Tag Archives: American Civil War

Ironclad Battle Changes Naval Warfare

 

“The Monitor and Merrimac: The First Fight Between Ironclads”, 1886
U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs, digital ID pga.04044
Public Domain/Wikimedia

A naval battle between two ironclad ships during the American Civil War would herald the change in ship technology leading to the use of metal over wood in shipbuilding. Wood was used in shipbuilding for centuries. Ships built for combat would often have thickened wooden hulls to reduce the impact of cannons and musket fire. The downside of building huge warships was sometimes they would be too heavy. They might be well armed and deliver heavy blows but smaller more maneuverable warships would be able to move around her easily and perhaps just outside their cannon limits. 

By the 19th century, the idea of using metal armor of some kind on ships was being considered. With cannon technology able to deliver massive blows, wood was no longer practical in battle. If you were up against a ship armed with those cannons, you probably would think twice about taking them on knowing they could sink you with just a few cannon shots and possibly out of distance of your own guns. The heavy weight of the metal made it impractical for sail powered vessels but the development of steam technology changed that. The French were the first to use ironclad ships during the Crimean War (1854-1855). Their armored ships withstood significant damage but their floating batteries defeated Russian coastal fortifications. The French would follow later with the first oceangoing ironclad frigate Gloire in 1859. The British would build the  HMS Warrior.

At the start of the American Civil War, the Union Navy was not that much interested in ironclad ships. Once they learned the Confederate Navy was converting a ship to an ironclad (the Virginia), they realized the necessity of having one of their own. The feared the Confederate ship would cause damage not only to Union ships and coastal cities and riverfronts. Congress approved funding of armored ships and the rush was on to build the USS Monitor. Construction was begun on 25 October 1861 and launched on 30 January 1862. The Virginia had sunk two Union frigates (Cumberland and Congress) and on 8 March 1862 forced the steam frigate Minnesota aground near Hampton Roads, Virginia before the Monitor arrived that night.

On 9 March 1862, the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia engaged in battle. The four hour battle that ensued saw neither ship destroy or seriously damage the other despite close range heavy cannon fire. However while it was a draw, the Monitor succeeded in defending the Minnesota and other Union ships threatened by Virginia. Thus the Union was able to hold on to Hampton Roads leaving the Confederacy with Norfolk and several rivers. Also as a result of the battle, the North would build more ironclads improving on the design in the process. The Confederacy would start construction on Virginia II.

Two months later the Confederacy was forced to scuttle the Virginia when Union forces attacked James Peninsula forcing a retreat. The Monitor was sunk in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on 31 December 1862 with a loss of 16 seaman and four officers. The wreck was not located until 27 August 1973 but not confirmed until 1974 when clear photos taken proved it was the Monitor. When the U.S. Navy formally abandoning its claim on the wreck in the 1950’s, it was open to anyone. Since it was located in North Carolina territorial limits, the wreck and a specific radius around it was declared a marine sanctuary on 30 January 1975 and a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Sources:

History.com
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary
USS Monitor Center
Wikipedia


Remembering History: The Gettysburg Address

Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# cph.3a53289)

On 19 November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered what would be the most memorable speech given by a president in U.S. history. He was attending the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery (now called Gettysburg National Cemetery) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Four and a half months prior the Battle of Gettysburg had taken place resulting in a major victory for the Union armies. The casualties to both sides were considerable. It also had the highest number of Confederate and Union generals who died in battle as well.

Edward Everett, the best orator of the time, delivered a two hour speech preceding Lincoln’s. When Lincoln spoke, it was only for a few minutes. His speech was only 271 words long after the long speech of Everett’s, so it could have been easily forgotten. People attending gave different accounts of how it was received. Some said a dignified silence, others polite applause. Edward Everett thought it was well done and said so to Lincoln in a letter. Once the text got out to the general public, Democrat leaning newspapers derided it while Republican ones praised. The Times of London thought it a ludicrous speech.

Yet this speech would become famous. It would become oft quoted and praised by many as time went on. Far from being ludicrous, as the Times of London thought it was, it became a standard for other orators to try and emulate. And his eloquent words: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth,” are still stirring to this day.

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Sources:
Abraham Lincoln Online
Britannica
Wikipedia


Remembering the sultana

"Sultana" at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865. Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)
“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksberg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Remembering The Sultana

"Sultana" at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865. Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)
“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksberg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov

Remembering The Sultana

"Sultana" at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865. Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)
“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksberg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov