander Matthew F. Maury, creator of electric underwater mines using a shore-activated waterproof cable. His device used three 400-pound, 15-inch artillery shells, cast with thin upper surfaces, and using a gunpowder fuse made dissolved in alcohol, screwed into an opening at the shell’s nose. The enemy vessel’s hull would then pressure it, crushing a thin copper protect cap leading to an explosive combination of chemicals to activate, and then ignite the fuse and blowing up 27 pounds of gunpowder.
Rains perfected the mixture, with 50% potassium chlorate, 30% sulphuret of antimony, 20% pulverized glass. These live shells were mounted to timbers, attached to large wooden frames anchored in rows to the bottom of the waterway with heavy stones. This system did not took tides and motion in account, but was raised or lowered by simply modifying the amount of weight. They were placed in harbors and across rivers and bays and found success at several occasions, sinking in all some 27 Union vessels and crippling many others. The most dramatic and spectacular was the rapid sinking of the ironclad USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, which late made Admiral David Farragut famously say: “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain, go ahead!”.
One such and probably most famous use was in April 1864, when the Confederate torpedo boat CSS Squib badly damaged USS Minnesota. Before that, in 1863, the Confederates created their own dedicate spare-torpedo boat, the famous CSS David. Her first use was on the night of October 5, 1863, commanded by Lieutenant William T. Glassell, CSN, detonating gher “infernal engine” on the flank of the casemate ironclad steamer USS New Ironsides. She would also attack USS Memphis in the North Edisto River and on April 18, 1864 ried to sink the screw frigate USS Wabash. Her fate is uncertain, but she certainly impressed the Union. Later, the Confederate would go even further in furtivity, by creating their first true, all-metal submerged spar torpedo boat, the infamous HL Hunley which managed to sink the USS Housatonic on February, 17, 1864.
Design of the Stromboli
All this, and rumors for more agressive uses urged the Union to consider either an answer, which could only be done by having extra lookouts by night in particular, by default of having to armor all blockading vessels. But the Union naval officers were willing to test the spar torpedo vessel idea by themselves. Stromboli was designed by Chief Engineer of the Union Navy, Captain William W. Wood.
The Stromboli was constructed of timber. The deck, sides around the water line however were covered with 1 inch (25 mm). The upper section, above water, was turle-shaped, with a 1/4 ratio (84 ft 2 in or 25.65 m long, 20 ft 8 in or 6.30 m in beam). The bow was pointy, with an opening system (see later) and the stern, rounded, but not symmetrical, as the forward part was a bit beamer, with finer lines aft.
To not give any valuable targets to the enemy, the deck was bare, with little superstructures. There was a funnel aft, and a pilothouse placed just a little ahead of the middle of the vessel, 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter outside. It was 2 ft 8 in (810 mm) above the deck and surrounded by no less than twelve layers of iron plates 1 in (25 mm) each in thickness for a total weight of 25,000 lb (11,000 kg). This was perhaps the first conning tower. The lowe hull was deep to accomodate the machinery aft and complex torpeod reloading system forward, with little space in between. Although there was little freeboard, the Stromboli was a semi-surbmerged type design, to present as little target to the enemy when immerged, and designed for riverine warfare, with a flat-bottom and relatively shallow draft or just 20 ft 8 in (2.29 m).
Propulsion relied on a single four-bladed screw. The steam engine was constructed at Mystic, CT, by Mallory and Co. This simple screan steamer, one cyclinder, provided enough power to steam at 9 knots or 9 miles per hour (up to 14 km/h) down to 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) when fully immersed to the gunwale, of even down to 4 miles per hour (6 km/h). The steam engine was chosen because of its smooth assembly, making it noiseless, curcial for noght operations. The Stromboli carried 160 tons of coal, enough for eight days.
Pumps were installed, used for filling and emptying compartments and manage the the degree of immersion. It rested on two Andrews’s centrifugal pumps “No. 6.” situated ahead of the pilothouse; They were each driven by a small oscillating engine. Their crankshaft was coupled directly to the pump’s shaft. One of these, on the port side, had its suction pipes able to draw from the reservoir or tank forward, where the torpedo loading system was placed. Her draft, fully loaded, was down to 7 ft 5½ in (2.27 m), and increased by pumping to 9 ft 1 in (2.8 m) for attack. She displaced 207 tons in this conditions, much less in reality, pumped dry and unloaded, probably around 120-130 tons.
The Torpedo System
The main and most impressive feature of the ship was of course its torpedo dispenser and reloading system. The term “torpedo” of course referred at the time to all possible explosive water devices. Today it would have been divided between depht charges, mines, and the proper self-driving “topedoes”. At the time, this was nothing more than a mine, with a retarded fuse and, brought at the end of a spar on the target.
This simple spar deliver system was managed by a torpedo-laying machinery designed by Captain Wood. It was constructed by the Clute Brothers, Schenectady, NY. This system weighted 10 tons, for only 2½ tons for her propelling engines. One of the key systems was the lower part bow composed of two iron flaps. Each hinged at the top to fire, and otherwise, kept down in place by chains attached on their lower edges through a pair of hawsepipes.
The chains were further secured to an iron rod passing into the vessel through stuffing-boxes tat the end of the hawsepipes lef over guide pulleys an drive by a hand winch. This was the “torpedo port” of the design, well before was invented the torpedo tubes. Behind the port was a tube enclosed in its own compartment, the sluice valve, and a bulkhead to be waterproof and separate of the reload mechanism.
The sluice valve slides vertically, raised and lowered thanks to a manually handled screw. When the sluice valve is opened, it admits water into an iron reservoir 6 ft 2 in (1.9 m) long, 4 ft (1.2 m) deep, and about 2 ft 3 in or 3 ft (690 to 910 mm) wide. On top of it was a manhole fitted with a hinged cover, fastened to be removed and replaced with ease. In the lower part of this tank, a suction pipe was connected to one of the Andrews’s pumps. At the other end was a gunmetal sphere 18 in (460 mm) in diameter held by two flanges to create a ball-and-socket joint.
The proper torpedo tube went through this gunmetal sphere to project the torpedoes. That projecting tube was 20 ft (6.1 m) long, 5 in (127 mm) in diameter externally, 3 in (76 mm) internally, manufactured by Morris, Tasker and Co. in Philadelphia. Each torpedo ends with a knob, button-shaped projection, so when placed in the casin, the knob is clipped by fingers carried at the end of a tubular rod, slidinh through the main tube, helding it in place until fired.
Within the spherical joint, there was a guide tube with some elevation upon side trunnions supported by bearings in vertical guides, though a a guide pulley on top of the bearing guide, trough a rocking-shaft arm placed close to the floor. It was done by a chain aft to the piston rod, in an horizontal steam cylinder fitted with slide valve, through which the steam is admitted or released driving up and back the piston, activating the chains and this the guide tube elevation.
The machinery projection/withdrawing system used two chain drums diven by a Root Company (NY) rotary engine. On is placed in the tank at the bow, used for hauling in the tube. It is also stopped by a block moved transversely along the drum while the chain is going through regular coils, a transversal motion managed by a screwed spindle gearing into a spur wheel. Hauling out of the torpedo carrier had another chain arrangement. The drums could be connected by clutches, using levers. The tube could be run in and aout at a rate of 8-12 double strokes per minute.
The reloading sequence starts with firing the torpedo, by opening the two bow flaps, rasing the sluice, projecting the tube, and the torpedo is thrust from the case at the end of the tube using a tubular rod. Once detached, the main tube is withdrawn (see the torpedo part later). The sluice is then closed, the tank is pumped dry by the centrifugal pump, the manhole is opened and accessed to use the torpedo holder. The process last for four seconds, but the reloading of the tprpedo by chains is a longer process. The total reloading time on average, is three minutes.
USS Stromboli’s “Torpedoes” contained 400 lb (180 kg) of black powder, but the real detonator contained 60 lb (27 kg) of fine powder known as the one contained in Union Ordnance No. 7. “obstruction shells”. They each an air filled space managed around the powder to allow free expansion of gases. When released from the holder, they rise until coming against the bottom of the vessel and floats nearly upright while point downwards. Within the torpedo case a tube ended by a percussion fuse is ingiting the powder.
A ball is falling upon the percussion fuse, by a sliding pin placed beneath it which went through the torpedo case with a cord attached to the eye of the pin, regulated according to the desire detonation distance, on average 20 ft (6 m). When the tube is drawn back the cord is tightened, releasing the ball to the percussion fuse; which detonate the fne powder, and by extention, the rest of the charge; The explosion, under the ship’s belly, was supposed to break it’s back…
Author’s illustration of USS Spuyten Duyvil
84 x 20 x 7 ft (25,65 x 6.3 x 2.29 m).
207 t. standard, 210 t. FL
1 shaft steam osc. engine, 1 boiler ?KW
Top speed 5 kts (9 mph, 14 kph)
Unknown but 160 tons coal
1 spar torpedo
Pilothouse: 12 in (300 mm), Hull: 5 in (130 mm), Deck: 3 in (76 mm)
Construction and career
When ordered in mid-1864, task was to find a suitable constructor. Samuel M. Pook at New Haven, Connecticut, was eventually chosen by Wood, which supervised her construction step by step. Ccontract for her construction was dated 1 June 1864. Construction started probably in July, however launch is generally attributed by default to September, but there are no confirmed records for both her launching and commission. Period records indicate that she was completed in just three months, and her first tests started in November, suggesting tests started before even she was considered “completed” in the conventional manner.
It is likely she was able to perform sea trials already in November, just one month after launch. Granted, her fitting out did not required a lot. The most complicated part was of course to get her complicated torpedo reload system to work properly and the crew to train enough on it to be ready for action.
On 19 November 1864, she was renamed “Spuyten Duyvil” after the Bronx neighborhood. On 25 November 1864, she made its first successful “torpedo” launches. Later that month, Commodore Charles Stewart Boggs took command. She was to be towed by Picket Boat No. 6, plus the steam tug “John T. Jenkins” to Hampton Roads in Virginia. She stopped in on 2 December while Boggs turned both Spuyten and the picket boat to Commodore T. A. Dornin. Both vessels were now placed under the care of First Assistant Engineer John L. Lay, for the remainder of their trip. They arrived both in Norfolk on 5 December, prepped for thei final leg of their mission.
Spuyten Duyvil was ordered up the James River on the 14th, in order to help the Union controlling this river and support General Ulysses S. Grant’s offensive on Richmond. She presented herself off Akin’s Landing, on 15 December 1864, to enter the upper James river just below the Confederate obstructions, trying to blast them up. This went on for monthes on end.
During the night of 23/24 January 1865, the Confederacy’s James River Squadron a resolute assault on the Union squadron composed of various steamers, mostly unarmoured, an episode known as the Battle of Trent’s Reach. USS Spuyten Duyvil supported the monitor USS Onondaga, the centerpiece of the Union fleet.
General Robert E. Lee eventually evacuated Richmond, so Spuyten Duyvil was able to blast the remaining obstructions in the river, until then protected by Confederate batteries, now evacuated. This make it possible latter for President Abraham Lincoln to steam up the James river up to Malvern and after its carrier ship ran aground, he was rowed to safety close to Richmond. Her demolition role did not stopped with the end of the war, in April. Exactly like after WWI and WW2 she played a mine-clearing role for a solid year afterwards James.
When her mission ended, she returned to the New York Navy Yard, placed in ordinary (reduced crew), in 1866. Technically decommissioned, but she went on being used for more experiments, gradually improved for the remainder of the 1860s and 1870s, until was written off from the Navy list only in 1880.
❢ Note: Technical explanations were shortened and simplified. They are far more expanded in the original texts, now in open source and associated with the blueprints, found at the Naval History and Heritage Command website.
The USS Monitor is not only an icon of the American civil war, a symbol of the industrial north, but it also defined a genre, a type that found use until recent times. The USN still deployed monitors to combat the Viet-cong in the Mekong deltas and its numerous tributaries a hundred years later (☍ see page). But in 1862, the USS Monitor was very much a “secret weapon” designed to counter another (The former USS Merrimack, transformed into the CSS Virginia). The whole blockade of the southern economy depended on it. Off Hampton roads on 8 March 1862, both would fight a largely indecisive duel, the first in history for ironclads. The rest of her career was short, as she was lost at sea during a storm, on 31 December 1862 (off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina), the weight of her contribution could not be underestimated.
USS Ozark (M7), former Arkansas renamed by 1909. The last classic USN Monitor.
The marriage of heavy guns in a turret and a shallow-draft armored hull represented such a technological step for the time, that it was fully embraced by the Union to counter possible threats of more confederate ironclads, to the point that no less than nearly fifty more were ordered, and most completed before the war ended: USS Roanoke, USS Onondaga, the Passaic class (ten ships), Miantonomoh class (four), USS Dictator, USS Puritan, the Canonicus class (five), and four more in construction by 1865, but also 24 Shallow draught monitors of the Milwaukee & Casco class built 1864-65. The US also exported the concept far and wide, as it was adopted by many other nations as well, sometimes combined into other concepts like the ram, or influencing the late 1870s central breastwork monitors, ancestors of the pre-dreadnoughts; So popular were monitors that they were still listed in the USN in 1917 (Arkansas-class, 1900), others were built by the Royal Navy to deal with the flanders front, or the Italians on the Isonzo front, and still saw action in WW2 (Like the HMS Roberts, discarded in 1965).
Ideas in the air
French floating battery Devastation in Crimea
Before the USS Monitor was conceptualized, there were already several ideas looming in the air among engineers interested by ballistics and steel alike. Armour protection was relatively new in 1850 but uring the Crimean war, the mixed-protected (sandwiched teak wood and specially treated steel) French armoured batteries deployed showed encouraging signs for believers that ships can defeat traditional fortifications. Processes were further worked out until the Gloire was out in 1859, just prompting the British Admiralty to go further with the Warrior class. So in April 1860, when Charleston harbor was shelled, sea-going armoured ironclads were already a thing in Europe, but just.
The science of ballistics reflected the trust made in new projectiles: Until 1860, the standard artillery shot was the cannonball. Its path was unpredicted, causing engagements to be almost point-blank. In Crimea however, the “shell” itself did not changed, but ideas about a practical rifled breech loading weapon was born as well, as reshaping the spherical shell into a cylindro-conoidal form. In 1855, industrialist William Armstrong was awarded a contract to produced a new rifled artillery piece at the Elswick Ordnance Company and Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
This too, was known in 1860, although only a few British guns had been imported, the immense majority of artillery still relying on smoothbore muzzle-loaders, at any caliber. The armies still trusted the venerable “Napoleon” 6 or 12-pdr, but rifles with the minie bullets started to equip sharpshooter units.
The other revolution in the air was the gun turret. In the 1850s, guns were placed in batteries, guns were placed on rolling cradles with elevation but little traverse, if any. The entire ships manoeuvered to put their guns to the correct bearing. This defined manoeuvers and the type of ranged battles since the XVIth century, and was still a thing in 1860. But durung the Crimean war, designs for a rotating gun turret were first drafted by Captain Cowper Phipps Coles, which had the idea to construct a raft with ‘cupolas’ protecting guns. His experimental raft was to named “Lady Nancy” and the idea was to use it to shell the Russian town of Taganrog (Black Sea). His “Lady Nancy” was indeed built and proved its worth. Back in homeland, Coles patented his rotating turret.
More crucially, The British Admiralty ordered in 1859 such system to be installed onboard the ironclad floating battery HMS Trusty for trials in 1861. His idea to allow the greatest possible all round arc of fire as low in the water as possible were really instrumental to understand the personal engagement of John Ericsson in the whole process. Later, the British Navy laid down HMS Captain, the first ocean-going turret ships.
Genesis of the design
The need for iron plating was first trigerred by the Paixhans gun, put to great use, notably at Sinope against the Turks in the 1820s. Combined with better steam propulsion, it was possible in the 1850s to built armored ships that would not be stuck immobile by their own wieght. Developments in gun technology meant in 1850 that no wooden protection could withstand a modern shell and in 1854 already, the USN tested these iead with the steam-powered Stevens Battery, which work was much delayed while its own design Robert Stevens died in 1856. Without pressing need for this ship at the time, work never resumed and the battery was left unfinished. But in Europe, it progressed well after the Crimean war.
Enters John Ericsson
Swedish-borne engineer, John Ericsson (born July 31, 1803) was instrumental in this history. The extraordinary skills of the two Ericsson brothers were discovered by Baltzar von Platen (1766–1829), architect of Göta Canal, which hired them with success to solve many technical issues as ‘cadets of mechanics’ of the Swedish Royal Navy. John was just 14 at that stage. At 17 he started a military career, with the Jämtland Ranger Regiment, as Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant. While in the far north he constructed a heat engine, which worked very well. Advised to do so by his superiors and friends, he moved in Britain to perfect his engineering skills, and worked on steam propulsion, and early railway applications. His first prototype in 1826 was not a success however as it was designed to burn birchwood, which did worked well in Britain.
He invented several other mechanisms with bellows to increase the oxygen supply and in 1829 associated with John Braithwaite (1797–1870) for the Rainhill railway Trials on the Liverpool-Manchester Railway but lost the competition to George and Robert Stephenson with their “Rocket”. New prototypes were more successful, using a blower for ‘Induced Draught’ as shown on new railway tests. However they were able to quell the Argyll Rooms fire in 1830, working for five hours straight. One was purchased by Sir John Ross for his Arctic expedition. Ericsson patented notably a surface condenser working with recovered fresh water at sea, avoiding to use saltwater. He also patented a pressure-activated fathometer, but his commercial failures and development costs had him eventually jaied for debts. Both this and a failed marriage pushed him to move to the US, but not before he attempted to sell to the admiralty his patented Propeller design. This also failed, and through one custmer of his design, American captain Robert Stockton he was persuaded to move to the US.
He moved to New York in 1839 and Stockton co,nvinced him to oversee the development of a new class of frigate. The arrangement was a classic one with the trader and the engineer, but it did not fare well with Ericsson which soon felt betrayed as Erisckson revendicated paternity of the designs. Nevertheless, he designed a sloop that eventually became USS Princeton for the USN (1843). The ship was revolutionary, with twin screw propellers, a collapsible funnel, and mouting a 12-inch muzzle-loading gun place on a revolving pedestal (with an innovative recoil system). Not yet a turret, but already with full traverse. Unfortunately, during a firing demonstration of her gun, the breech ruptured, killing Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer, while Stockton tried to pass the blame on Ericsson and refusing payment.
Early proposal draft by Ericsson. Note this was ideal, but not realistic even for the Industrial Union: The cupola was apparently a very large casting, and the turtle back hull (also on USS galena) was destined to make cannonball and shells bounce, extending far underwater where water itself protected the ship’s underbelly. Also interesting is the turret resting in a needle axis, planted in a solid keel, ideas that went into the final design.
Nevertheless, he also associated with industrialist Cornelius H. DeLamater (1821–1889) and together they created the “Iron Witch” first iron steamboat, then the ship Ericsson, and in the 1880s, a submarine, a self-propelled torpedo, and a torpedo boat. In between, Ericsson wanted to propose the USN a new type of ship, and claimed to have sent the French Emperor Napoléon III a proposal for a monitor-type design already in September 1854 (this was never confirmed). Until the, Eriscsson lived on his patents on the Hot air engine, and built the “caloric ship” powered by the 4th Ericsson engine in 1852. His invention made him wealthy as this was a safer, boilerless design, more practical and compact for many applications. He would go on until the 1880s with others, more advanced engines including a solar one.
The war breaks out, Merrimack is being converted
USS Merrimack plan in 1855
The Union Navy, previously rebuffed by Ericsson’s quick temper and the souvenir of the gun explosion on USS Princeton changed its attitude towards ironclads as the war broke out, when learning the Confederates were converting the captured USS Merrimack, into an ironclad at Norfolk in Virginia.
There were knowlegeable engineers indeed in the less industrialized southern states, and strong connection with Europe, Britain and France. Whereas the Union soon set in motion their blockade to cripple the Confederacy trade, create and arms embargo and collapse its economy, some like Lt. John Mercer Brooke though to convert the burn down USS Merrimack into an ironclad, as they were made in Europe, in order to break the blockade.
USS Merrimack was a large, very capable 84 m long 3,200 tonnes frigate with two decks and 40 guns, built in 1854-56. Burnt and sunk in dock on 20 April 1861 after seeing little service since February 1860s, she was large enough for such endeavour and her steamplant was still intact as well as her artillery. Spies in Virginia knew this was an ironclad due to preparation mades with mixed iron plates. John Mercer Brooke wanted a composite armor sloped very close to the waterline in order to deflect any incoming shells. it was made of 4 inches (102 mm) of iron armor, backed by 24 inches (610 mm) of wood. The battery was reduced compared to the original, made to match the few portholes along the armoured casemate: Two 7-inch (178 mm) Brooke rifles, two 6.4-inch (160 mm) Brooke rifles, six 9-inch (229 mm) Dahlgren smoothbores and on the deck, two 12-pounder (5 kg) howitzers. CSS Virginia would be commissioned on 17 February 1862.
css virginia 1862
The United States Congress recommended in August 1861 that armored ships be built for the American Navy, and soon, this encounter a regained interests for Ericsson previous designs. He was met again by representatives of the USN and asked to submit his own design as quickly as possible. Completion of the project was made more urgent by the fear of a deployment to Hampton Roads of the Confederate ironclad Virginia. In theory the latter was impregnable and would have sunk all blockading Union ships as well as bomber Union cities along the coast. Northern newspapers were well aware of the race, and published regular updates on the supposed Confederates progress, which further the Union Navy to complete the Monitor. Ericsson was not alone to (later) answer the call of the Congress, with a appropriated $1.5 million on 3 August 1861: Cornelius Scranton Bushnell also presented his own design.
After Congress appropriated fund to built one or more armored steamships, a board was created to evaluate the proposed designs. The Union Navy advertised it seeked “iron-clad steam vessels of war” on 7 August. Welles appointed three senior officers to the Board on the 8th,consideringmostly delays and costs. At first, Ericsson made no submission to the board. Instead he teamed with Cornelius Bushnell, well known sponsor of the proposal, later to be known as the armored sloop USS Galena. The board required from Bushnell the boat would float despite the armor, and was advised by Cornelius H. DeLamater to seek out help from Ericsson.
A meeting took place on 9-10 September, time for Ericsson to evaluate the design. Ericsson at the end showed Bushnell a model of his own design (his 1854 armored raft he “proposed” to the French Emperor). Bushnell did not approve the boldness of the design but recopignised the merit of it and obtained permission for Eriscson to show his model to Welles. After this, the latter recomended he showed it to the board. Upon review hpwever the latter was skeptical over her seaworthiness (which proved right, see later). They rejected the proposal of this completely iron laden “cheseebox on a raft”.
President Lincoln himself however examined the design and overruled them. Ericsson gave guarantees to the board his ship would float by stating (“The sea shall ride over her and she shall live in it like a duck”), and on 15 September, after final deliberations over cost and delay (Ericsson’s were both smaller like the Galena) the board accepted his proposal, to the dismay of Bushnell, although his armored sloop will be also approved and built). The Ironclad Board evaluated 17 different designs in all (notably William Norris’s 90-ton steam ironclad gunboat, and up to Edward S. Renwick’s 6,520-ton ironclad), recommending three on 16 September in the procurement act, including Ericsson’s and Bushnell’s.
USS Monitor seemed the most innovative with her low freeboard, shallow-draft iron hull, total dependence on steam power, and revolving turret instead of a battery. The latter was riskier, it was the only of such proposals, something not even tested by the European navies at the time. But what took the cake was Ericsson’s assurance of delivery within 100 days. It overcame all the risks involved.
Design of USS Monitor
The design was essentially ready since 1860, time to gather all technical informations about the turret’s Coles design and revolving bearing’s intricate designs, steam power, and armor construction around the wooden hull. The keel of USS Monitor was laid down soon after the board’s choice, on 25 October 1861, at Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. She was launched on 30 January, and commission on 25 February 1862 (instead of the planned March 6, 1862 in accordance to the 100 days delivery as promised), an amazing achievement for the time, or for any ironclad.
This was largely due to Gideon Welles pushing hard across the board: Indeed near-completion of the CSS Virginia was known in the North by February 1862, through Mary Louvestre of Norfolk, freed slave using to be housekeeper of the Confederate engineers working on Merrimack revealed it to competent authorities, with intel from a Union sympathizer working in the Navy Yard. Louvestre met Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in person, the latter raising the alarm and further pressed completion of the Monitor. From there, Lincoln’s hard-working Secretary of the Navy took charge personally of the completion.
Hull of the Monitor
The basic idea was to present the smallest target possible, hoping shells landing too short would just bounce over the water, and those close enough, be slowed down enough to not penetrate. The basic hull shape was of a raft, with very little actual vertical surface to protect. Ericsson was not concerned by cannonballs landing on deck, as they would merely bouncing. Muzzle velocity was quite low at the time for the average Naval gun. Under the “raft” that was a rectangle with ogival ends as seen from above, symmetrical to steam both directions (although with aft rudder only), there was a smaller immerged hull with sloped sides and ends in order to manage sandbanks and shallow draft rivers like the Mississippi. This lower hull was much smaller, and contained in one space the machinery and coal supply for it. This difference between the much larger raft and lower hull gave her great stability, perfect for accurate firing in calm, to moderately rough seas. In short, the combination of a shallow-draught “raft” and smaller lower hull was typical of the Mississippi steamers of the time.
USS Monitor was for the time completely unheard of, bonkers and brillant. In almost every respect, dubbed by the press and critics as “Ericsson’s folly” or famously, “cheesebox on a raft”, “Yankee cheesebox”, its large cylindrical gun turret amidships was probably its most outstanding innovation. Apart this one, the raft deck was bare, apart a small armored pilot house towards the bow, surrounded with sloped sides. It housed a single pilot, but prevented the guns to be fired straight forward. Ericsson’s primary goal was to present the enemy the smallest possible target to gunfire. The hull was only 179 feet (54.6 m) long overall -gunboat size- 41 feet 6 inches (12.6 m) in beal, with gave her a favourable ratio, and maximum draft of just 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 m), allowing riverine operations. She displaced however 776 tons burthen due to the armor, 987 long tons (1,003 t) fully loaded. Despite having just two guns she still carried 49 officers and ratings.
Section of the belt armor showing the iron plating sandwich and wooden backing. In this interesting early draft, the original gun position is also shown. Due to the recoil and turret’s size it was impractical.
With an armored deck just 18 inches (46 cm) above the waterline, a cannonball had a very small target to hit. The deck was created out of two layers of 1⁄2-inch (13 mm) each, in wrought iron armor, the best tech at the time for iron casting, to boiler grade. If seemingly weak, it was largely enough for bouncing projectile, parabolic fire did not existed at the time for ships, and USS Monitor was not intended to duel with siege mortars… The armoured belt ran all along the “raft” made of 3-5 layers of 1-inch (25 mm) each iron plates. They were backed by 30 inches (762 mm) of pine and oak.
A 3-plates layer extended for 60-inch (1,524 mm) in height and the two innermost plates stopped mid-way down. Ericsson original plan was to use five combined 1-inch plates, or a single outer 4-inch (100 mm) plate backed by three 3/4-inch (19 mm) plates. However the metal industry at the time was unable to roll that type of very thick plate quicky enough. The two innermost plates were riveted, the outer plates bolted to the former. There was a ninth plate 3/4 inch (19 mm) thick but 15 inches (381 mm) wide bolted over the butt joints of the innermost plate. The very exposed, small pilot house forward was protected by 9 inches of armour (229 mm) with well sloped sides all around. Apart glass portholes in the deck for natural light, covered by iron plates there was no other way to have the lower hull provided with lighting.
Interior replica showing the Dalghren guns and turret cutaway
After the battle of Hampton Roads some Navy officials criticise the raft design as too easy to boarding by Confederates. On 27 April 1862 Lt.Cdr O.C. Badger advised the Assistant Inspector of Ordnance of a water sprayer from the boiler, through hoses and pipes to repel boarders. Hot water pipes arranged to scald assailants were envisioned but never installed apparently, before the disapperance of USS Monitor.
Various design features: Sections, Powerplant, accomodations, deck plans, auxiliary machinery and sounding system.
Aft section cutaway, showing the powerplant, rudder, shaft, gears and propeller as well as the front section and anchor lifting system.
Boilers more detailed
Steam engine overview (section)
Inside the lower hull, there was a single-cylinder horizontal vibrating-lever steam engine designed by Ericsson (which had quite a long experience as we saw). It had a bore of 36 inches (914 mm), stroke of 22 inches (559 mm). It drove a single 9-foot (2.7 m) propeller, mated on a nine inches diameter shaft. Steam was generated by two horizontal fire-tube boilers at a working presure of 40 psi (276 kPa, 3 kgf/cm2). This enabled the anemic (but standard at the time) 320-indicated-horsepower (240 kW), for a top speed of 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph), at least as planned. This was still good for a steamship at the time, but range was diminished by the absence of sail. Ericsson brished this consideration as she was more of a coastal “interceptor”, to catch the Virginia off Hampton roads.
On sea trials, USS Monitors reached 1–2 knots (1.9–3.7 km/h; 1.2–2.3 mph) lower than expected, or 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph). For range, 100 long tons (100 t) of coal were carried, enough for an estimated 500 nm. Ventilation was procured via two centrifugal blowers near the stern powered each by a 6 hp steam engine. One fan circulated air throughout the ship for the crew, the other was decicated to feed the boilers, a forced draught. Leather belts also connected the blowers to their engines, stretching when wet which disabled both the fans and boilers, as shown later. The pumps were also steam-operated and so if the latter was too low, they would fail. This was in essence what happened when the Monitor sank. It seems there was no manual backup, as Ericsson was overly confident on his steam engine.
Monitor’s turret was 20 feet (6.1 m) in diameter, 9 ft (2.7 m) high. She barely accomodated the two Dahlgren cannons, which practically hit the other side after recoil. The walls were constructed of 8 inches (20 cm) of armor but reached 11 inches (290 mm) at the front, around the gun ports. The ensemble weighed approximately 160 long tons, and this made her top heavy, but the rounded shape helped deflecting cannon shot, and were proved impregnable. There was no spall lining however. She rolled on her bearing thanks to the use of two steam-powered donkey engines, using a set of gears. Full rotation was performed in 22.5 seconds, as noted in tests reports of 9 February 1862.
Her motion was difficult to control also, as the steam engines were to be reversed if the turret overshot and had to turn the other way, which took time. So much, that in that case, the gunnery officer ordered another full rotation instead. The gun ports provided the only sight of the target, and were obscured by the guns and smoke. They were shut were not in use with heavy iron port stoppers, swing down. The rotation mechanisme used an iron spindle, jacked up using a wedge, before the turret could rotate, which was 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter. This prevented the turret from sliding sideways, and in normal travel condition, it was disconnected and the turret rested on her deck brass ring, forming a watertight seal (but leaked heavily as it appeared due to heat differences).
The gap between the turret and deck was not immune to debris and shell fragments either. A large enough shard could enter it, jamming the mechanism. That’s what happened for several Passaic-class monitors with the same turret design at the Battle of Charleston Harbor (April 1863). Also, Direct hits on the turret could eventually bend the spindle, causing another jamming. It was accessed from below or via the hoist to lift powder and shot. Another issue on that matter is that the turret needed to rotate to face starboard to line up the entry hatch ans proceed to the reload. The turret’s roof was light, easy to remove to change the guns, and provide a welcome aeration and ventilation. It was not bolted, only held by gravity.
Monitor’s turret section
Monitor’s turret section
Monitor’s turret shutters
Turret base and axial needle
The initial armament as planned was a pair of 15-inch (380 mm) smoothbore Dahlgren gun, casted for her. However the ship was ready sooner, and due to the need to have her operational, she received two 11-inch (280 mm) instead of the same type, weighing still 16,000 pounds each. They used a 15 Ibs (6.8 kgs) propellant charge marked for targets “distant”, “near”, and “ordinary”. These fired a 136-pound (61.7 kg) round shot/shell to a max range of 3,650 yards (3,340 m) at the maximal elevation of +15°. However in practice during her duel, she fired at point-blank.
Dahlgren guns base section
Dahlgren guns cradle design
Old author’s illustration for USS Monitor
⚙ USS Monitor’s specifications
54.6 x 12.6 x 3.2 m (179 x 41 x 10 feets)
987 tons standard, 776 tons Fully Loaded
1 shaft VLSE, 2 HFT boilers, 320 ihp (240 Kw).
6 knots (11 km/h)
2× 11-in (280 mm) Dahlgren SB
Belt 3-5 in, decks 1 in, turret 8 in, pilot house 9 in
Construction of USS Monitor
HD original drawing of the Monitor
The Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, Commodore Joseph Smith, sent Ericsson his formal notice of proposal acceptance on 21 September 1861. On the 26th, Ericsson signed a contract with Bushnell, John F. Winslow and John A. Griswold which in which they would equally share profits or losses incurred to the construction of the ironclad. They were ready to start afterwards, but a major delay was caused by the government itself, which did not signed any actual contract yet; Some were still not convinced and Welles had to add a clause of “complete success” of the ship, otherwide a refund would be provided. This draconian provision was hard pill to swallow to his partners, and the Navy rejected this modification of contract, finally signed on 4 October, so 15 days after, and a final agreed price of $275,000, paid in installments along construction phases.
Preliminary work was ready since a while, Ericsson’s consortium already in discussions with Thomas F. Rowland (Continental Iron Works, Bushwick Inlet, now Greenpoint, Brooklyn), and they signed a final contract on 25 October for the hull, which keel was laid that day. The turret was built at the Novelty Iron Works, Manhattan. After being assembled and tested, it was disassembled and shipped to Bushwick to be mated on the hull. The steam engines and machinery were built at DeLamater Iron Works nearby, in Manhattan. Chief Engineer Alban C. Stimers was appointed Superintendent while construction. His advices were precious as he was a former officer onboard USS Merrimack now in confederate hands. New formally assigned to the crew, he still became inspector during USS Monitor’s maiden voyage and the battle of Hampton Roads as well.
Construction was plagued by short delays, starting with the delivery of iron and money at times, but the progress was still good and the hundred days allotted expired on 12 January, as the ship was not yet completed. The Navy, which new what was at hand, did not to penalized the consortium. The name “Monitor” was proposed by Ericsson on 20 January 1862, approved by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox. The new ship was to “correct the wrongdoers” (the Confederacy). When the ship was launched, Ericsson in defiance of those arguaung she would never float, was standing on her deck on 30 January 1862. There was a ceremony, and this was done under the cheers of the massive crowd of Newyorkers, which interest was flamed by the press all along. She was commissioned rather quickly, on 25 February, as her fittings were quick, but she already made initial sea trials on 19 February.
Launch, 30 January 1862
Valve and fan engines problems were soon identified, and she was towed the next day to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Once fixed, USS Monitor was ordered to proceed right away to Hampton Roads, on 26 February. Her departure was delayed as she waited for ammunition. She departed on 27 February, entering the East River and left New York. Underway her captain found her however “unsteerable”. She had to be towed back to the navy yard for modifications. Ericsson found the steering gear was improperly installed. It was proposed to realign the rudder, causing a 24h delay, but Ericsson preferred adding an extra set of pulleys, which was quick. This was a success as shown by the 4 March trials, as well a gunnery trials. Gunnery officer Stimers however failed to understand Ericsson’s complex recoil mechanism, loosening them so much they hit the back of the turret twice.
All in all, the revolutionary Monitor was created with no less than forty patented inventions and the “boom time” of the Civil War allowed Ericsson to have his concept multiplied by the Navy, and could have made a fortune. But instead, he just U.S. government all his patent rights as a personal “contribution to the glorious Union cause”. After all, he was Swedish-born and like many foreigners, wanted to show his patriotic fervor, but financially, this was not that judicious.
Detail of her first crew
Officers on deck, posed by her armored gun turret, while the ship was in the James River, Virginia, 9 July 1862
USS Monitor’s crew volunteered rapidly, with ten officers and 39 enlisted men. There was a commander, Lieutenant John Lorimer Worden, an executive officer, Lieutenant Samuel Greene and third Assistant Engineer Robinson W. Hands, four engineers, one medical officer, two masters and a paymaster assembled by Worden. There were Line officers, responsible for the vessel’s handling and artillery, and separate engineering officers. The turret housed gunnery officers Greene and Stodder, which supervised loading and firing, with eight men under them in the crowded turret. Worden’s report (27 January 1862) stated that the turret, still could house as much as 17 men and 2 officers.
Living quarters for senior officers comprised eight separate well-furnished cabins with table and chair, oil lamp, shelves and drawers, canvas floor and rug. Suspended goat-skin mats were provided for the rest of the crew. Small skylights practiced in the deck above provided lighting, all covered by an iron hatch during battle so the ship became so dark as force the use of oil lamps. The officer’s wardroom was placed forward of the berth deck, used as mess, well furnished. Ericsson paid for all costs of these personally.
Many details about the crew were found in the recovered items in the wreck, giving an insight on everyday life onboard and cluses about the personal crew’s life. The correspondence of George S. Geer “The Monitor Chronicles” were preserved on land however, also providing many details, as a sailor’s experience onboard, offering more insight about the many issuies and incidents onboard. They are now at the Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. Louis N. Stodder, a survivors and last man to abandon Monitor also gave precious clues about the ship’s demise.
Officers posing in front of the turret after refit, showing the added roof top protection and command CT.
USS Monitor in service
Early service, Fort Monroe
On 6 March 1862 at last, USS Monitor was declared ready for operational service and sailed out of New York for Fort Monroe in Virginia. To spare her coal, she was towed by an ocean-going tug, USS Seth Low. She was escorted also by the gunboats USS Currituck and Sachem. Captain Worden had serious doubts about the seal between the turret and hull and not following Ericsson’s advice her wedged the turret un fixed, up position, stuffing oakum and sail fabric into the gap.
During the windy noght, water washed away the oakum and soaked the fabric, so it was literraly raining under the turret. The hawsepipe, hatches, ventilation pipes, and funnels (two small ones) also leaked. The belts for the ventilation and boiler fans also loosened and fell off, almost stopping steaming and creating a toxic atmosphere in the engine room. Eventually the crew had to be evacuated on deck as ordered by First Assistant Engineer Isaac Newton. The most afflicted were handed over the top of the turret and laying there to recover. Newton and Stimers meanwhile tried to reactivate frantically the blowers, until they succumbed and were taken above. One brave fireman holed the fan box and drain the water in order to restart the fan.
Mishaps were not over yet as later Later the wheel ropes which controlled the rudder jammed, just when the ship was going into rough seas. In danger of foundering, Worden signaled the tug to help her keeping course, and she was towed to calmer waters, cose to shore laying there to restore full power. The following day, 8 March, before noon, she rounded Cape Charles, entering Chesapeake Bay and arriving in sight of Hampton Roads at around 9 PM. It was well after the first Battle of Hampton Roads, where Virginia made a carnage, engaging first the USS Cumberland, left crippled, burning, and rammed. After what she sank in shallow waters. USS Congress’s captain was so afraid he order his frigate into shallower water to be beached right away and later under heavy fire, surrendered.
The Virginia’s scare
Days before the battle, a telegraph cable was sent from Fortress Monroe overlooking Hampton Roads to Washington about the estimated arrival of the CSS Virginia, spotted en route. It was feared she would also bombard New York or ascend the Potomac River and attack Washington itself. President Lincoln held an emergency war council with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Wells and other senior naval officers. Stanton knew about USS Monitor’s issues and only two guns, and was appealed by the prospect of loosing her at the first engagement.
Admiral Dahlgren however reassured the audience that the confederate ironclad was too massive to approach Washington and that USS Monitor was more than capable to challenge her effectively. Lincoln sent many warning telegrams afterwards to governors and mayors of coastal states which tried to evacuate their most previous assets and have shore batteries ready when possible. Stanton approved an officer’s plan to sent sixty canal boats loaded with stone and gravel to block the Potomac. However Welles convinced not to do it; and at least to wait confirmation CSS Virginia would enter the Potomac.
The battle of Hampton roads (8 March 1862)
Battle of Cape Hatteras
On this 8 March 1862 CSS Virginia (Commander Franklin Buchanan, chief engineer H. Ashton Ramsay) also scared the steam frigate USS Minnesota, which ran aground while attempting to engage her, remaining stranded. However when sighting the Monitor, CSS Viriginia was not Unscathed: Her port side anchor was lost, bow leaked with a mushed port side half by a lucky shot and she had many punctures and superficial damage from all the bouncing projectiles from USS Cumberland, Congress, and shore-based Union batteries. She lost her smokestack had two broadside cannons out of commission, many armor plates disjointed or loosened and her two cutters blow away plus her deck’s 12-pdr anti-boarding howitzers. She also had her deck stanchions, railings and flagstaffs destroyed. Captain Buchanan was injured and later relieved of command by Catesby ap Roger Jones. He ordered an attack on the stranded USS Minnesota but the ironclad had now a 22-foot draft due to leakages and a too slow speed to manoeuver. The idea was to retire to her supply fleet during the night repair and return the following morning to finish the job.
At 9:00 pm, at last, USS Monitor arrived on site, spotting the smoke of two ships burning, and the smokestack of CSS Virginia. Captain Worden initial ordered were to anchor alongside USS Roanoke and report to John Marston, briefed of the situation and then protect USS Minnesota, stranded. At midnight USS Monitor arrived alongside USS Minnesota and the crew just waited. The next morning, at 6:00 am CSS Virginia arrived with her support fleet (CSS Jamestown, Patrick Henry and Teaser) rounding Sewell’s Point and soon on sight of USS Minnesota and other blockaders, at slow speed due to the shoals and heavy fog. She only arrive at gun distance around 8:00 am, as the folg lifted.
In USS Monitor, Worden was looking out from the pilot house, the whole crew in battle order. Greene took command of the turret. Samuel Howard (Acting Master of USS Minnesota) was onboard due to his familiarity with Hampton Roads preculiarities, as pilot. Quarter Master Peter Williams steered the ship during the battle (later to be given the Medal of Honor), communicating via the speaking tube between the pilothouse and turret was out of order so commands were relayed from Worden to Greene. CSS Virginia at first concentrated on USS Minnesota from a mile but making few hits. Greene sent Keeler to the pilot house and request to open fire asap, Worden insisting upon “to take sure aim and not waste a shot.”
USS Monitor 1862
Merrimack and Monitor
Combat of giants
USS Monitor made a surprise appearance, emerging from behind Minnesota to interpose in front of the latter and protect it fromm CSS Virigina. At 8:45 am order was given to order fire, point blank, on the Confederate vessel. Then started the famous “ironclads dance” as they harmlessly fired on each others without any consequence, turning close to one another. USS Monitor fired solid shot at an appaealing rate of a volley every eight minutes, Virginia fired shells, a bit faster due to having more guns to bear. This “dance” went on for about four hours. It ended at 12:15 pm as the range opened gradually to several miles. Virginia’s weak engines and inferior agility, and Monitor’s turret meant she could aim at leisure while Virginia was lumebering out to try to present her broadside. She difficult to maneuver in the shallows and made a 180° turn in 30 minutes.
USS Monitor’s turret started to malfunction when the first shells bounced on her, turned with difficulties or even stopping at times. Alas, the crew simply let the turret continuously turn, firing their guns “on the fly” when finding the right spot. Direct hits on the turret causing bolts to shear off, ricocheting inside and making wounds, while the deafening impact noise, ringing the turret like an enclose bell, stunned the crew, causing nose and ear bleeding.
After four hours, neither ship took the advantage. It ws a time where armour was clearly superior to gunnery. Towards the end, CSS Virginia’s captain lost patienced and attempted to ram but the nimbler and faster Monitor dodged the manoeuver and only had a glancing blow making no no damage. That collision however further torned down Virginia’s bow, already in poor shape after her ramming of USS Cumberland. The little damage made by Monitor on Virginian were latter attributed to the protection of the latter, but also the guns firing with reduced charges as adviced by Commander John Dahlgren, the gun’s designer and manufacturer. The latter however had no clues about defeating iron plates, which was brand new. Stodder, at the wheel and controlling the turre was knocked him clear by an impact as he layed on the side. He was later recover and relieved by Stimers.
The two ships also collided five times from several accounts. At 11:00 am already, USS Monitor’s ready round ammunition (inside the turret) were exhausted and the gun port covers were jammed shut to resupply and repair the damaged hatch. At some point Captain Worden climbed through the gun port for a better look and spotted Virginia, seeing Monitor distancing for her resupply, turned her attention to USS Minnesota, making her ablaze as well as skinging the tugboat Dragon. Worden ordered back to battle as sson as possible. Towards 12:00 Worden wanted to try destroying the Confederate ship’s tern, but this was prevented by Lieutenant Wood on board Virginia, furing a 7-inch Brooke gun at USS Monitor’s pilothouse. As a result, Worden was made blind by the impact and shell fragments, gunpowder residue. He ordered to escape to the shallows and she drifted idly for about twenty minutes, Samuel Greene eventually taking command, undecided about the action, unti he ordered to return to the fight.
CSS Virginia tried to follow USS Monitor and as expected, ran aground. After seeing the poor results of her artillery, order was given by Jones to stop firing, as a waste of ammunition. She later managed to free herself and break away, towards Norfolk for repairs. It was assumed Monitor withdrawn and the battle was won. Greene let this happen, not chasing her. He stuck to orders to stay with USS Minnesota, which was later criticized by some.
Aftermath of the battle
Soty of the confederate state, USS Monitor
Accounts were made on both ships and reports written. USS Monitor was struck twenty-two times, including nine to the turret, two hits to the pilothouse. She fired forty-one shots in all. Virginia took ninety-seven indentations but this was the sum of Monitor and other ships, plus coastal batteries. Damage was still insignificant, apart the bow of Virginia. Commander Jones estimated USS Monitor could have sunk them if hit at the waterline. On the strategic level, this battle was considered the most definitive naval battle of the Civil War.
Although a draw, with Virginia taking slightly more damage but the Union suffering more losses from the previous battle, the Confederates were quick to announce a victory. USS Monitor defended USS Minnesota as ordered and repelled Virginia, enabling the rest of the Union blockading force to stay and resulme the blockade and conversely the Confederate vessel was unable to break it, so making this battle a strategic victory for the Union. Historically of course it marked a turning point in naval warfare. This was the first fight between ironclad, a brand new type of ship that would dominate the seven seas until 1945.
“Monitor fever” in the North led to the construction of improved designs and about 60 ironclads were built and unleashed on the south, especially to win several river engagement and ultimately shell to oblivion several significant cities, largely contributing to the final victory.
Immediately after the battle, Stimers sent a congratulation telegram to Ericsson, for “saving the day” with his design. When USS weighed anchor she was greeted by a fleet of enthusiastic small boats while a massive crowd of equally extatic spectators gained momentum on shore. The crew, as soon as they disembarked were greeted with cheers for their assumed victory over Virginia. Assistant Secretary Fox was an observer that day from USS Minnesota, and came aboard Monitor to tell the officers “Well gentlemen, you don’t look as though you just went through one of the greatest naval conflicts on record”. A blinded Worden carried out as well as other wounded sailors, still under the cheers to Fort Monroe and then an hospital in Washington.
Stimers and Newton assessed, then repaired battle damage as soon as possible. They repaired the pilot house and its slopes to 30° and readjust disjointed plates, hammering some back into shape. Mrs. Worden also personally brought news of her husband during that time, to the relief of officers working on the Monitor. Her would eventually recover his eyesight. President Lincoln personally visited Worden. He later spent the summer home in New York but was unconscious for three months, later brought back to command USS Montauk, a brand new monitor, until the rest of the war.
The Confederates also cheered as CSS Virginia came along the banks of the Elizabeth River, a huge crowd gathered, cheering and waving flags, handkerchiefs and throwing hats. Virginia indeed also managed to captured the ensign of Congress during the previous battle amonf floating debris. The Confederate government promoted Buchanan to Admiral and congratulated the crew. Soon, both government made plans of course for new Ironclads. It was much easier for the industrial north, but the south had to improvize, using notably railway traverses. The Union Navy chartered the converted sidewheeler USS Vanderbilt, reinforcing her bow to be used as naval ram nd stationed permalently at Hampton Roads.
11 April 1862: 3rd battle of Hampton Roads
Engraving of the battle
On 11 April, CSS Virginia indeed steamed into Hampton Roads, Sewell’s Point (southeast edge) to try to lure USS Monitor into battle again, fired a few shots at very long range while her opponent returned fire but remained near Fort Monroe, under the added protection of its batteries. She was in position to ram Virginia if approaching, but it never happened. The Confederateplan was to board USS Monitor to capture her, hoping to bring her back under Confederate control using the the James River Squadron. The latter prepared three captured merchant ships, brigs Mand a schooner, hoisting “Union-side down” to taunt USS Monitor, but this failed and Viriginia eventually departed away.
The plan was to attack USS Monitor with the James River Squadron, landing a party aboard, and either her had in tow or disabling her turret using heavy hammers, covering the pilothouse with a wet sail, while throwing combustibles down the ventilation and smoke openings. There was an ultimate encounter between the vessel, on 8 May, CSS Virginia sailing towards Monitor, which with four other Federal ships shelling the Confederate batteries at Sewell’s Point. Upon seeing the approaching Virginia, they were signalled to retire slowly to Fort Monroe, to lure her out into the Roads, but she did not followed. Instead she anchored off Sewell’s Point. When Norfolk fell on 11 May 1862, however, the Confederate troops were ordered to burn down and destroy CSS Virginia.
Battle of Drewry’s Bluff (12 May 1862)
After the loss of CSS Virginia, USS Monitor supported the General McClellan’s campaign against Richmond. By that time she was under command of Thomas O. Selfridge, later relieved by Lieutenant William Nicholson Jeffers (15 May 1862). USS Monitor was the centerpiece of a flotilla under command of Admiral John Rodgers, aboard the other Union armoured ship, the Bushnell’s USS Galena, and three other gunboats. They steamed up the James River, dealing on the way with Confederate batteries at Drewry’s Bluff, until they were silenced.
Meanwhile, this was cooridnated with McClellan’s push on land, towards Richmond. It was scheduled that the flotilla would present there and bombard the city into surrender. They arrived within 8 miles (13 km) of the Confederate capital but were barred to go further as the Confederate had sunken seeral vessels and other debris across the river. Once stopped, they were dealt by Fort Darling’s batteries, which were waiting for them. Also the Confederate had placed several other heavy guns unde corver on the shores and sharpshooters were also positioned along the banks.
The fort controlled the west bank of the James River, placed atop of a bluff towering 200 ft (61 m) above which gave them excellent visibility and parabolic fire potentially deadly for the weakly protected USS Monitor. The latter could not bring her guns to bear, having a too short elevation. She soon had to fall back to be able fire at a greater distance, loosing accuracy. Gunboats however dealt with the fort. USS Monitor received a few hits, but with little damage, and was mostly spared by Confederate officers which preferred to focus on USS Galena and the other gunboats. They all took quite a punishment, with some casualties, in a four-hour artillery duel. In the end, it was ordered to the flotilla to retire, unable to silence the fort. In fact, the fort deter any approach via the Jamanese river until the end of the war. Richmond was evecuated and captured by land.
After the battle at Drewry’s Bluff, USS Monitor stayed as a vigil on the James River, providing support when needed, and teaming with USS Galena and other gunboats. They still provided support to McClellan along the river and this included a bombardment of Harrison’s Landing in August 1862. In between inactivity and hot weather crippled the crew’s morale. Some crew members were transferred to Hampton Roads and there was a turnover of officers. Commander Thomas H. Stevens, Jr was in command on 15 August. By the end of the month, USS Monitor was back to Hampton Roads, dropping anchor close to the wreck of USS Cumberland, at Newport News Point. She was then to blockade the James River, waiting for the newly constructed Virginia II.
USS Monitor’s overhaul
Model after refit
In September 1862, Captain John P. Bankhead took command, sent to Hampton Roads, but upon arrival, he was reported engines problems, later conformed by a board of survey. They recommended a full overhaul and on 30 September she was towed to the Washington Navy Yard, starting on 3 October. Upon arrival she became a premier tourist attraction in NYC, as the crowd was soon allowed on board. During the overhaul, various officials als payed her a visit. Lincoln also came to an official visit, with the whole crew present and Captain Worden. Soon after the crew was in action again onboard USS King Philip for the six weeks during which her bottom was scraped clean, engines and boilers were cleaned and scraped anew.
USS Monitor was repainted and every detail fixed, improvements made like the turret top iron shield and a 30-foot (9 m) smokestack over the smoke outlet and tall fresh air vents for a better ventilation. The berth deck was enlarged, but also made lower. Cranes were added and living condition improved. A new independent blower for the boilers was also installed, drawing air from and through the pilothouse. Stanchions were installed around the freeboard, roped along, making it safer to walk around in rough seas. ISS Monitor was out on 26 October and started sea trials afterwards, in November she was ready for service.
Final mission and sinking
USS Monitor at sea in heavy weather
On 24 December 1862 she was ordered to Beaufort, North Carolina, teaming with the brand new monitors USS Passaic and Montauk to support an army expedition to Wilmington, and blockading Charleston. It came about Chritsmas and sispleased the crew, some thinking she was not ready for the open sea voyage. Christmas was celebrated while she stopped at Hampton Roads. In provate, officers however worried about their ship to be unseaworthy in rough waters. The Captain John P. Bankhead under orders trie to reassure them, but probably thinking too that sailing out by in this season was not good business. USS Monitor departed again on 31 December but under tow to spare coal, by USS Rhode Island, just as a heavy storm developed off Cape Hatteras.
Soon the storm became intense and large waves started splashing over the deck, entering by the pilot house. The crew rigged the wheel atop the turret and helmsman Francis Butts evacuated his post. Flooding via all vents and ports continued while the ship started rolling badly. Son also she started rocking heavily in larger waves, crashing and ploughing heavily, shaking in the process. Leaks appeared soon, and Captain ordered all hands to try to fix them as they appeared. But itsoon appeared as an uphill battle.
Frank Leslie’s scenes and portraits of the Civil War, loss of uss monitor
The Worthington pumps momentarily stemmed the flood, but a squall shook the ship, and larger waves came crashing so only making matters worse. Eventually the Worthington pumps were overwhelmed and the engine room was soon flooded beyond safe level. Bankhead signaled her tug USS Rhode Island she needed help, hoisting the red lantern, and ordered the anchor dropped, to stop rolling and pitching; But this had little effect. Frm the tug, rescue boats tried to get close and a towline was cut, volunteers were called on deck. Stodder, John Stocking, James Fenwick climbed down from the turret, but swept overboard and drowned. Stodder however installed safety lines around the deck and cut the 13 in (33 cm) towline with his hatchet. At 11:30 pm, Captain Bankhead ordered engineers to shut the machinery, divert all steam to the large Adams centrifugal steam pump. However this was not sufficient due to the reduced steam output from wet coal. The steam pumps failed and now hand pumps and a bucket brigade were ordered, but too late;
Greene and Stodder were the last to abandon ship with Bankhead, the last surviving to abandon ship. The official report at the Navy Department would praise their heroic sacrifice. The frantic rescue effort paid off, as Forty-seven were saved, but still, USS Monitor sank 16 miles SE off Cape Hatteras, carrying with her sixteen men, notably four officers remaining in the turret. They were picked up onboard USS Rhode Island. The Navy, which ordered this mission without knowing about the deteriorating weather did not created a board of inquiry and closed the affair as a common sea fortune in wartime.
Nevertheless a controversy would later emerged, not in small part because of Ericsson accusing the crew of drunkenness. Stodder defended the crew, accusing him in return to “covers up defects by blaming those that are now dead”, and pointing out the unseaworthiness of the ship and sea conditions. He also pointed out the the overhang between the upper and lower hulls came loose and even partially separated, which was corroborated by other shipmates.
Recovery and preservation
2000s salvage operations: The turret is pulled out of water by the “spider” system.
The Navy sent an “underwater locator” in August 1949 south of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to try to locate her wreck. She was eventually found under 310 feet (94.5 m) of water but investigation was marred by local powerful currents. Ret. Rear Admiral Edward Ellsberg proposed external pontoons to raise her wreck in 1951. Later in 1955, Robert F. Marx claimed the wreck had drifted into shallow water north of the lighthouse and that he had dived on the wreck.
The Duke University associated to the National Geographic Society and National Science Foundation financed an expedition in August 1973 using a modern towed sonar system. On 27 August she was at last located, after 111 years, and a camera was soon down to photograph her, but images appared too fuzzy. Another was lost. The sonar images eventualy told the ship was upside down. The discovery was announced on 8 March 1974 and another expedition was mounted to confirm it and sent the submersible Alcoa Sea Probe, making a video confrming the find.
They showed the wreck was disintegrating and since she had been formally abandoned in 1953, private divers or salvage companies could pillage her. In order to preserve the wreck, a 0.5-nautical-mile (0.93 km; 0.58 mi) was designated as the “Monitor National Marine Sanctuary” the first in fact, on 30 January 1975. Soon it was designated a National Historic Landmark on 23 June 1986. The recovery costs were deemed impossible in the 1970s. but in 1995, the NOAA divers tried to raise her propeller, but failed due to the stormy season. NOAA soon developed a plan to recover the most significant parts of the ship: Engine, propeller, guns, and turret for 20 million dollars and over four years.
The propeller was lifted on 8 June 1998, but work wa smade in difficult conditions and the 1999 dive season was a comprehensive study for better planning. In 2000 installed bags of grout, the engine recovery system framework for the next seaons in 2001, trying to recover the steam engine and condenser, on 16 and 19 July. Saturation diving was used and in 2002 the 120 ton turret was recovered using a large, eight-legged lifting frame, from 26 July to 5 August 2002. A skeleton was discovered in it. Remains of other sailors were transferred to the Accounting Command (JPAC) at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii for identification. Some were identified and on 8 March 2013 buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. The propeller is now on display in the Monitor Center at the Mariners’ Museum. Conservation of the rest is ongoing and the Dahlgren guns were removed in September 2004. The red signal lantern was also recovered. Northrop Grumman Shipyard also constructed a full-scale static replica, placed on the grounds of the Mariners’ Museum. The 150th anniversary of her loss prompted several events on 29 December 2012.
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The construction of these wooden corvettes, SMS Erzherzog Friedrich and her sister ships, was ordered in Venice Arsenal, during the “Italian phase” of the future Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy. They were designed by the Inspector of Naval Construction Axel Ljungstedt. SMS Erzherzog Friedrich was laid down on February 14, 1854, launched on 11 April 1857, and commissioned in the K.u.k. Kriegsmarine on July 4th, 1857.
Her design was conventional for the time with three square masts, a bowsprit and mainsail, four single 66-pounder smooth-barreled iron guns completed by seventeen 30-pounder in the broadside, all also smooth-barreled iron guns. There was also a single deck-mounted 48-pounder pivot gun on the deck smooth-barreled too. All these were muzzle loaded or course (acronym MLS for Muzzle-Loaded, Smoothbore).
SMS Erzherzog Friedrich was a of mixed construction, a current design at the time, with an external wooden hull, reinforced by an internal iron structure. These were called “composite” at the time in British standards. She displaced 1,570 tons for 56.05 m long at the waterline, 12.16 m wide, for 5.07 m draft, identical to her sister ship SMS Dandolo.
Her propulsion comprised a single shaft driven by a Strudthoff horizontal 2-cylinder machine, fed by two 12-burner boilers. Maximum output was a modest 920 Psi. The single propeller was a Griffith two-blade bronze model. With a sailing area of 1,400 m² she could reach 6-7 knots on sail alone. 8 knots combined with steam. When her amchinery was overhauled and modernized, she reached 9.02 knots on her 1874 trials. Her armament in 1859 was composed of iron smoothbore, muzzle loaded cannons as customary at the time. They fired iron balls, and accuracy was limited to 1,500 m in the best cases. This was modified in 1863 for two 24 lb cannons, four 60 lb, and sixteen 30 lb muzzle loading guns. Like her sister-ship this was revised in 1866 for sixteen 30 lb, four 60 lb, two 24 lb BLR, and the next year in 1877, twelve 6 inches Wahrendorf BLR, one 70 mm BLR and a crew of 294. She was not upgraded further.
SMS Dandolo was also designed by Axel Ljungstedt ordered at the same time the Venice Arsenal, keel laid down on 26 September 1854, launched on 7 August 1857 and entering on 9 August 1859. She was armed the same way exactly and her Technical description was the same as well in many details. She was named after Conte Silvestro Dandolo. Her specs changed however, as she displaced 1,724.77 tons, for 56.05 m long at the waterline, 12.16 m wide, 5.53 m draft. Her propulsion system called for a Strudthoff horizontal 2-cylinder machine like her sister ship, the same boilers and Griffith two-blade propeller, same sail area, and 8 knots top speed. When her amchinery was rebuilt, she became even faster at 9.02 knots (1874). In 1866 her armament was sixteen 30-pounder, four 60-pounder and two 24-pounder guns used for landing parties plus two 4-pounder smoothbore guns also on deck. In 1871 this was again revised for fourteen 24-pounder, still smoothbore guns but Breech loaded (BLM) and a single pivot mounted 3-pounder. In 1877, with her last refit, she was armed with twelve 6-inches (15 cm) long range Wahrendorf breech-loading rifled guns (BLR) plus two deck-mounted pivot 6-inches (7 cm) rifled breech-loading guns (BLR) and a crew that comprised at the start 274, officers and sailors.
SMS Herzherzog Friedrich started her sea trials on 10 July 1857, during her transfer from Venice to Trieste. Until 1859 she trained by cruising in the Adriatic Sea, but also the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and stopping at numerous ports along the way. On November 25, 1858, she participated in an expedition on the Barbary coast, shelling known Moroccan corsair cities, and rescuing an Austrian crew, and later the merchant ship itselfpreviously captured.
In April 1859, her new captain was the famous Wilhelm von Tegetthoff. She carried out various missions, notably trnasport of military hardware from Trieste to Ancona. She took part in the second Italian war of independence, and made also several training cruises in the Mediterranean. On March 30, 1864, she was sent to the North Sea Squadron, comitted by alliance with Prussia in the war against Denmark. She remained there until May 20, 1866 before departing back to Pola, arriving on the 28.
The third Italian war of independence saw SMS Erzherzog Friedrich assigned to the Second Division, under command of Commodore Anton De Petz, as part of Rear Admiral von Tegetthoff naval squadron. Her new captain was then Fregattenkapitän Marco Florio. She took part in the battle of Lissa, an Austro-Hungarian victory.
There, she fired volleys at Italian vessels but remained unscaved, not loosing a single man. On November 14, 1866, she sailed to Civitavecchia (NW of Rome) to embark Pope Pius IX and his followers, en route to Kumbor and Messina. On March 31, 1867 she entered the drydock in Pola for maintenance. On September 27 1868, back in service she was ordered to Gibraltar before proceeding to Cape Town, reaching it on February 18 1869. She made also a two-year trip on 3 January 1871, being first Austro-Hungarian vessel crossing the the Suez Canal.
Back in Pola on January 20, she was overhauled and the next three years served in the Mediterranean. By May 1874 she headed for the Far East under command ofher new captain Tobias Freiherr von Österreicher, crossing the Suez Canal again, and stopping along the way in many Pacific Ocean ports, until reaching San Francisco. She then depared and crossed the Magellan strait (Good hope), back to the Atlantic Ocean. She arrived on 10 February 1876. She sailed to Gibraltar on June 8, then to Pola for drydock maintenance. This long cruise led to the writing of a famous book in Austria at the time “Um die Erde: Reiseskizzen von der Erdumseglung mit SM Corvette Erzherzog Friedrich in den Jahren 1874-1876”, published two years later.
For her last overhaul, she was decommissioned in December 1880, and reativated on February 4, 1881. She made a training cruiser in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Caribbean, Levant and Black Sea and back to Pola. She was eventuallu stricken on 5 August 1897, becoming a barge to carrying boilers from Trieste to Pola. This went on until May 1899, and she was sold for BU and scrapped in 1900.
During most of her early operational career, SMS Dandolo (named after the famous Venice Dodge, Enrico Dandolo) served in the Adriatic Sea. She was a well-known ship in Corfu, Messina, Gibraltar, Algeciras, Ceuta, and Malaga. In August 1863 for the first time she was scheduled a long cruise to Brazil, but suffering underway a serious engine breakdown, a boiler overheating dangerously bing shut. This was canceled and until 23 November 1863, she was in repairs in Piraeus (Athens).
She stayed in the Mediterranean until January 9, 1865, entered the shipyard for an overhaul and headed for Vera Cruz in Mexico, arriving on May 28 1867. The goal was to support the new alliance fleet pressuring Mexican banks and the government.
She made a two years cruise in South America before heading back to Pola on June 8, 1867.
After shipyard maintenance, she left on June 17, 1869 to be used as cadet ship for the newly created Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy. She made several educational cruises in the Mediterranean. In 1870, she made another cruise in South America, visiting Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and back, she visited ports on the west coast of Africa, and up to Gibraltar. She was back in Pola on December 27.
After another drydock refit in September-October 1871 she was placed in reserve. She reported for duty on November 4th, and on February 17, the next year, SMS Dandolo started another Cadets cruise. She stopping at Messina, Gibraltar, London, Texel, Den Helder, and Leith, then back to Muggia, on December 14. For three years afterwards, she mostly operated in the confines of the Mediterranean. In January 1875, she departed Gibraltar for Fort-de-France (Martinique, French Carribean). She arrived there on February 22 and was back to Pola.
She made other cruises in North and South America and by January 1879, she was assigned to the Artillery School, in a static role due to her advanced age.
By late 1880, she was laid up and converted into a barge. She made a few utilitarian trips until July 1881, when her machinery was retired. She was by then anchored until July 1882 and transformed into a barracks ships, port guardship, in Pola. By June 1886, she became a floating hospital for cholera patients, transformed as such. In 1887, she became a warehouse to store mines and torpedoes, in Sibenik. She also became the Sibernik students accommodation ship until September 1900. But she would not see WWI. Instead she was discarded and BU in 1901.
First article for the 1860 section, the Austrian Navy’s legendary SMS Kaiser: Born as a formidable 2-decker ship of the line, arguably the pride of the Austrian Navy in 1860, she became immortal during the battle of Lissa, being the only sailing ship of the line in history to engage ironclads. She was completely rebuilt as an central battery ironclad in 1873, rebuilt again in 1882, ending her very long career as a barrack ship in WWI.
SMS Kaiser at Lissa, 1866, a legend is born;
By the early 1850s, the Austrian Empire had to face a threatening Kingdom of Sardinia—which which suceeded in unifying most of the Italian peninsula within ten year. It also started to modernize its navy with new steam warships. Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian then ordered a serie of steamships of its own, the first of which was the screw frigate SMS Radetzky in Great Britain, ordered and laid down in 1852. In 1854, Ferdinand Maximilian decided to order a large steamship of the line, as France and Great Britain had, and to gain time, proposed to base it on the British 91-gun HMS Agamemnon. Her plans was provided by the Royal Navy to Austria, in exchange for neutrality during the Crimean War. This war soon showed the performances of the French Napoleon and Algésiras, which prompted the Austrians to have their Agamemnon design incorporating its features. It was made larger and incorporated a much better and larger machinery. A sister-ship, slightly larger 101 guns named “SMS Österreich”, was ordered, then cancelled in 1859 and never laid down.
The Kaiser according to Wilhelm von Rüstow measured 74 meters (242 ft) long and displaced 5,337 long tons (5,423 t) while Andrew Lambert saw her 74.02 metres (242 ft 10 in) long for on 5,194 long tons. Conway’s figures after conversion as a modern ironclad, cetral battery ship in 1871 states 5,720 tons for 77.75 meters at the waterline but her ram must be taken in account. The new displacement included all the weight of the armour, reaching 6 inches, so the original displacement was probably closer to von Rüstow’s figures.
Her beam was however of 16.21 metres (53 ft 2 in) and crew comprised about 900 officers and men, including a small naval infantry coningent for landing parties. Her main battery comprised ninety-two cannons, of various calibers to avoid stability issues as customary of the time: She had sixteen 60-pounder guns at the lower battery deck, close to the waterline, completed by seventy-four 30-pounder smoothbores partly on the upper deck and two 24-pounder breech loaders at the front on the upper deck. She was powered by a Maudslay, Sons and Field two-cylinder horizontal steam engine driving a single screw propeller 5.75 m (18.9 ft) in diameter. Steam came from six coal-fired boilers and twenty-six fireboxes, rated at 800 nominal horsepower. Of course her rigging included a three-mast configuration and large enough sail area to complement her top speed and replace the engine in some occasions. In 1855 indeed, confidence in steam engines was growing but not to the point of dropping sail entirely. This slow transition went on until the early 1890s. SMS Kaiser was laid down on 25 March 1855 in Pola and launched on 4 October 1858.
SMS Kaiser after the battle of Lissa, showing her formast and funnel gone, as well as her hole bow, crushed in her ramming of Re d’Italia she was never designed for.
Second life as an Ironclad (1873-93)
Author’s illustration of SMS Kaiser after conversion as an ironclad, 1873.
Later in her career, Chronic budgetary problems plagued the Austro-Hungarian Empire, admiral Tegetthoff failing to secure funds for new ships. In 1868, a new building program was proposed, rejected by the government. The Parliament however was more generous and at least allocated funds to modernized modernize SMS Kaiser, by then completely obsolete. On 2 February 1869 she was sent into a drydock for her hull to be examined by a commission. She was found to be in good general condition so the project of modernizing her get an approval.
Lenght 75.87 m oa (249ft), Beam 15.25 m (50 ft), Draft 6.15 m (20 ft 2 in)
3,548 long tons standard
1 screw, Two 2-cyl. H LP engines, 8? boilers, 2,755 ihp
Belt armor: 200 mm, Bulkheads: 115 mm, Casemate 125mm.
The plan was to convert her as an ironclad casemate ship, the latest type possible. The old wooden planking below the waterline was entirely replaced and above water, iron was used all around. Her bow notably was cmpletely recast as an iron ram bow and the stern was modified as well, but still including a traditional gallery. Her length went to 77.75 m (255.1 ft) at the waterline, her beam to 17.76 m (58.3 ft) but her draft remained relatively similar at 7.37 m (24.2 ft) with a superior displacement of 5,720 long tons (5,810 t). The machinery was also reviewed with Superheaters installed to boost heroriginal boilers and the steam engine modernized and rerated to reach 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph). Total output was 3,130 ihp (2,330 kW), but with the boiler red hot. In service it was reduced to a more reasonable 11.55 knots (21.39 km/h; 13.29 mph), obtained from 2,786 ihp (2,078 kW). At 10 knots, she still could cover 1,519 nautical miles (2,813 km; 1,748 mi).
Armament-wise, In addition to her eight central battery Krupp breech-loading main guns, 21 cm (8.26 in), she was rearmed with four 9 in (230 mm) 23-pounder muzzle-loading guns (Uchatius), also breech-loaders, placed on railings to increase their traverse. They were all grouped together in a central two-story casemate. The secondary battery in portholes comprised 8-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loaders. Armour-wide, she obtained an armored belt at the waterline while the central citadel protecting machinery spaces was protected by 152 mm (6 in) thick plating. On both ends, the belt was reduced to 102 mm (4 in). The casemate itself was further protected by 127 mm (5 in). There were two rows of armour plates, all other came from old discarded armoured frigates.
SMS Kaiser was eventually re-launched in 1871, so after a year and a half conversion, but again, her completion was plagued by budgetary issues and the armor plate or iron fittings purchased from Britain were not paid, delaying her completion. She was only completed in December 1873, so a good year behind schedule. Sea trials started on 21 December but she was already obsolescent as turret ships became the new norm. The Italians notably just laid down the two steam-only all iron and steel Duilio-class ironclads, armed with the most powerful guns in the Mediterranean, 450 mm (17.7 in) artillery pieces.
Her modernization was in fact gradual. In 1876, she received a 7.62 m (25 ft) propeller, now able to reach 12.72 knots. In 1880, her rigging was completely reduced (still she had three masts). Her decks were cutout ut n drydoc to access and removed her very old boilets; She received modern ones, improving her output greatly, however her new top speed it not known. More importantly during this major refit in 1880-82 she receoved the following armament:
Six 9 cm (3.5 in) 24-caliber (cal.) breech-loading guns
Two 7 cm (2.8 in) 15-cal. guns
Four 47 mm (1.9 in) 33-cal. quick-firing guns
Three 47 mm Hotchkiss revolver cannon
Four 25 mm (0.98 in) machine guns
(From 1885) Three 35 cm (14 in) torpedo tubes, one bow, two broadsides.
Auctioned Postcards of SMS Bellona (former Kaiser) as barrack ship in Pola in 1909 (sold by Darabanth)).
SMS Kaiser rammming Re di Portogallo at Lissa, 1866 (Painting by Eduard_Nezbeda)
SMS Kaiser was commissioned into the Austrian Navy in 1859. Her sea trials started on 6 December. She made her first commissioned voyage, from Muggia to Pola, under command of Captain Friedrich von Pöck. In February 1864, she joined the squadron sent to participate to the Second Schleswig War against Denmark, with Prussia. She sailed with the frigate SMS Juan de Austria and two others vessels under command of Vice Admiral Bernhard von Wüllerstorf-Urbair. There she met with the frigates SMS Schwarzenberg and Radetzky (Captain Wilhelm von Tegetthoff). They combined in Den Helder (Netherlands) before heading for Cuxhaven, reaching it on 30June. Both the relatvely small Prussian fleet and the Austro-Hungarians outnumbered the Danish fleet, which was condemned to remain in port until the end of the war. The Austro-Prussian squadron soon imposed a blockade and later provided cover when capturing the islands off the western Danish coast.
Battle of Lissa (1866)
Kaiser surrounded by Italian ironclads at Lissa, by Constantine Volanakis
In June 1866, Italy declared war on Austria (Third Italian War of Independence). It happened right during the Austro-Prussian War. Rear admiral Tegetthoff was given overall command of the fleet. He prepared it and trained the crew hard before heading in Ancona on 27 June. The idea was to draw out the Italians. However Admiral Carlo Pellion di Persano refused to make any move. SMS Kaiser became flagship of the 2nd Division, under command of Baron Anton von Petz. On 16 July, Persano at last was ordred to oust the Austrians from Ancona and sailed with the entire italian fleet, twelve ironclads, and headed for the island of Lissa. They arrived on 18 July, escorting troopships with 3,000 soldiers to occupy the island; The flee then proceeded to shell Austrian fortifications but its landing failed two days after. Tegetthoff was informed of the situation by telegrams on 17-19 July and at first believed it was a feint to draw him away from Pola and Venice. However on the 19 her realized Lissa was the real objective, requested permission to attack and obtained it.
Tegetthoff’s fleet arrived off Lissa on 20 July, catching Persano gearing for another landing attempt, split into three groups surrounding the island. Thus only the first was available to meet the Austrians. Tegetthoff meanwhile arranged his ironclads into a wedge-shaped formation, his wooden warships (2, 3rd Divisions) following behind. SMS Kaiser was the lead ship of the 2nd Division, the center of the line. Persano made the error of transferring from Re d’Italia to Affondatore, leaving a curcial gap in command, allowing Tegetthoff to split and divide the Italian fleet. In the “ramming fest” melee that followed, confusion soon emerged. Petz onboard SMS Kaiser went south to attack the Italian wooden fleet still out of action, but met instead the rear Italian ironclad line. The latter attacked Kaiser, and Petz reacted by reorienting his whole division to face the Italian ironclads, Kaiser leading the charge.
Kaiser in the Melee at Lissa, paintings by Kircher
Castelfidardo, Varese, and Principe di Carignano started a circle in order to ram Kaiser, while broadsiding her. The following long minutes saw both Austrian and Italian vessels trying to get into position to ram each other, recalling the antique galley battles. Persano in Affondatore spotted and tried to ram Kaiser but missed. Kaiser however suceeded to ramm the ironclad Re di Portogallo to protect the Erzherzog Friedrich and Kaiserin Elizabeth of the 2nd division, less protected. It was not an esy decision to make as contrary to ironclads, the all-wooden Kaiser had no dedicated ram or metal prow. Petz only thought the energy of the move would severely harm the ironclad. It only struck a glancing blow and inflicted little damage in the end, while Re di Portogallo replied with its light guns. Kaiser saw a fire reupting while loosing many gunners. Eventually by reversing she was able to break free. Affondatore came bac for a second attempt but missed again. She did score hits however and badly damaging SMS Kaiser, loosing 20 more crewmen. Kaiser’s broadside however was devastating. She fired point-black on Affondatore’s deck, disabling all crew present, starting a fire, blewing holes into her. Kaiser’s riflemen in her fighting tops also scored many kills, in the Trafalgar tradition. A lucky shot from Kaiser struck one of Affondatore’s turrets. The concussion was enough to jam it. Kaiser in this fight lost her foremast while the funnel fell during the collision with Re di Portogallo. Petz eventually ordered to withdraw and limp back to Lissa.
Painting by Carl Berthold Püttner
The Austrian ironclads later disengaged from the melee, trying to protect their own wooden ships, after loosing Re d’Italia (rammed) and Palestro (badly burnt, exploded). Persano had its crew demoralized and eventually decided ot to give prchase and started to withdraw, followed by the Austrians until night fell. Both fleets then departed away for Ancona and Pola. On Kaiser, the quarremaster listed twenty-four killed and thirty-seven wounded, but the battle soon became the stuff of legend, immortalized by paintings. SMS Kaiser would remain the only ship of the line duelling with ironclad in naval history. She later became an ironclad herself.
Even if the battle of Lissa was over, the war was not, and after hasty repairs, Kaiser was maintained as flagship of her division, Tegetthoff keeping his fleet in the northern Adriatic, patrolling against a possible Italian attack which never came. On 12 August, Armistice was signed, and then the Treaty of Vienna. It was crushing for the Austrians depite their victories against the Italians at Lissa and Custoza, as they were decisively defeated by Prussia at Königgrätz. Austria eventually became Austria-Hungary (Ausgleich) in 1867 but was forced to cede Venice to Italy. Soon after this, the entire Austrian fleet was decommissioned and disarmed.
Later career 1873-1920
SMS Kaiser thetefore was mothballed in 1867, seeing no further service. In 1868, a new building program was rejected by the government but some funds were allocated to modernize her. On 2 February 1869 she entered the drydock to be examined by a commission and approval for conversion. She was entirely rebuilt as an ironclad casemate ship and recommissioned in the end of 1873. However she remained laid up from 1875 and spent the first four months of 1876 in the second Reserve. After an overhaul and and modifications she saw naval engineers trying to improve her rather abysmal performance by replacing her original propeller scraw in 1876. This very large, newlt cast propeller had a gargantuan diameter of 7.62 m (25 ft) !
speed tests on 7 December 1876 show her reaching 12.72 knots (23.56 km/h; 14.64 mph), the propeller helping for an extra knot. Back to the II Reserve she served as such until 1880, when her rigging was much reduced. She received new boilers as a complement to her new propeller. Her new secondary battery reduced to 9 cm (3.5 in) breech-loading guns and two 7 cm (2.8 in)/15 plus four 47 mm (1.9 in)/33 QF plus three Hotchkiss revolver, four machine guns. In 1885 she had three 35 cm (14 in) torpedo tubes added, bow and broadsides.
A commission examined again SMS kaiser in 1893. This time her old wooden hull behind was showing her age. The commission recommended she was “not suitable anymore for service”. The government negotiated for a resell to Venezuela in 1895 but this came to nil. In 1897 at least she was stricken and mothballed. She was completely disarmed in 1901. In 1902 her engines were removed. The freed space allowed her to be used as a barracks ship in Pola. She was formally stricken again, and for good, on 4 January 1902. By that time her name was changed to SMS Bellona and she became an utility hulk, still used however as barracks ship during WWI. Until 1917 she even hosted the staff of the II Reserve. In 1918 she hosted the naval training school staff, in addition to the II reserve HQ. After the war she seized by her old nemesis Italy (as war prize) but her fate is completely unknown from that point. It is assumed she was BU in 1920-21.
The goal of this chapter is not to portray every single ship featured during the American Civil War (1861-1865), on the union side – it would be useless and time consuming. But rather we will try here to show the main classes and most important ship, of military or historical value, and the events they were involved in.
The Battle of Hampton Roads between the Monitor and the Merrimack, the first clash of ironclads in history.
The Union fleet through the territorial distribution of the states at war, and compared to the Confederacy, had the bulk of the industrial power of the continent, as well as major ports and arsenals of the East Coast. On paper, naval superiority of the Union was just overwhelming. A blocus, to deprive any exports from the Confederacy was a safe option, and indeed proved to be not a war winning strategy, but a crucial element to help achieve the Union’s goal.
So let’s see its composition: The U.S. Navy was born from a few ships built just after the American revolution, and still revered, like the famous frigates of the constitution class. During the second british-american war of 1812, this “fleet” was no match for the mighty Royal navy. Nevertheless, Fulton gave the congress a modern ship which was launched too late to be seen in action: The Demologos (see below).
USS Demologos: This revolutionary ship was a steam-only, heavily protected gunboat. Only an unconventional warfare could be used against the might of the empire. So the congress let some privateers free hands against british shipping, using fast Baltimore schooners, with good successes, atlhough it was a Goliath against David fight. The war was won at land, eventually. But the lessons were learned by those who, in the confederacy, fifty years later, built the confederate fleet.
Between 1820 and 1861, hundred of gun armed steamships were built, and at the starting of the war, the bulk of the fleet was in Union hands, largely constituted of steam frigates and corvettes, and some ships of the line.
USS Constellation – Inner harbor Baltimore. These early 1797-1799 frigates became legendary.
Sailing vessels :
Ships of the line :
The most powerful ship of the fleet was the four-decker, first rate ship of the line USS Pennsylvania (1837), with 120 guns. USS Columbus followed (launched 1819) with 92 guns, then USS Delaware (1820) of 90 guns, and also New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio, all of the same class (the 90 guns or third rate was the common ship of the line at this time). Other three-deckers were ordered but never completed, New Orleans, New York, Vermont and Virginia.
Model of the USS Delaware
Frigates and corvettes :
Amongst the numerous ships in service in 1860 the most famous were undoubtedly the USS Constitution and United States, dating from 1797 and 1798. These veterans of the 1812 war against the British carried the Stars and Stripes form the Mediterranean to China, and the Constitution ended as a legendary icon, so dear to the hearts of Americans than the Victory of the British, and naturally preserved in sea going conditions.
USS Brandywine 1831
Most frigates built from 1820 were of a standard that could be almost dubbed as a “class”: The “50 guns, 1726 tons.” There were 6 in which the first one, USS Potomac, was launched in 1822 and the last, USS Santee, was being completed in 1861. There was also the USS Congress (50 guns) and the corvette USS Constellation (24). Three others were deprived of their masts, transformed into pontoons to serve as headquarters of the fleet: The USS Independence, and Cumberland and Macedonian, both of which are corvettes.
USS Columbus Master Sailmaker Plan
USS Congress 1841
Eventually, the fleet also included the corvettes USS Cyane, Dale, Decatur, Germantown, and 12 other units, as well as bricks USS Bainbridge, Dolphin and Perry. They were fast, but lightly armed, more suited for dispatches and scouting or attacking British trade, than to be thrown in a classic naval battle. Most of them were used to blockade the confederacy ports and trade lines.
USS Dale 1839
Wartime shipbuilding (1861-65):
Officers on the bridge of USS Castkill
Ironclads and monitors :
The retooling of the Union Navy in specific units really began in 1862 with the USS Monitor, the first revolutionary steam ironclad. It gave rise to a family of riverine typically American ships, which northerners and southerners made great use on the Mississippi River and the James River, up to massive confrontations, real river battles of wooden ironclads.
The famous challenger of the USS Monitor, the CSS Virginia (Merrimack), was also a metal armoured ship, but not as revolutionary with its classical border, fixed artillery.
The only sailing ironclad built for the U.S. Navy at Cramp navy yard between 1861 and 1862 was the USS New Ironsides, comparable to European standards. The later USS Dunderberg was larger and better armed, the result of the experience of war, but came too late to participate in the conflict, and was sold to France two years later.
USS Dunderberg in construction at the end of the war. She integrated many lessons of the civil war at sea (cc)
But the real revolution was the commissioning of a very critical ship concept, inherited from radical idea of the swedish engineer Ericsson, but nonetheless strongly supported by Lincoln himself: The Monitor. It was designed to counter the threat of Confederate ironclad Merrimack, at this point without rival in the union fleet, and a powerful threat by itself. The monitor differed in their choices much more innovative approach, including a turret, an idea taken and perfected by the English Coles, and seen as bright future of guns handling.
The USS Monitor, operational in 1862, was followed by those of the Passaic class (1862-1863), 9 units strong. The tenth, USS Camanche, was completed too late to participate in naval operations. The following class, Monadnock, entered service too late to participate in the conflict, except the first in the series.
Launch of USS Dictator – Press illustration (cc)
Two large sea-going monitors were also built in 1863 and 1864, the USS Roanoke and Dictator. The Puritan, in the same class as that was never completed. Close to the Passaic, of the 9 Canonicus class, 5 became operational in 1864.
The construction of large Kalamazoo, or Monadnock class monitors, which began in 1863, was never completed. Eventually, four cheaper monitors of the Milwaukee class enterd current service in 1864, as well as nine other monitors of a cheap, prefabricated mass production of the Casco Class.
At the end, the sheer industrial capacities of the north prevailed. A a concept of a heavy-guns relatively small and riverine ship, the monitor lasted until 1914 in US navy service. The Royal navy built some sea-going modern equivalents to deal with specific objectives of the western, coastal front like the german defences in belgium, from the north sea. Two of them, modernised, were still in service in 1945.
The riverine first battle of Memphis on the Tennessee, June 6, 1862, which was seen first hand by the inhabitants, fought be even forces od rams and protected paddle-wheelers and won by the Union
In fact, the “old navy” as it was called later, in 1890, was the product of the aging, if not completely obsolete collections of ships left of the Secession war. After the secession war, there was no need for a powerful fleet, and it was slowly reduced or forgotten by successive presidents, to the point that in 1885, the situation was a disaster.
Compared to, for example, the spanish fleet, at least on the paper, the US Navy was almost non-existent, a dull force. A new start was given in 1890, in order to adjust the fleet to the level of wealthiness and industrial resources of USA. Then, the “old navy” has ceased to exist, and in 1918, the US navy was rocketed to the second world rank, very close behind its arch rival, the Royal navy…
Paddle corvette USS Harriet Lane (1857). This ship became CSS Harriet Lane after being captured by the Confederates in 1863 during the Battle of Galveston and used for trade, until recaptured by the Union in 1865.
Nomenclature of Union Ships
As seen before, the union dwarfed easily the confederacy in terms of naval and industrial might. Union ships were mostly used to blockade the southern harbours and trade lines, notably to forbid all exports of cotton, many ships beeing given also the task to intercept cotton-loaded steamers and chasing condeferate corsairs along the war.
Until the end, the union built an amazing force of riverine gunboats, ironclads, and wheeled or screw patrol boats (like the “90 days schooners”), not to mention the revolutionary Monitor and its successors.
USS PENNSYLVANIA (1837)
USS Pennsylvania was one of the classic tall ships of the line still in commission for the Union navy in 1860. This impressive man-o-war in the European tradition was launched in 1837 to meet equivalent units of the Royal Navy with which a conflict was still highly potent after 1812 war. She was the largest ship of the line ever commissioned on the American continent, at 3,105 tons, 120 guns, three full deck and an open one, surpassing all other other ships around 90 guns, two-deckers.
Displacement & dimension : 3,105 t ; 72 x 17,20 x 10.30 m
Propulsion: Sail only – 10-12 knots.
Wooden armor: 20-30 inches oak, teck
Armament: 120 guns from 25 to 50 pdr.
USS MONITOR (1862)
She was sent to fought the CSS Virginia off Hampton Roads in March 1863, during what became the first naval battle of ironclads. The Hampton road battle was one heavily commented by the press, as beeing the chief naval duel between the two enemies in all the war. Despite the heavier armament of the Merrimack, the small and cramped monitor just turned around, remaining harmless.
CSS Viriginia at the same time, sustained no hits, the projectiles, fired at point-blank range, simply bounced off upon its metallic sloped flanks. Despite the success of the concept, the monitor was cramped, very bad seaboat, slow, and the turret could not fire too long as the detonation sound inside quickly rendered the guncrew deaf, and the smoke was just unbearable. The battle ended as a draw. However, the Monitor was never defeated. It simply capsized in port during a storm, the night of New Year 1863.
First in a long line, the revolutionary ship of John Ericsson was nicknamed “the cheese box on a raft.” The latter has had a hard time convincing the traditionalists Chiefs of Staff of the fleet of the merits of his riverine ironclad, the first with a unique Coles turret and two guns to bear. Built on the classic basis of the Mississippi packet boats, was ready in 1862, and commissioned after successful trials.
Displacement and dimensions : 987 t ; 52,42 x 12,64 x 3.20 m
Propulsion : Steam only, 2 Martin Boiler, 320 hp, 1 Ericsson screw – 6 knots.
Armour : 6 inches Iron riveted steel plates on oak framework
Armament : two 11 inches Dalghren RMLs guns.
Crew : 49
USS PASSAIC (1862)
The USS Camanche was carried in parts by USS Aquila, which sank in 1863. Refloated and assembled, she entered too late in commission (May 1865) that it was transported in pieces by the USS Aquila, which sank in 1863. Transportation salvaged, reassembled, so it was put into operation later.
The USS Patapsco hit a mine in January 1865. The USS Wheekhaven sank due to an accidental filling of the purges in 1863. The survivors will be briefly reactivated as coastal monitors during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
This were ten improved “monitors”; lenghtened, widened, but with the same draught, and bearing one light and one heavyer guns, the first beeing used to help to targeting the first. The Passaic was the lead of file, they were launched between November 1862 and February 1863. They were heavily used for coastal and riverine operations until the end of the war.
Weight & dimensions : 1875 t ; 60,96 x 14 x 3.20 m
Propulsion : Steam only – 1 Ericsson screw, 4 Martin Boilers, 6 knots.
Armour : max 6 inches of iron plates on oak framework
Armament : Two Dalghren RMLs 15 and 8 inches guns.
Crew : 75
USS ROANOKE (1863)
The ship was the first attempt to make a seagoing monitor. But it was overgunned. In fact the sheer topweight of the guns and turrets alike, combined with a too narrow, light hull, was a practical disaster, although the high freeboard was well suited for the moderate gale of the north atlantic.
The USS Roanoke was a great seagoing monitor, converted from the frigate of the same name, and bearing no less than three turrets. But the weight of the towers made it fairly unstable and therefore it was not used in operation, but remained at anchor as a coastal battery during her entire was commission and well after. It was hulked and and demolished in 1883.
Weight & dimensions : 4395 t ; 80,77 x 16,15 x 6,70 m
Propulsion : Steam only – 1 Penn trunk screw, 4 Martin Boilers, 6 knots.
Armour : Max 12 inches of iron plates on oak framework
Armament : Two 15 in, two 12 in, two 8 in Dalghren RMLs
Crew : 85
USS DICTATOR (1864)
This seagoing monitor was built by Delamater Iron Works, New York, NY and commissioned in november, 11, 1864. She arrived too late to make a difference during the conflict, although her capacity to serve offshore gave her a distinct advantage for the years to come.
However, she has unrelentless machinery problems and was subsequently put out of commission for years, at League Island yard. In 1871 she was re-engineered and served with the north atlantic fleet at New York, before beeing decommissioned in 1883 and scrapped ten years later.
The largest monitor ever put into commission during the war, first named USS Protector, was a seagoing monster of nearly 5000 tons of wood and iron. As suggested by Ericsson, she was to be named Dictator, as a feared “republic sea monarch” of the united states. As designed, she has to carry two giant smoothbore 20 inches guns (510 mm), but the war urged a more standard gunnery, and stability was a concern.
Weight & dimensions : 4438 t ; 95 x 15 x 6,25 m
Propulsion : Steam only – 1 Penn trunk screw, 4 Martin Boilers, 10 knots.
Armour : Max 15 inches of iron plates on oak framework
Armament : Two 15 in Dalghren smoothbore RMLs
Crew : 174
USS MIANTONOMOH (1864)
“Miantonomoh” was actually the name of the Narrangansett chief and son of the famous grand Sachem, Canonicus, also honored by another Monitor. These twin-screw ships were built at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, launched in 1863-64 and commissioned in 1865 for the North Atlantic squadron.
Seagoing and fast, as evidenced by the Miantonomoh cruise across the Atlantic in 1866, they were however decommissioned in 1874 after nine short years of service, but soon after beeing broken up, their scrap material was used to construct other monitors that were named after them, part of the Amphitrite class (1890).
The last monitors to be built during the war, the Miantonomoh class (from indian tribal names), were also the most costier ever. The Monadnock was in fact the only one to be commissioned soon enough to see then end of the war. The others were accepted into service between May and October 1865. The class of twin turrets, twin screws ships had four units, the Miantonomoh the Tonawanda, the Agamenticus and Monadnock.
Weight & dimensions : 3450 t ; 78,80 x 16 x 3,40 m
Propulsion : Steam only – 2 Ericsson screws, 4 Martin Boilers, 1400 hp, 10 knots.
Armour : Max 11 inches of iron plates on oak framework
Armament : Four 15 in Dalghren smoothbore RMLs (2×2)
Crew : 150
USS SPUYTEN DUYVIL(1864)
Built by SM Pook in june 1864, she was commissioned in november of the very same year. The Spuyten Duyvil (under the original name of USS Stromboli) had a partially armoured wooden hull, from 3in (decks) to 5in (sides), and 9in later on. On 25 november, she began to test its charges delivery system succesfully. She was put on action on the James River, blowing up obstruction ships under heavy enemy fire. However she never succeed to sunk any confederate ship, and after the war, used for various experiments until 1880.
This unusual ship was an experimental semi-submersible spar torpedo vessel. It was designd by William Hood, the chief engineer of the USN. It was an amazing ship with a nearly ten tons semi automatic watertight torpedo charge delivery system, with 12 charges in stores.
Weight & dimensions : 207 t ; 25,66 x 6,30 x 2,26 m
Propulsion : Steam only – 1 Ericsson screw, 1 Boiler, approx. 200 hp, 8 knots.
Armour : Max 9 inches of iron plates on wooden framework
Armament : 12 torpedo charges
Crew : 22
USS HARTFORD (1858)
Launched in 1858 at Boston, she was the flasghip of the east indian squadron from 1858 to 1861 and came to Philadelphia in december when the war broke up. Then she was posted, under command of admiral Farragut between Ship Island and Mobile, trying to clean up the Mississippi mouth of Confederate ships.
Along with Porter’s mortar schooners she succesfully cut the chains protected the entrance of the mouth and silenced many southerner guns positions during the night of april, 16, 1862. She dodged and fought back successfully CSS Manassas and bombed the unfinished CSS Louisiana.
Later she ended the confederate batteries, and threaten to surrender Baton Rouge and Natchez, and in june 1863 she was one of the ship shelling the city of Vicksburg. She distinguished herself in august 1864 at the battle of Mobile Bay and 12 sailor of her crew earned the Congress Medal of Honor for exceptional gallantry.
After the war she undertook a long career in the pacific and was ultimately unlisted in 1926. She was to be undertaken for refitting and be shown as musem ship, but left instead in Norfolk to rot until 1956 when what left of her sank and had to be dismantled.
The USS Hartford was one of the six screw corvettes of war of the Union Navy in 1861, and became the most famous. This 24 gun ships earned fame during the battle of Mobile bay, New Orleans battle and Vicksburg siege…
Weight & dimensions : 2250 t ; 69 x 13 x 5,23 m
Propulsion : 1 lifting screw, 9,5 knots and 13.5 under sail.
Armour : Extra planking on Wooden framework
Armament : 20x9in Dalghren SB guns, 2x20pdr Parrots Rifles, 2x12pdr.
Crew : 302
USS TICONDEROGA (1862)
There were two classes of barque-rigged sloops, Sacramento and Ticonderoga commissioned in early 1963. The Sacramento class (Sacramento, Monongahela, Canandaigua, Shenandoah, laid down in 1861 and completed from august 1862 to june 1863) and Ticonderoga class (Ticonderoga and Lackawanna, completed in january and march 1863).
The first were essentially a lnghtened version of the ossipee, while the latter were lenghtened versions of the Sacramento (and 420 tons heavyer). All were barque-rigged, one-funneled with same arrangement, but considerable variation in gunnery.
Most of them fought at Mobile bay, all survived the war, Sacramento beeing wrecked on uncharted reefs o the indian coast in 1867 and the others sold in 1884-1887, although Monongahela, which attempted to pass Port Hudson, was converted to a sailing supply, training and storage in 1883, surviving until 1908 were she was burnt at Guantanamo bay.
The USS Ticonderoga was a wooden screw sloop of war, along with USS Lackawanna were similar to a six ships class (Sacramento class), most of them fightning at Mobile bay.
Weight & dimensions : 2526 t ; 71,43 x 11,63 x 4,95 m
Propulsion : 1 lifting screw, 10,5 knots.
Armour : Extra planking on Wooden framework
Armament : 1×4.2in Parrott RML, 12x9in SB, 2x7in Parrots Rifles.
Crew : 270
USS HOUSATONIC (1861)
The USS Housatonic was launched in november 1861 at Boston naval yard. She was part of the four Ossipee class wooden screw sloops, also with USS Adirondack (wrecked on the little Bahama bank), Ossipee and Juniata. Ossipee fought at Mobile bay. Both Ossipee and Juniata served until 1891, beeing modernised and rearmed in 1887.
USS Housatonic was sunk by a spar torpedo manned by the crew of the HL HUNLEY, a confederate submarine. It was the very first submarine victory in history.
The USS Housatonic was a wooden screw sloop, part of the Ossipee class of four ships. Housatonic was the very first ship ever to be sunk by a submarine, the HL Hunley in august 1862.
Weight & dimensions : 1934 t; 62,48 x 11,58 x 5,02 m
Propulsion : 1 screw, 10 knots.
Armour : Extra planking on Wooden framework
Armament : 1×6.4in Parrott RML, 3×4,2in Parrott RML, 1x11in SB, 2x32pdr SB.
Crew : 214
USS New Ironsides (1862)
The first USN sea-going ironclad was launched in may 1862 at Philadelphia. She fought at Hampton roads, successfully repelled confederates attacks, in the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, bombarded forts and confederates positions taking many hits without fatalities.
She was torpedoed twice, the first time in april 1863, and later with CSS David i, december. After rebuilding, she took part in many other engagements but never encountered a real opponent. She took fire in 1866 while on moorings at Philadelphia and was lost.
The USS New ironsides was the first seagoing ironclad of the US Navy, designed to deal with Virginia and other confederate ironclads. She was torpedeoed by CSS David in december 1863 and entirely rebuilt (picture).
Weight & dimensions : 4120-4190 t; 70,10 x 17,5 x 4,8 m
Propulsion : 1 screw, 1800 hp, 7 knots.
Armour : Wooden hull-iron plating from 1in to 4,5in
Armament : 14x11in Dalghren RML, 2×150 pdr Parrott rifles, 2×60 pdr Dalghren rifles.
Crew : 449