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
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.
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.
Dupont, with the largest ironclad flotilla ever assembled in the world up to that time– nine vessels to include USS New Ironsides, the double-turret ironclad ram USS Keokuk, and seven single-turret monitors (including Passaic)– went on to conduct what is often labeled as the first attack by an all-ironclad fleet in naval history. By April 1863, Passaic was in action off Charleston (arguably the best defended seaport in the world at the time), 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 shutterbugs!
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.
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.
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.
She is remembered in maritime art.
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.
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)
1 × 15 in Dahlgren smoothbore, 1 × 11 in Dahlgren smoothbore in a single dual turret.
Side: 5 – 3 in
Turret: 11 in
Deck: 1 in
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