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Warship Wednesday, July 18, 2018: The hardest working cheesebox

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, July 18, 2018: The hardest working cheesebox

Courtesy, Digital Commonwealth Collection.

Here we see the single-turreted, coastal monitor USS Passaic, a proud addition to the steam and iron Union Navy during the Civil War that went on to become a staple of U.S. maritime lore for the rest of the century and retire to Florida in her old age. In fact, this image was taken in 1898, as she stood to in Key West to fight the Spanish, if needed.

Designed by famed engineer John Ericsson to be an improved version of original USS Monitor, Passaic was the first of her class of what was to be 10 “cheesebox on a raft” ships that were larger (200-feet oal over 176-ft of the Monitor) included more ventilation, a tweaked topside layout, bigger guns (a 15-inch Dahlgren along with an 11-incher, whereas Monitor just had two of the latter), and marginally better seakeeping.

Line engraving published in Le Monde Illustre 1862, depicting the interior of the Passaic’s gun turret. Passaic was armed with two large Dahlgren smooth-bore guns: one XI-inch and one XV-inch. Note round shot in the foreground, that at right in a hoisting sling, and turning direction marking on the gun carriage.

Line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, 1862, depicting Passaic trying her large gun at the Palisades, during gunnery trials in the Hudson River on 15 November 1862. The ship was armed with two large Dahlgren smooth-bore guns: one XI-inch and one XV-inch. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 58735

USS Passaic. Line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, 1862, depicting Passaic as she will appear at sea. She was commissioned on 25 November 1862. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 58736

Subcontracted to six different East Coast yards (there was a war on, after all) our class leader was built by Continental Iron Works, Greenport, New York, which is appropriated for a vessel named for a town in New Jersey possibly best known today as the birthplace of Dick Vitale.

She was commissioned 25 November 1862, just after Grant began his First Vicksburg campaign, and was soon after toured by President Lincoln and members of his cabinet.

Before seeing action, Passaic was being towed by the State of Georgia to Beaufort, North Carolina, deep in Confederate-contested waters, along with Monitor, which was being towed by Rhode Island. On the day after Christmas, the ships ran into severe weather off Cape Hatteras– forcing Passaic‘s crew to take to her pumps to correct leaking (have you seen the freeboard on these?) and was only saved after her crew tossed her shot overboard to help make weight. In the end, she made Beaufort on New Year’s Day, 1863, while Monitor famously went down during the storm.

Similarly, Passaic‘s classmate, USS Weehawken, sank at anchor in just a moderate gale later that year, taking four officers and 27 enlisted men to the bottom with her– half her crew. Monitors were downright dangerous in any sea.

Nonetheless, quickly making a name for herself, Passaic soon captured a blockade runner (the schooner Glide) and attacked strategically important Fort McAllister near Savannah, Georgia, a major Federal objective.

Bombardment of Fort McAllister, Georgia, 3 March 1863. Line engraving, after a sketch by W.T. Crane, published in The Soldier in Our Civil War, Volume II, page 39. It depicts the U.S. Navy monitors Patapsco, Passaic, and Nahant firing on Fort McAllister (at far left) from the Ogeechee River. Other U.S. Navy ships are in the foreground. Montauk is the monitor in this group (farthest from the artist). Firing on the fort from the right foreground are mortar schooners, including C.P. Williams, Norfolk Packet, and Para. Among other U.S. Navy ships involved were gunboats Wissahickon, Seneca and Dawn and tug Dandelion, all screw steamers. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph Catalog #: NH 59287

Bombardment of Fort McAllister, Georgia, 3 March 1863. Line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, January-June 1863, page 196, depicting the bombardment of Fort McAllister by the U.S. Navy monitors Passaic, Patapsco, and Nahant. The engraving is based on a sketch by an eye-witness on board USS Montauk, which is in the right center foreground. In the left foreground, firing on the fort, are the mortar schooners C.P. Williams, Norfolk Packet, and Para. Among other U.S. Navy ships involved were gunboats Wissahickon, Seneca and Dawn and tug Dandelion. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 59288

By April 1863, Passaic was in action off Charleston, where she took several hits to her turret she would carry with her for the rest of her career– and prove photogenic for Brady organization shutter bugs!

Photograph shows a group of Union soldiers standing near the turret of the ironclad USS Passaic. Two soldiers stand above, near the pilot house. Indentations in the turret were caused by cannon fire Cooley, Sam A., photographer, Tenth Army Corps 1863. LOC 2015648199

Monitor USS Passaic without pilothouse & awning stanchions, note shell pockmarks 1863 via LOC

LC-DIG-PPMSCA-33821: Officers and crew onboard the US Navy monitor USS Passaic at Port Royal, South Carolina, 1863. Note the difference in bores between the 11-inch and 15-inch guns. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

LC-DIG-PPMSCA-33820: Officers and crew onboard the US Navy monitor USS Passaic at Port Royal, South Carolina, 1863

After being patched up in New York, by July Passaic was back on the Union blockade line off Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, carrying the flag of none other than RADM John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren himself for his opening attack on Fort Moultrie– which would take another 18 months to finally break.

In June 1865, the hardy monitor was laid up at Philadelphia Navy Yard just two weeks after Kirby Smith officially surrendered his command– the last major one in the Confederacy– down in Galveston. Passaic was lucky. Classmate USS Patapsco was sunk by a mine on 15 January 1865 in Charleston Harbor. Of the seven others in the class, all were similarly put in ordinary, many lingering at League Island Navy Yard in the Delaware for decades as the Navy that built them simply ran dry of money.

Passaic was the exception to this and she got regular work after a while. Repaired and recommissioned in Hampton Roads, 24 November 1876, she went on to serve first as a receiving ship at the Washington Naval Yard and then a training vessel at Annapolis for young minds, a job she maintained until 1892.

Passaic photographed late in her career after she had been fitted with a light flying deck. The view looks forward from off the port quarter. Note the ship’s propeller well aft, with its cover removed and resting on deck. The exposed tiller and steering cables are also visible, between the propeller well and its cover. Possibly taken during Passaic’s service at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, circa 1883-1892. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43747

Off the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, circa 1887. The Academy’s New Quarters building is at the far left. Tall structure in the left center distance is the Maryland State House. The photograph was taken by E.H. Hart and published in his 1887 book United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42802

By 1893, Passaic was on loan to the Massachusetts Naval Militia, then shipped back to Southern waters to do the same for the Georgia Naval Militia.

Her layout in 1896, via Monitors of the U.S. Navy, 1861-1937″, pg 17, by Lt. Richard H. Webber, USNR-R. (LOC) Library of Congress, Catalog Card No. 77-603596, via Navsource

There, in 1898, when war came with Spain, she was dusted off and recommissioned into the Navy proper although her muzzle-loading black powder armament was quaint for the period. Towed from Savannah to Key West, she served as a harbor defense craft with the Naval Auxiliary Force just in case the Spanish got froggy.

Similarly, her old and long-put-to-pasture classmates saw a similar call-up from decades of reserve. USS Montauk, crewed by Maine militia, was assigned to guard the harbor of Portland. Nahant steamed– for the first time since 1865– to New York City for six months along with Sangamon. USS Catskill served off New England. USS Nantucket, manned by North Carolina volunteers, was stationed at Port Royal, South Carolina. On the West Coast, USS Camanche, long used by the California Naval Militia, was tasked to guard the Bay Area.

It was to be the last adventure for these old boats. As for Passaic, she never left Florida. Towed to Pensacola after the Spanish surrendered, she was decommissioned and sold for scrap the following year. By 1904, none of her sisters remained.

Photo #: NH 45896 USS Montauk (1862-1904) – at left, and USS Lehigh (1863-1904) – at right Laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, circa late 1902 or early 1903. Other ships present, at the extreme left and in center beyond Montauk and Lehigh, include three other old monitors and two new destroyers (probably Bainbridge and Chauncey, both in reserve at Philadelphia from November 1902 to February 1903). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

She is remembered in maritime art.

USS Passaic, Wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1898, depicting the ship as she was during the Civil War. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42803

Chromolithograph by Armstrong & Company, after an 1893 watercolor by Fred S. Cozzens, published in Our Navy Its Growth and Achievements, 1897. Ships depicted are (from left to right): Monadnock class twin-turret monitor; Passaic class single-turret monitor (in foreground); USS Naugatuck; USS Keokuk USS New Ironsides and USS Nantucket. Collection of Captain Glenn Howell, USN, 1974. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 464-KN

Her plans are in the National Archives while her name was recycled in WWII for a Cohoes-class net laying ship, which was later transferred to the Dominican Republic in the 1970s.

Specs:

USS Catskill, Passaic, and USS Montauk, line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, 1862, rather crudely depicting the appearance of these ships and others of their class. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 58737

Displacement:1,335 tons std, 1875 Fl
Length: 200 ft overall
Beam: 46 ft
Draught: 10 ft 6 in
Propulsion: 2 Martin boilers, 1-shaft Ericsson vibrating lever engine, 320 ihp
Speed: 7 knots designed, 4-5 actual.
Complement: 75 (1863)
Armament:
1 × 15 in Dahlgren smoothbore, 1 × 11 in Dahlgren smoothbore in a single dual turret.
Armor, iron:
Side: 5 – 3 in
Turret: 11 in
Deck: 1 in

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.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

The crank

“Battery Gun” By Richard Jordan Gatling, 1865 Ink and watercolor on paper. 18 3/4″ x 14 1/4″ via National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office:

“The Gatling gun was the first successful rapid-fire machine gun. Invented by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling, a physician, the first model had six barrels revolving around a central axis. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler of the Union Army first used the gun at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864-65. Shown here are two drawings of the improved 10-barrel, .30-caliber model which fired 400 rounds a minute. The gun was patented on May 9, 1865, and was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on August 21, 1866. It proved superior to other rapid-fire guns of the time and, for more than 40 years, the Gatling gun was used by almost every world power.”

A new civil war? Some people really think it is a thing

#Loc LC-USZ62-126968

A national survey conducted last week by Rasmussen found that almost one in three polled felt there was a pretty good chance of a second civil war in the country within the decade.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted on June 21-24 by the poll taker and, when asked, “How likely is that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years?” some 31 percent responded very likely.

Those who considered it not likely at all accounted for a comparatively smaller 29 percent, with the other third somewhere in the middle on the sliding scale of possibility.

Yikes. Everyone just step back from the rhetoric, slowly. Don’t make any sudden moves…

On the brightside, now #secondcivilwarletters are now a thing on Twitter

Gettysburg at 155

With the 155th anniversary of the great national bloodletting that was the Battle of Gettysburg this week, here is a 1938 silent film, shot on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the battle, which was one of the last large gatherings of veterans from that campaign.

And the trees whisper, “remember.”

Also, for reference, programs for the 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg began over the weekend. The entire schedule of Ranger-led programs & tours are listed on the park’s website:  http://go.nps.gov/2018BattleAnniversary

The Regulars, minus their horses, 120 years on

Via the Third Cavalry Museum:

Dismounted 3d Cavalry troopers train for operations at Tampa, Florida, prior to embarking for Cuba. 8 June 1898, during the Spanish American War.

Look at all those saddle ring Krag rifles. Coupled with the bedrolls and broad campaign hats, you would think these men closer to Civil War troopers under Gen. Sheridan than ready to fight a colonial war against the rinds of the Spanish Empire.

As a twist of fate, the 3rd, along with four other Regular Army cavalry regiments (including the segregated black 10th Cav) and the Rough Riders of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, was under the command of Maj. Gen (of Volunteers) Joesph Wheeler (USMA 1859). Prior to that command, Wheeler had been a Lt. Gen. in the Confederate Army of all things, so the sight of so many blue-coated cavalrymen, who shipped to Cuba without their horses due to a lack of transport, had to be familiar in a way.

Warship Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Ms. Lane, of Paraguay, Nashville and Galveston fame

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time 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, April 11, 2018: Ms. Lane, of Paraguay, Nashville and Galveston fame

LC-USZ62-48021: United States Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane. Wood engraving, 1858. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Here we see the classic steam warship, USRC Harriet Lane of the Revenue Marine Service, and 157 years ago this very day she fired the first shot (at sea) in the Civil War, securing her place in history.

A copper plated side-paddle steamer with an auxiliary schooner rig, Lane was built for the US Treasury Department, by William H. Webb at Bell’s shipyard in New York City in 1857 at a cost of $140,000. She was named in honor of Ms. Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston, the popular niece of lifelong bachelor President James Buchanan, who served as his first lady since he was unmarried at the time.

Her armament, a pair of old 32-pounders and a quartet of 24-pdr brass howitzers, was deemed sufficient for her work in stopping smugglers and destroying derelicts at sea, but she was constructed with three magazines and open deck space for additional guns should they be needed.

USCG Historian’s Office

And soon, she was loaned to the Navy.

Before Lane was even laid down, the gunboat USS Water Witch, who was busy surveying the Río de la Plata basin in South America in 1855, was fired upon as by a Paraguayan battery at Fort Itapirú. Intended as a warning shot (Water Witch had approval from the Argentines but not Paraguay to survey the river), the ball accidentally hit the gunboat and killed the very unfortunate helmsman Samuel Chaney. A resulting fire-fight saw Water Witch hulled 10 times. Fast forward to October 1858 and a punitive expedition was ordered sent to Paraguay to sort things out, even though Water Witch had returned home in 1856.

This expeditionary force, the largest ever assembled by the U.S. Navy until the Civil War, consisted of 19 ships, which seems like a lot but really isn’t when you look at the list of vessels that went. While the Navy had a half-dozen large ships-of-the-line on the Naval List, all were in ordinary at the time. Of the impressive dozen super-sized frigates, just one, the 50-gun USS St. Lawrence, already in Brazil, could be spared. This left the rest of the fleet to be comprised of smaller sloops and brigs, ships taken up from trade and armed with cannon or two, and the brand new and very modern Harriet Lane. The commander of the task force? Flag Officer (there were no admirals at the time) William B. Shubrick, a War of 1812 veteran who was taken from his warm quiet desk at the Lighthouse Bureau in Washington and given his last seagoing command.

Ships of The Paraguay Squadron underway. Ships are from left to right: USS Water Witch next the flag-ship; USS Sabine; next to USS Fulton; behind Fulton is USS Western Port (later USS Wyandotte); next is USS Harriet Lane; behind Harriet Lane is USS Supply; and next to the bow of USS Memphis. Artist unknown. Image from Harper’s Weekly, New York, 16 October 1858. Description from Navsource.

The force was filled with supplies and Marines (Lane herself shipped a 22-man force of Leathernecks) and set off for Latin America with special commissioner James B. Bowlin in tow. Lane at the time was skippered by Captain John Faunce, a skilled USRM officer since 1841, who would later command her at Fort Sumter– but we are ahead of ourselves.

Arriving in January 1859, Paraguay signed a commercial treaty with Brown, apologized for the hit on Water Witch with no more shots fired by either side and agreed to pay an indemnity to the family of the long-dead helmsman and the fleet returned home in February after some literal gunboat diplomacy.

Though Lane resumed her Revenue duties, she was soon again in Naval service.

With states dropping out of the Union left and right from December 1860 onward, she transferred to the Navy 30 March 1861 and was assigned to the Northern Blockading Squadron. Detailed to help supply the Fort Sumter garrison, a small U.S. Army post in rebel-held Charleston Harbor under the guns of coastal defense expert and former U.S. Army Maj (bvt) P. G. T. Beauregard, Lane left New York on 8 April headed to the Palmetto State, arriving three days later. The reason an armed ship was sent was because President Buchannan had detailed the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West to do so earlier in the year, an effort that failed when it was fired upon by Beauregard’s shore batteries made up partially of students from the Citadel.

On the morning of 11 April 1861, Harriet Lane arrived ahead of her task force that was following with supplies and 500 soldiers. Taking up a picket location around the island fort, on the morning of April 13, while the installation was under attack, Faunce order a shot from one of her 32-pounders, commanded by Lt. W. D. Thompson, across the bow of the oncoming steamship SS Nashville (1,241t, 215ft) as that vessel tried to enter Charleston Harbor. The reason for the round was because Nashville was flying no identifying flag, meaning she could possibly be a rebel ship.

The Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane forces the merchant steamer Nashville to show its colors during the attack on Fort Sumter, April 13, 1861. “The Cutter Harriet Lane Fires Across the Bow of Nashville” by Coast Guard artist Howard Koslow.

Unarmed and not looking to be sent to the bottom, Nashville raised the U.S. standard, and Harriet Lane broke off. Anticlimactic for sure, but the ole Nash went on to become a Confederate commerce raider armed with a pair of 12-pounders before serving in 1862 as the blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg and finally as the privateer Rattlesnake before she was destroyed by the monitor USS Montauk on the Ogeechee River in Georgia.

But back to our hero.

Fort Sumter fell on April 13, surrendered after a bloodless two-day bombardment that saw 2,000 Confederate shells hit the masonry fort and Lane withdrew. She soon was up-armed and before the end of the year engaged in the efforts against Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras on the outer banks of North Carolina.

80-G-1049444: USS Harriet Lane engaging a battery at Pig’s Point, on the Nansemond River, opposite Newport News. Copied from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1861.

Then in early 1862 joined David Dixon Porter’s Mortar Flotilla at Key West as flagship, from where she captured the Confederate schooner, Joanna Ward.

With Porter aboard, Lane was there as his flagship when he plastered the rebel Forts Jackson and St. Philip, abreast the Mississippi below New Orleans, then continued to serve through the preliminary stages of the Vicksburg Campaigns.

LC-DIG-PPMSCA-35362: Rear Admiral David G. Farragut and Captain David D. Porter’s mortar fleet entering the Mississippi River, May 17, 1862. Wood engraving shows large squadron of battleships and ironclads entering the Mississippi River near the “Light-house of Southwest Pass”; some are identified as the “Colorado, 40 Guns”, “Pensacola on the Bar”, “Westfield”, “Mississippi on the Bar”, “Porter’s Mortar Fleet”, “Harriet Lane”, “Connecticut, 8 Guns”, “Clifton”, and “Banona“. Harper’s Weekly, V.6, no.281, pg 312-13. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 2048×1443 big up

On 4 October 1862, in conjunction with the sidewheel steam ferryboat USS Westfield, Unadilla-class gunboat USS Owasco, the paddlewheel gunboat USS Clifton, and the schooner USS Henry Janes, Lane captured Galveston harbor from the Confederates in a show of force that left zero casualties on both sides.

Still in that newly-Union held port in Confederate Texas, Harriet Lane was the subject of an attack on 1 January 1863 that saw the Confederate cottonclad CSS Bayou City and the armed tugboat Neptune engage the bigger cutter. While Lane sank the Neptune and damaged Bayou City, she was captured when the crew of the cottonclad succeeded in storming and overpowering the crew of the Lane with both the cutter’s captain and executive officer killed along with three of her crew in fierce hand-to-hand combat.

An illustration of the Harriet Lane’s capture by Confederate forces on 1 January 1863

Her crew was taken into custody.

Lane, repaired and disarmed, was sold by the state of Texas to an enterprising shipper who christened her as the blockade runner Lavinia and, after just two trips carrying cotton abroad and commodities back, she finished the war in Cuban waters.

In 1867, the Revenue Marine sent her old Sumter commander, Faunce, and a crew to recover the battered, worn-out ship from Havana in condemned condition and she was subsequently sold to a Boston merchant.

As noted by DANFS, she was abandoned after a fire during hurricane-force winds off Pernambuco, Brazil, 13 May 1884, while enroute to Buenos Aires.

Relics of her time in Texas are in the collection of The Museum of Southern History, located in Houston.

The Revenue Marine, of course, became the U.S. Coast Guard in 1916 and the service honored the historic vessel by naming a second cutter, USCGC Harriet Lane (WSC-141), a 125-foot patrol craft, in 1926 which gave 20 years of hard service to include WWII and Prohibition.

The third cutter to share the name is the 270-foot Bear (Famous)-class medium endurance cutter USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903). Commissioned in May 1984, she is still in active service and last week commemorated the first Lane’s historic shot in front of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

That 75mm OTO! The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane sails past Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina, April 5, 2018. USCG Photo

She is no lightweight either, recently returned to homeport from a 94-day patrol in drug trafficking zones of the Eastern Pacific, after seizing approximately 17,203 pounds of cocaine from suspected smugglers.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane approaches a suspected smuggling vessel while a helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron monitors from the air, February 25, 2018.

Specs:

USCG Historian’s Office

Displacement 539 lt. 619 std, 730 t. fl
Length 175′ 5″
Beam 30′ 5″
Draft 10′ as designed, 13 at full load 1862
Propulsion: steam – double-right angled marine engine with two side paddles, auxiliary sail two-masted schooner rig
Speed 11 anticipated, 13kts on trials
Complement: 8 officers, 74 men (1857) 12 officers, 95 men (1862)
Armament
(As built)
3×32-pounders
4x 24-pounder brass howitzers
(After joining West Gulf Squadron, 1862)
1×4″ Parrott gun as a pivot on forecastle
1×9″ Dahlgren gun on pivot before the first mast
2×8″ Dahlgren Columbiad guns
2×24-pounder brass howitzers
Plus “cutlasses and small arms for 95 men”

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.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, April 4, 2018: The often imitated but never duplicated Indy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time 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, April 4, 2018: The often imitated but never duplicated Indy

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30184-B

Here we see the “Western gunboat ram” USS Indianola in 1863 during her brief service to the Navy. A one of a kind vessel, the Indy was laid down as a riverboat in Antebellum times but was rushed into service in the Civil War, rode hard, and never made it out alive.

A 174-foot long side-wheel screw steamer, Indianola was constructed in the Cincinnati yard of Mr. Joseph Brown in early 1862, specifically for service with the U.S. Navy on the Western river systems for operations against the newly-formed Confederacy.

Indianola under construction via LOC https://www.loc.gov/item/2013647478/

Compared to the 15-vessel City class-ironclads designed by Mr. Samuel M. Pook, the infamous “Pook’s Turtles,” Indianola was about the same size and had iron-plating 2.5 inches thick, enough to ward off musketry and shrapnel but not serious artillery rounds.

Pushed out into the Ohio River on 4 September, the partially complete 511-ton armored gunboat was placed in commission just 19 days later under the command of Acting Master Edward Shaw. The reason for the rush job was that Cincinnati at the time was considered under threat of capture by Confederate Gen. Kirby “Seminole” Smith whose “Heartland Offensive” reached its high-water mark in Lexington, Kentucky, just some 80 miles to the South a few days prior.

Armed with a pair of 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and another pair of smaller 9-inch guns, Indianola remained in the Ohio for several months even after Smith retreated to the Deep South and by January 1863, under the command of LCDR George Brown, she was detailed to the infant Mississippi Squadron, a force that the Navy never knew it would have. By 13 February, the plucky new ironclad met the enemy for the first time by running past the fearsome Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi at night.

As noted by DANFS:

She left her anchorage in the Yazoo at 10:15 p.m. 13 February and moved slowly downstream until the first gun was fired at her from the Vicksburg cliffs slightly more than an hour later. She then raced ahead at full speed until out of range of the Confederate cannon which thundered at her from above.

The United States gunboat INDIANOLA (Ironclad) running the blockade at Vicksburg [Feb. 13, 1863] via Harper’s Weekly, v. 7, (1863 March 7), p. 149. LOC https://www.loc.gov/item/99614196/

She anchored for the night 4 miles below Warrenton, Miss., and early the next morning got underway downriver, with orders from Adm. David Dixon Porter to blockade the mouth of the Red River.

Two days later, Indianola chased and engaged in a long-range artillery duel with the Confederate Army-manned “cotton-clad” 655-ton side-wheel converted tug, Webb, that proved ultimately unsuccessful, her high speed (for a river boat) negated by the fact that she had to tow pair of coal barges alongside for refueling in hostile enemy-controlled waters.

On the evening of 24 February, the Union gunboat came across the Confederate steamer Queen of the West, formerly a U.S. Army-manned ram, who, along with her partner and recent Indianola-nemesis Webb, cornered the Yankee in the shallow water near New Carthage, Mississippi and commenced a river warship battle. While Indianola was better armed with her big Dahlgrens compared to the Parrots and 12-pdr howitzers of the Rebel ships, she was no match for the demolition derby unleashed on her by the Confederate vessels on either side who smashed her a reported seven times leaving the ship “in an almost powerless condition.”

LCDR Brown had more than two feet of cold Mississippi river water over the floor of his fighting deck and she was surrounded by now four Rebel vessels, packed with armed infantry ready to board. With that, Indianola ran her bow on the west bank of the river, spiked her guns, and surrendered to Confederate Major Joseph Lancaster Brent, her service to the U.S. Navy lasting just six months.

The loss meant that Porter would keep his fleet north of Vicksburg and that Farragut, entering the Mississippi from the Gulf, would be forced to run his own past Port Gibson the next month to join him.

While Brent went to work salvaging his newest addition to the Confederate fleet, Brown, who was wounded, handed over his personal Manhattan .36 caliber percussion revolver and was toted off to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia

However, Brent would not “own” the ex-Indianola for long.

While the rebs were busy trying to save as much as they could from the Union gunboat, members of Porter’s fleet “resurrected” the ghost of the stricken ship and crafted a fake version of her to run past the batteries at Vicksburg in a scare job the night following Indianola‘s capture. The cobbled-together craft was complete with a Jolly Roger flag and the words “Deluded People Cave In” painted on the faux paddle wheel housings.

Admiral [David Dixon] Porter’s Second Dummy Frightening the Rebels at Vicksburg. This shows a wooden dummy “ironclad” made from an old coal barge. Wood engraving after a sketch by Theodore R. Davis – Harper’s Weekly

From DANFS:

A dummy monitor was made by building paddle boxes on an old coal barge to simulate a turret which in turn was adorned with logs painted black to resemble guns. Pork-barrel funnels containing burning smudge pots were the final touch added just before the strange craft was cast adrift to float past Vicksburg on the night of Indianola’s surrender, Word of this “river Monitor” panicked the salvage crew working on Indianola causing them to set off the ship’s magazines to prevent her recapture.

And, it worked, with Brent triggering the Union vessel’s powder stores and sending her wheelhouse to the sky.

USS Indianola (1862-1863) Is blown up by her Confederate captors, below Vicksburg, Mississippi, circa 25 February 1863, upon the appearance of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fake monitor “Wooden Dummy “Taken from a sketch by RAdm. Porter, this print is entitled “Dummy Taking a Shoot”. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 53235

On the bright side, Brown only languished at Libby prison until May and was exchanged, going on to command the Unadilla-class gunboat Itasca at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 and retire at the rank of Rear Admiral in 1897. Brent, his first captor, went on to become a one-star general leading the Louisiana Cavalry Brigade in the tail end of the war. He passed in 1905 and his papers are preserved at LSU.

As for Indianola, once the Mississippi river calmed down, her wreck was refloated, towed to Mound City, Illinois, and sold on 17 January 1865. Her name has never again appeared on the Navy List.

Brown’s Manhattan .36 caliber revolver? It is on display at Wilson’s Creek battlefield near Republic, Missouri.

Specs:

Displacement: 511 tons
Length: 174 ft (53 m)
Beam: 50 ft (15 m)
Draft: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Propulsion: Sidewheel, Steam-driven screw
Engine Size: Cylinders 24 inches diameters by 6 foot in length of the piston stroke, 5 boilers – Side Paddlewheels
Speed: 9 knots
Armament:
2 – 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore
2 – 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore

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