Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The U.S. Navy's Newest Weapon-USS New Ironsides

In late August 1862, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran the above headline and sketch of the U.S. Navy's newest ironclad that just left the Philadelphia shipyard of William Cramp & Sons for Hampton Roads: New Ironsides.  The ship was the last of three armored vessels recommended by the Ironclad Board (Monitor and Galena being the first two).  It was by far the largest and most heavily armored of the three.   Unlike many Northern newspapers that had a bad habit of disclosing operational and technical secrets, the Inquirer attempted to take the high road when it wrote, "No persons were allowed to visit the vessel previous to her departure, and it is not deemed desirable to make  public the various particulars of her construction, and the manner in which her guns and machinery operate."

However, when New Ironsides arrived in Hampton Roads in mid-September 1862, a reporter for the New York Times spotted her from his position at Fort Monroe.  This particular reporter and his newspaper had become somewhat notorious for reporting everything the U.S. Navy was doing in Hampton Roads (see the Port Royal Expedition).  New Ironsides' arrival was no different.  However, the Navy had only itself to blame as Captain Thomas Turner, New Ironsides' commanding officer, invited the reporter on board and gave him a personal tour.

The reporter wrote: "She is 240 feet in length, 56 feet width of beam, and some 17 feet out of the water.   When fully armed and equipped, she draws 15 feet of water, and easily made 7 knots. The armament of the Ironsides is terrific.  Besides sixteen XI-inch guns, she carries two enormous 200-pounders, that must crush to pieces anything made with human hands."

Several of the Confederacy's leading dailies such as the Charleston Mercury reprinted the New York Times' article.   The ship remained in Hampton Roads for a few more days to guard against a rumored "Merrimack 2." She then proceed south to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.


  1. Nice article. I've always had interest in New Iron Sides, and it doesn't have the loud historical footprint that the Monitor or Virgina (Merrimack) had. Those two "prototypes" essentially set the standard model for both respective sides (Union/Confederate) ironclad designs for the rest of the war. While New Iron Sides, which was a far more standard design, kind of gets forgotten in the hubbub. Oddly, it has an interesting aspect to it from a "what if" standpoint as it is the one example of the US building an ironclad of similar ilk to La Gloire and Warrior and the standard European model of the time. Was the New Ironsides design capable of holding up against the European ironclad arms race? It's an interesting question.

  2. Short answer: no. Discussed at some length in W.H.Roberts, _USS New Ironsides in the Civil War_ (Naval Institute Press).