Warship Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018: Ole Droopy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018: Ole Droopy


Here we see a mighty veteran of the Civil War, the ship–rigged screw sloop-of-war USS Monongahela with her full sail rig sucking air, believed to be around 1902 when she was in her last years as a sail training ship for apprentices at Newport.

Designed as a barkentine-rigged screw sloop with no bowsprit, she was the first U.S. Navy warship named for the river in Pennsylvania and, appropriately, was crafted in the Keystone State at Philadelphia Navy Yard during the early years of the Civil War. Armed with a 200-pounder Parrott rifle, and two 11-inch XI-inch Dahlgren shell guns, the 227-foot long three-master commissioned on 15 January 1863 and promptly sailed for points south to join the Union fleet.

USS Monongahela artwork showing her as originally built, with just three pivot guns and no bowsprit. This was her configuration until 1865. Later, she added a pair of 24-pounders as well as a matching set of 12-pounders to the list. NH 45205

Monongahela sailed to reinforce Rear Adm. David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile, then found herself just eight weeks after commissioning (some shakedown cruise!) attempting to run past the fire-breathing Confederate batteries on the Mississippi at Port Hudson, La., on the night of 14/15 March 1863. It was a near-disaster and Monongahela grounded under the guns of a heavy Rebel battery, taking a heavy fire and losing six men killed and 21 wounded, including the captain.

Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s fleet engaging the rebel batteries at Port Hudson, Louisiana, March 14th, 1863. During this engagement, Farragut, passed the heavy batteries at Port Hudson, Louisiana, with USS Hartford and USS Albatross, to establish an effective blockade of the vital Red River supply lines. During this action, USS Richmond was disabled but drifted downstream, USS Monongahela was grounded but escaped, and USS Mississippi was grounded at high speed, set afire, and blew up. Hand color lithograph by Currier & Ives, possibly 1863. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-PGS-05757

The fleet came back to Port Hudson in May, with Farragut using Monongahela as his flag, and pounded the batteries once again.

Then, in July, just days after Vicksburg had fallen, the ship dueled with Confederate batteries at Donaldsonville, La, where Monongahela‘s skipper, CDR. Abner Read, was killed by shrapnel and her executive officer maimed. This led a survivor from USS Mississippi, lost at Port Hudson four months prior, to be given command of the vessel, a lieutenant by the name of George Dewey who would later see a bit of service in the Philippines.

The ship, already a much-scarred veteran after just a half-year of service, now went to assist Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ Texas campaign, helping to capture Brownsville before Thanksgiving then ending the year back off Mobile, looking for blockade runners and exchanging potshots with Fort Morgan.

Speaking of which, she was in the thick of the action when Farragut charged the mouth of Mobile Bay in August 1864. There, something amazing happened. Outfitted with an iron prow ram, Monongahela was to be the Admiral’s designated tackle for the Confederate casemate ironclad Tennessee, the quarterback of the Rebel fleet in the Bay and flagship of grey coat Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

As described by Shelby Foote bis book “The Civil War, A Narrative Red River To Appomattox”:

Accordingly, when Tennessee came within range about 9.20, making hard for the {Farragut’s} flagship (Hartford), Monongahela moved ahead at full speed and struck her amidships, a heavy blow that had no effect at all on the rebel vessel but cost the sloop her iron beak, torn off along her cutwater.

From Farragut’s own report, in terse understatement:

All the vessels had passed the forts by 8: 30 o’clock, but the rebel ram Tennessee was still apparently uninjured in our rear.

Signal was at once made to all the fleet to turn again and attack the ram, not only with the guns but with orders to run her down at full speed. The Monongahela was the first that struck her, and, though she may have injured her badly, yet failed in disabling her. The Lackawanna also struck her, but ineffectually, and the flagship gave her a severe shock with her bow, and as she passed poured her whole port broadside into her, solid IX-inch shot and 13 pounds of powder, at a distance of not more than 12 feet. The ironclads were closing upon her and the Hartford and the rest of the fleet were bearing down upon her when, at 10 a. m., she surrendered. The rest of the rebel fleet, viz, Morgan and Gaines, succeeded in getting back under the protection of the guns of Fort Morgan.

This terminated the action of the day.

Admiral Buchanan sent me his sword, being himself badly wounded with a compound fracture of the leg, which it is supposed will have to be amputated.

This act– ramming a well-armored Rebel ironclad with a steam sloop at full speed at the start of a surface engagement while simultaneously brushing off the threat of mines and shore bombardment– was the stuff of legend and was well-remembered in naval lore, regardless of the tactical impact it had on the engagement. At the time, Leslie’s reported the blow caused “the huge rebel monster to reel like a drunken man.”

Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Woodcut by Roberts, circa 1866, entitled Capture of the Ram Tennessee by Farragut (Mobile Bay). It depicts CSS Tennessee being rammed by a U.S. Navy steam sloop, either USS Monongahela or USS Lackawanna. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 65707

Painting by Lieutenant Colonel Edmund S. Sayer, USMC (Retired), December 1938, depicting USS Monongahela ramming CSS Tennessee during the battle. The artist composed this painting from Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s battle plans. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 42397

From Monongahela later came a boarding party to swarm over the seized Tennessee. That party included one Ensign (later RADM) Purnell Frederick Harrington of Dover, Delaware, who picked up a Leech & Rigdon .36 Colt Navy clone from the enemy ship.

Few Georgia-made Leech & Rigdon’s were made (less than 1,500 guns on a Confederate government contract) and fewer survive today. This one has a silver oval plaque inlaid in the right grip and engraved in block letters and flowing script: “Ensign P. Fred Harrington U.S. Navy, USS Monongahela, Mobile Bay Alabama Friday, Aug 5th, 1864 Captured with the Rebel Ironclad Tennessee.” It sold at auction via Cowan for $47K in 2016.

Monongahela on the Mississippi River during the Civil War. Across the top is written “Port Hudson. Donaldsonville. Texas Coast. Mobile” while the 691-ton Unadilla-class gunboat USS Winona (5 guns) is shown to the left and the 1000-ton ironclad river gunboat USS Essex (6 guns) to the right of the frame. From Philbrick collection, Kittery Maine. Catalog #: NH 995

After receiving bow repairs, Monongahela remained on duty with the West Gulf Squadron until the end of the Civil War and then received an assignment to the West Indies Squadron.

There, according to DANFS, she soon ran into another sort of battle– one with Poseidon.

The warship had the unique experience of being landed high and dry almost a mile inland from the shoreline when a wave generated by an underwater earthquake struck Frederiksted, St. Croix, on 18 November 1867. The tsunami generated a roughly 20-foot high wall of water that wrecked the harbor, destroying buildings and shattering many small boats. The water also carried the screw sloop over the beach, warehouses, and streets where she came to rest on an even keel some distance from the water. She lost not a soul, though the town suffered five people drowned. A working party of mechanics from New York Navy Yard under Naval Constructor Thomas Davidson succeeded in refloating the ship on 11 May 1868, following a four-month endeavor. Monongahela was towed to New York and thence Portsmouth where she was slowly repaired, finally departing in 1873 to join the South Atlantic Station.

USS Monongahela stranded at Frederiksted, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands on 4 March 1868 after an unsuccessful launching attempt. She had been washed ashore by a tidal wave on 18 November 1867 and was finally refloated on 11 May 1868. Monongahela had received a bowsprit in her 1865 refit but retains her original straight bow. NH 45208

After a decade of service as a training ship on both the East and West Coast, our hardy warship was stripped of her guns (although pictures show what appear to be at least one muzzle-loading Dahlgren on her deck as late as 1891), and, with her machinery removed and rig scaled back, was converted to a floating supply ship and tender at California’s Mare Island Navy Yard.

USS Monongahela off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, in July 1884, following conversion to a sailing storeship. USS Mohican (1885-1922) is fitting out in the left background, with Mare Island’s distinctive large crane beyond. NH 45209

In 1890, the seagoing storeship was re-cast as a ship-rigged training ship and dispatched to Newport Station, then a key training base. Leaving Mare Island after her period in doldrums, she rounded Cape Horn and made New York in just 106 days on sail alone– a feat for any windjammer. Once on the East Coast, she began her third career, that of a school ship.

USS Monongahela (photographed in port, following her 1890-91 conversion to a ship-rigged training ship. NH 60266

After a decade without guns, the old warrior was given a training battery that consisted of a mix of 6-pounder (57mm) breechloaders, multi-barrel 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon, and various small arms.

A book by Frank Child of Newport, Rhode Island, entitled “U.S.T.S. Monongahela and the U.S. Naval Training System, illustrated,” was published in 1892, and froze both the ship and her students in time. As such, they show the Victorian-era naval training establishment well, to include modern weapons such as rapid-fire guns, blended with traditional marlinspike seamanship and the use of cutlasses.

USS Monongahela (1863-1908), departing Newport, Rhode Island Caption: For Europe, 23 June 1891. Photographed by Frank H. Child, Newport. NH 45881

Apprentices drill at furling topsail and mainsail, off Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, NH 45894

“Morse code of signaling.” Apprentices practice semaphore signaling, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, Note: 37mm Hotchkiss rotary cannon behind these boys NH 45888

Apprentices in blues drill with a 37mm Hotchkiss rotary cannon, circa 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, NH 45891

“Ready.” Apprentices of the Fourth Division at small arms drill, on board USS MONONGAHELA (1863-1908), at Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Note the .45-70 caliber M1879/80/81 Winchester-Hotchkiss rifles. These were the first detachable-mag bolt-action rifles the Navy would adopt, buying some 2,500 of them. They were later replaced by the M1885 Remington-Lee and the M1895 Lee rifle. Further, note what seems to be a Civil War-era Dahlgren shell gun to the far right of the image. While you could say it was quaint, it should be noted that legacy ships such as the training sloop USS Enterprise still had working IX-inch Dahlgren pivot guns at the same time and would keep them until 1910! Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport. NH 45886

Apprentices in winter blues at gun drill on board, circa 1891. Gun is a six-pounder rapid-fire Hotchkiss model. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport NH 45890

“Left face cut.” Cutlass exercises for apprentices on board USS Monongahela at Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, Rhode Island. From the book: “U.S.T.S. Monongahela and the U.S. Naval Training System, illustrated,” 1892. Keep in mind the Navy retained cutlasses in ship’s stores through WWII. Description: Catalog #: NH 45885

On 15 May 1894, she was attached to the Naval Academy at Annapolis as the school’s practice ship, carrying Mids on lengthy summer cruises to the Caribbean and Europe for the next half-decade (taking a break to serve as an auxillary patrol ship on the East Coast during the Spanish-American War) before being sent back to Newport to resume her old job teaching apprentices until 1904.

Sometime after 1895 (likely during the aformentioned SpanAm service) she evidently picked up at least one modern 3″/50 caliber gun. More on that later.

USS MONONGAHELA, practice ship for the Naval Academy from 1894-97, is seen tied up to the Academy wharf. USS Newport (PG-12) practice ship in 1897, can also be seen in the background. Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral Edgar H. Batcheller, USN, Charleston South Carolina, 1969 NH 68422

Under sail, with starboard studding sails spread in a very light wind, while serving as U.S. Naval Academy Practice Ship in 1894-99. Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89732

In 1902 she was still beautiful, as the below postcard series shows.

19-N-12118 USS Monongahela, starboard stern, at sea,

19-N-6801 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12112 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12114 USS Monongahela, port bow, at sea,

19-N-12119 USS Monongahela, port view,

The old warship was dispatched in her 41st year to the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she was to serve as station ship at the primitive coaling base. There, she was engulfed in a fire on a cool spring night in March 1908 while anchored between South Toro Cay and Grenadillo Point. While the ship was afire, it was towed to the harbor area on the south side of Deer Point, near Officer’s Landing.

“The ship was towed to the harbor because it was easier to try and fight the fire,” explained CDR Jeff Johnston, public works officer for GITMO’s Naval Station in a 2009 article. “The effort was unsuccessful, and the ship sank in only about 20 feet of water.”

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Remains of the USS MONONGAHELA, which had been destroyed by fire on March 17, 1908. Probably photographed during the early “teens”. Courtesy of Carter Rila, 1986. NH 100938

One of the few items salvaged from the charred wreck was a 3″/50 caliber deck gun, which had become warped and developed a downward drop of the barrel. Dubbed “Ole Droopy,” it was installed on Deer Point, directly over the remains of the old Civil War vet.

Ole Droopy was warped in the fire that destroyed the USS Monongahela in 1908, then later salvaged and put on display. This is how the venerable gun appeared in 1915. I believe– but am open to debate on this– that it is an early Mark 2 gun.

Ole Droopy stood sentinel over the sunken remains of the USS Monongahela at Deer Point before it was moved in 1942. The stone slab beneath the gun remains in the backyard of a private residence today. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy) UNCLASSIFIED – Cleared for public release. For additional information contact JTF Guantanamo PAO 011-5399-3589; DSN 660-3589

In 1942, the gun was moved to a downtown location, where it remained until 1988 when it “disappeared” rumored to be interred unceremoniously in a base landfill condemned by the base commander and public works officer who “were not pleased with the undignified look of the warped, downward pointing deck gun. To some young Sailors and Marines, it became the appendage of off-color jokes and references.”

Ole Droopy is shown on a postcard in front of the base library in the 1950s.

Other than the vintage naval rifle, which has now marched off into naval lore of her own, Monongahela was commemorated in the fleet itself by two vessels that went on to carry her proud name– a WWII-era Kennebec-class oiler (AO-42) that picked up a dozen battle stars before she was struck in 1959 and a Cimarron-class fleet replenishment oiler (AO-178) commissioned from 1981 to 1999.

Nonetheless, the original hard charger of Port Gibson and Brownsville, home to Dewey and Farragut, survivor of a beef with the king of the sea and schoolmaster to the fleet, Monongahela is well-remembered in maritime art, and Mids continue to see her every day.

Painting by Gordon Grant, showing the ship during her days as Naval Academy Training Ship. “U.S.S. MONONGAHELA, Civil War Veteran and famous Midshipmen’s Practice Cruise Ship.” This screened print appeared in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1944. Catalog #: NH 45992-KN

USS Monongahela (1863-1908) mural by Howard B. French, in Memorial Hall, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, depicting Monongahela during her days at the Naval Academy Practice Ship, 1894-99. The mural was donated to the Naval Academy by Mrs. Louis M. Nulton. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43576-KN

Further, her plans are in the National Archives.

Specs:

Displacement:2,078 long tons (2,111 t)
Length: 227 ft
Beam: 38 ft
Draft: 17 ft 6 in
Propulsion: Steam engine (until 1883)
Sail plan: Sloop sails, ship after 1890
Speed: 8.5 knots as designed
Armament:
(1865)
1 × 200-pounder Parrott rifle
2 × XI-inch Dahlgren smoothbores
2 × 24-pounder guns
2 × 12-pounder guns
(Disarmed 1883-1890, although may have kept a few old cannon)
(After 1890)
A mix of 3-inch and 6-pdr breechloaders, 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon, small arms

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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