Friday, July 27, 2012

Rubber is Not Just for Toy Ships: Guest Blog Post by 12-Year Old Andrew Druart

It is my pleasure to post the first blog entry of Andrew Druart.  Andrew is a young man with a love and passion for Civil War history and preservation.  Although he is only 12 years old, it is certain he has a bright future ahead of him.  His post today focuses on the role of the “Rubber clads,” something you don’t hear much about nowadays.  Make sure to stop by his Civil War Kids website when you have a chance.
Brief Biography from the Civil War Kids website:
Andrew is a 12-year old entering the 7th grade. He started Civil War Kids to help teach other kids about the Civil War and how we can help save Civil War Battlefields from being erased by people destroying them with buildings or houses or stores. He also wanted to help parents teach their kids about the Civil War. I am a Civil War fanatic, but I also like science and math, but right now social studies is my favorite. I am also a big basketball and football fan and I play both sports. Andrew wears his Civil War Trust shirt that says "I help save Civil War battlefields" when he visits Civil War places or has a chance to promote preservation. Andrew lives in Austin, TX.

Rubber is Not Just for Toy Ships

More than two years ago, I visited Gettysburg. I became hooked on learning about the Civil War. Too many of my friends and kids didn't know about the Civil War, and the websites I found were either all about the military tactics or written so that kids couldn't understand them. I started my site to raise money to help save Civil War battlefields and help kids learn about the Civil War. I've also learned that many adults don't really know much about our Civil War either. I think it is the most important event in our history as it was brother-against-brother and I have learned that many of our challenges and issues today can still be followed back to the Civil War and reconstruction after that.
I love walking the battlefields and learning about the battles and the men who fought there. But, I have also learned about the Navy — especially the "brown water Navy." The brown water navy was the nickname for the navy that operated on the rivers, particularly in the West. Rivers like the Mississippi River, the Tennessee River, Ohio River and Red River were very important during the war, as they were the main way that people traveled in those areas. Railroads were also important for moving people and supplies. That's why most battles are around railroads or rivers — if you controlled the rivers (or railroads) you could control everything from moving troops to getting things to the markets where they could be sold, like farm products.
As a kid, there is something in the Civil War that everyone can get interested in. I was excited when Sarah Adler asked me to write something for the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial blog. I wanted to share with you one of the funniest and strangest things I have learned about the Civil War navy.
During the war, they added wood to the outside of ships for protection. These boats with thick wood were known as wooden clad. They added iron for iron clad ships and at the Battle of Galveston the
Confederates put huge cotton bales on the side of the ship to protect from the artillery and guns — that is right, they had cotton clad ships. But, that is still not the funniest or strangest to me.
At one point during the war, when metal was in short supply, the Union or Federal Navy decided to use India rubber on the outside of the ships. That is right, rubber clad ships.

When you think about it, it is kind of a good idea. I mean, the cannon balls would bounce right off, and rubber would be easier to work with than hard wood or metal. There were a couple of things that they didn't think about. The first they learned when they tested the rubber clad. The ship was completed with the rubber on the outside and a Union ship fired a test shell at the rubber clad. As planned, the shell bounced off the rubber clad — but it bounced back and almost sunk the ship that fired it. The men who designed these ships did think about which way the deadly cannon balls would go when they bounced off the rubber clad. That led to great fear for any of the men on the ships around them. It could bounce off the rubber clad and land on the deck of a ship near it. Because they nailed the rubber to the ships they couldn't pull it off because that would leave holes in the ship. Because of the problems with shells bouncing off the rubber and the holes left if they tried to remove the rubber, they covered the rubber with iron. That led to the next problem. They did this to two ships the USS Choctaw and the USS Lafayette
The other thing they didn't know was that rubber would rot quickly in the heat and humidity of the South. The rubber under the iron rotted and started to fall off. That left space between the iron and the wood. After the rubber rotted away, when the ships turned a corner, the iron moved and banged against the wood of the ship. I bet that was a big clang and a big jolt for the men on the ship.
So, the next time you get in a Civil War trivia contest you can ask someone to, "name the fourth type of clad ships used during the Civil War - wooden clad, iron clad, cotton clad, and...? I bet very few people will know about the rubber clads.
I want to thank Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D., for helping me learn more about the rubber clads. He has written a great book called, "Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy, The Mississippi Squadron" that has some information about the Choctaw and Lafayette, the two ships that were converted to rubber clads. You can find it on page 106 of his book and in another book by Jay Silverstone, called, "Warships of the Civil War Navies." Dr. Joiner spoke at our Austin Civil War Roundtable last year
and I learned a great deal about the brown water navy, the Battle of Galveston and how important controlling the rivers was during the war.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Porter's Mortar Fleet in Hampton Roads

Many historians and enthusiasts agree that the U.S. Navy's James River Flotilla was ill-equipped to attack the Confederate garrison at Fort Darling along Drewry's Bluff in May 1862.  Besides the lack of Union Army units nearby, the Flotilla's ships were designed for ship to ship action.  They were not designed to tackle a fort sitting far above the river.  Why didn't the Navy use mortar boats on the James River as in the Mississippi?  Even if they were less than effective at engagements like Island No. 10, their involvement might have inflicted some damage on the approach to Richmond.  Although this was intended to occur, the ships did not arrive in time. 

On July 9, 1862, Secretary Welles, ordered Porter and most of the mortar fleet to transfer from the Mississippi River to the James.  The mortar ships were used against Vicksburg for much of June in preparation for an assault on the fortress city.  However, Welles received reports that Union ground forces under General Halleck were not ready to attack and the water level in the Mississippi was beginning to drop.  Seeing that the mortar ships could be better used in the East and with the endorsement of Assisstant Secretary Fox, Welles ordered the transfer.

The move took four weeks.  The first ships began to filter into Hampton Roads in the beginning of August.  En route to Hampton Roads, Porter's flagship USS Octorara captured the blockade runner Tubal Cain off the east coast of Key West.  That was the only postive development of the transfer.

Leaving aside the fact that the fleet arrived a full month after the Army of the Potomac ended the Peninsula Campaign, the mortar fleet and its sailors were in no shape for action.   Flag officer Goldsborough reported that many of the sailors were suffering from what we now call relapsing fever (older term: "bilious remittent"/ slang term: "camp fever"), which had spread throughout ships serving on the Mississippi.  Welles responded to this issue suggesting the Navy enlist African American men camped around Fort Monore to fill in the ranks, as there were not enough sailors in Northern ports to provide replacements. 

Upon looking at the ships themselves, Goldsborough questioned their seaworthiness to Welles. "Are these vessel to be sent up the James River in their present condition?" he asked.  Commodore Charles Wilkes further questioned Welles, implying that the Secretary was seriously misinformed about the readiness of the ships.  He stated that it would be several months before the ships could see offensive action again, as many of the mounts holding the mortars were in serious disrepair.   Furthermore, Army commanders in Hampton Roads refused to release any African Americans to the Navy. 

Thus, the idea of using mortar ships to capture Richmond was killed.  Furthermore, with Farragut and Porter's pull back from Vicksburg, the siege of the city was effectively lifted.

Monday, July 16, 2012

16 July 1862: Congress Authorizes the Rank of Admiral

On this day 150 years ago, Congress authorized the rank of Rear Admiral (Two Stars), with not more than (9) active duty officers.  David Glasgow Farragut would become the first Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.  He would later make Vice Admiral (Three Stars) in December 1864. 

These findings were originally published in the 1863 version of the Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy.

Rear Admiral Active List, as of 1863:
David G. Farragut (Commanding West Gulf Blockading Squadron) - 16 July 1862
Louis M. Goldsborough (Special Duty, Washington) - 16 July 1862
Samuel Francis Du Point (Waiting Orders) - 16 July 1862
Charles Henry Davis (Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron) - 7 February 1863
David D. Porter (Commanding Mississippi Squadron) - 7 February 1863

The retired list of Admirals is a "who's who" of the Navy's old guard.  One officer in particular, Charles Stewart, had a service record dating back to the Quasi-War with France.   He is listed in 1863's Naval Register as "Waiting Orders." 

Rear Admiral Retired List, as of 1863:
Charles Stewart
William B. Shubrick
Joseph Smith
George W. Storer
Francis H. Gregory
Silas H. Stringham
Samuel L. Breese
Hiram Paulding

In the 1878 edition of the Register, the rank of Admiral had a yearly salary of $13,000, vastly different from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles' annual wartime salary of $8,000 in 1863.  It is interesting to note that, unlike any other rank, Admirals pay did not change with their status (i.e. at sea, on shore duty, or on leave waiting orders).  The number remained at $13,000.  The lowest paid sailor in the United States Navy was the Warrant Officer's cook, earning just $15.50 a month ($214.50 per annum).  The oddest (and poorly paid) position in 1878 was that of the apothecary, who earned $360.00 per annum.

Throughout the Civil War, the Confederacy authorized four billets to Admiral, giving two of these to Franklin Buchanan (August 1862) and Raphael Semmes (January 1865). 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Commander Walke and the CSS Arkansas: 15 July 1862

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the engagement between the Confederate ironclad Arkansas and the Federal gunboats Carondelet, Tyler, and Queen of the West.  Unlike the Union ships,  CSS Arkansas was new and inexperienced in combat.  The Union vessels were all veterans of river offensives like Shiloh, Memphis, and the initial repulse at Vicksburg.  
The newly created Confederate ships were directed by General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Army at Vicksburg, to bring the ship to the Rebel "Gibraltar."  The CSS Arkansas ran into the  Federal ships while she was making her way down the Yazoo River on her way to the city.  As shown, the CSS Arkansas proved to be a worthy adversary to the experienced Union fleet.  The Arkansas managed to damage the Carondelet and TylerThe following is an excerpt from the deck log of the USS Carondelet, written by commanding officer Henry Walke. 

July 15.  At 4 a. m. proceeded up the river, gunboat Tyler and ram Queen of the West following us. At 4.30 entered Yazoo River. At 5 the Tyler and Queen of the West passed us. At 6 discovered a boat coming down the river. Immediately went to quarters and cleared the boat for action. Rebel ram opened fire upon the Queen of the West and gunboat Tyler and they immediately rounded to. We found the advancing rebel boat to be a powerful gunboat and ram. We rounded to and headed downstream, at the same time firing upon her with all our batteries as we brought them in range. Captain Walke hailed the Tyler as she passed and ordered Lieutenant Commanding Gwin to go ahead and inform the commodore of the Arkansas approach. The ram made for us and for an hour we continued a running fight (she gaining on us), distance 500 to 50 yards. Our wheel ropes were shot away, steam escape pipe cut, exhaust pipe cut, cold water supply pipe riddled with pieces of shot, and steam gauge shot away, the boat becoming unmanageable. Our tiller ropes and box being shot away, the Carondelet was unmanageable and ran upon a small stump after the Arkansas passed us. As she passed by us we called the boarders upon deck, and we gave her our starboard broadside and bow guns, firing them as the enemy came in range. At this time the Arkansas flag was down and not hoisted again while in sight. Our backing bell and speaking trumpet. being shot away, the pilot could not communicate readily with the engineer. By this time the ram had passed us and was following the Tyler. After remaining at the bank for a short time to repair damages, we made our way down the river and found the rebel boat had succeeded in passing by the whole of the flotilla and rams. We received 5 shots in the captains cabin and 3 in the wardroom, 3 of the shots passing clear through the wheelhouse, 1 lodging in the steerage mess room, 1 going through wheelhouse, carrying away deck pump, passing through bulkhead aft of steam drum, glancing up, passing over steam drum, striking carlines, carrying away 4 of them and falling into fire room. One going through the wheelhouse carrying away steam escape pipes, going through 2 coppers on the galley, through smoke pipe, through ventilators, through bulkhead forward of fire room, through loose timbers placed upon the bulkhead and entering 4 pieces of one-fourth-inch iron. One coming in captains cabin on starboard corner, carrying away 12 carlines, striking chambers of side pipe, glancing upward and cutting exhaust pipe and striking upper deck over engine room and falling to the main deck. One coming in wardroom just about amidships, cutting away 8 carlines, passing through chief engineers, surgeons, and gunners rooms, carrying away bulkheads and striking the deck and fetching up against the after stanchion on port side. Another shot came through starboard quarter, passing through second and first masters room and through the captains cabin, out of the after port. Another shot came through the iron on starboard side, breaking in casemate and the shot breaking in pieces. Two shot carrying away iron and coming through the iron into the wood on the inside. Both cutters shot away; 2 boat davits carried away; all boats falls on starboard side shot away. Three awning stanchions shot away. One shell burst on starboard side of upper deck, cutting awning in pieces and setting starboard hammock netting on fire. We expended during the engagement one 32-pound gun, weight 42-hundred weight, struck on the lower part of the muzzle, splitting the gun in two pieces; 6 boarding pikes, 1 musket, 3 revolvers, and 4 cutlasses, belts, and accouterments were lost and shot to pieces during the engagement. Four men were killed, 15 wounded., and 16 missing. Expended 90 rifle and solid shots. 
From S to 12 meridian: Came to anchor with fleet. At 8: 30 hospital boat Red Rover came off alongside and took off the wounded. Cincinnati proceeded to the assistance of the Benton. Explosion seen at the point below supposed to be a mortar schooner aground at that point. At 10: 30 the Louisville proceeded down the river. At 6:30 p. m. vessels proceeded down the river.
Source:  Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion; Series I - Volume 23: Naval Forces on Western Waters (April 12, 1862 - December 31, 1862)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Naval Siege of Charleston Begins, June 1862

The New York Times lists the ships blockading Charleston in June 1862 for the benefit of its readers...and for Confederate authorities seeking intelligence on the opposition.

As many know, the South Carolina militia's attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina formally started the shooting aspect of the Civil War. The city was among the first to places for the Lincoln administration to declare to be under state of blockade. Between the beginning of the war and June 1862, various U.S. Navy ships placed themselves outside the harbor to demonstrate the "effectiveness" of the blockade (an important legal concept in international law).

 A few blockade runners had been capture. But, between a lack of suitable ships, a complex fortification system, and the tricky topography of the Harbor, the ships South Atlantic Blockading Squadron kept their distance and most blockade runners made it through. The non-cooperation between the U.S. Army and Navy that would become infamous throughout the entire Charleston siege, did not help either. On June 21, 1862, Major Charles G. Hapline, an adjutant-general for the Army's Department of the South, actually had to order masters of Army supply vessels to let U.S. Naval officers board their vessels!

USS Seneca
Thus it was a major achievement, that the gunboats USS Seneca and James Adger crossed the bar into Charleston Harbor. This was the first Federal Government presence inside the harbor since the surrender of Fort Sumter over a year earlier. It was only a short reconnaissance patrol near Morris Island that lasted a few hours. Seneca opened fire with her XI-inch Dahlgren on a Confederate Army camp, chased some soliders off, and cut a large pine tree in half. The gunboats beat a quick retreat back outside the bar when, for the first time since its surrender to Southern forces, Fort Sumter's guns fired several shots.

Two days later, the two gunboats crossed the bar again. Much to the embarrassment of Seneca's commanding officer, a lead-colored English blockade runner slipped right pass his gunboat in the middle of the night. Unfortunately for the blockade runner, it ran aground inside the bar. Given a second chance by King Neptune, the Yankee gunboats went after her. Joined by USS Keystone State, the three ships fired on the blockade runner. Confederate gunners at Fort Beauregard on Sullivan's Island fired back and put three shots into Seneca. The Yankee squadron retreated and two harbor tugs saved the blockade runner. Just a few hours later, the blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg attempted to make a run into Charleston, but turned around. Keystone State chased her for several hours before losing the blockade runner in a storm.

The three skirmishes were small actions. But they were the first of many actions between U.S. Navy warship, blockade runners, and Charleston's forts that would occur during what would be the war's most epic siege.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Occupation and Reconstruction of Gosport

Although US Navy and Army cooperation during the Peninsula Campaign was a failure,  Union forces took the opportunity to capture Norfolk and Portsmouth in 1862.  The immediate benefit of this side project was the destruction of CSS Virginia at Craney Island as the ironclad was denied a suitable base of operations.  Over the long term, the U.S. Army's occupation of Norfolk and Portsmouth proved extremely beneficial, as the U.S. Navy regained control of a critical piece of maritime infrastructure to service ships serving on the blockade. 

1862 Torching of Gosport Navy Yard by Theodore Davis

The U.S. Navy formally retook Gosport Navy Yard on May 27, 1862 by landing U.S. Marines from the steamer USS King Phillip.   The first order of business was a name change.  After being known as Gosport since its founding in the mid-1700s, the U.S. Navy changed the facility's name to "Norfolk Navy Yard."  The second order of business was damage assessment. When Confederate forces withdrew from the two cities in wake of the threat to Richmond, they torched the Yard in similar fashion to the Union's 1861 torching. 
1863 Norfolk Navy Yard by Alfred Waud
The Confederate torching finished off the remaining wooden ships spared in 1861.  This included the frigate United States, one of the "Original Six" frigates of 1794.  Several small buildings also went up in flames.  However, just like the 1861 torching, the priceless dry dock was left intact.   Welles made it a priority to get the Navy Yard back up and running, but immediately put a clamp down on private salvage companies conducting unauthorized operations on Union and Confederate wrecks.  He organized a more formal contracting process and eventually awarded a $70,000 contract later in the year to clear out about a dozen wrecks from both the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads.  
1865 Engraving of Norfolk Navy  Yard from an Alexander Garnder photo
By late 1862, the Navy Yard had been returned to partial operating status and was once again supporting U.S. Naval operations.  The region would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the war.  It would not be until well after the war that the damage would be completely fixed. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Losing Teaser, But Little Union Gain

Rebels used Teaser to lay mines in defense of Richmond. (Library of Congress image)

On July 4, 1862, during the lull in the fighting around Richmond, Confederate Navy Lieutenant Hunter Davidson undertook another dangerous mission in his two-gun vessel Teaser.  He carried additional telegraph wire for the mines, presumably to extend the mine fields further down the James River, and a balloon  for aerial reconnaissance of City Point and Harrison’s Landing. He failed.

Steamer Marantanza spotted  Teaser, a screw tug built in Philadelphia, and fired a round that struck the boiler, crippling it. The crew abandoned the vessel for the safety of  the Charles City County shore.  While the wire and balloon proved interesting novelties, Union Army officers were more interested Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury's diagrams for the mines' placement and also his memoranda on building them.  In the end, the information did Major General George B. McClellan and the Union Navy little good because by then the river was too tightly sealed.

Malvern Hill-Covering the Retreat, July 1-2, 1862

When electing to pull back from Richmond and conduct his "change of base," General George McClellan instructed the Army of the Potomac to fall back towards Harrison's Landing on the James River.    With the Confederate Army in hot pursit, the Union Army made its stand at Malvern Hill.  The James River Flotilla at the time consisted of the the ironclads USS Galena and Monitor, along with the wooden gunboats USS Jacob Bell, Aroostook, and Mahaska. 

Monitor and Jacob Bell provided cover for the Army upstream near City Point. Aroostook served as a communications vessel with signaling officers keeping lines open between ships and the Army on shore. Galena and Mahaska anchored at a section of the James River known as Turkey Bend (now known as Turkey Point, go here for a modern day map of the region) with a clear view of Malvern Hill. In a move that would bring great ridicule upon him in the press, McClellan then came on board Galena for discussions with the Navy. 

Alfred Waud deptiction of Galena and Mahaska during Malvern Hill.
On July 1 watches on Galena spotted the Confederate Army approaching Malvern Hill.  With U.S. Army Signal Corps officers on board, Galena and Mahaska opened up on Confederate positions with their 100-Parrot Rifle and IX-Inch Dahlgrens for two hours.  When rapid fire bombardment stopped at 8 p.m., the two ships fired 206 shells.

While the rate of fire was impressive, there were considerable problems with the bombardment.  All issues originated in the fact that the Confederate formations were upwards of two miles away.  The longest fuzes in the ships' arsenal was for 15-seconds, thus several shells exploded prematurely and some even exploded near Union formations.   Despite the issues, Union soliders were thankful that the Navy had their back during the retreat.  Several times, U.S. Naval officers reported that when Union soldiers spotted them from shore, they cheered. 

An 1864 Republican cartoon lampooning General George McClellan's presence on board USS Galena during the Battle of Malvern Hill.