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.

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