Tuesday, November 6, 2012

USS Passaic-Bringing a Bigger Gun to the Fight

USS Passaic testing her XV-inch Dahlgren towards the Palisades.
When asked by a Congressional panel investigating the outcome of the Battle of Hampton Roads and the U.S. Navy response to future Confederate ironclads, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox simply replied, "build a bigger gun." Indeed, a bigger gun had been built: the XV-inch Dahlgren.  At the time, there was no platform to use it on.  Fortunately, engineer/inventor John Ericsson provided one. 

Inside Passaic's turret, the XV-inch gun is on the far side.
While USS Monitor was a wonder of engineering, she did have flaws exposed during the Battle of Hampton Roads.  Ericsson sought to fix that with his next generation of "monitor"-type ironclads.  The first of the new generation of monitors was Passaic.  Named for the town of Passaic, New Jersey, the ship displaced 400 more tons than the original Monitor.  It housed a larger engineering plant and a wider hull for better sea keeping traits.  The pilot house was constructed on top of the turret, instead of the front like the Monitor.  With the bigger ship, workers placed one 42,000-pound XV-inch Dahlgren in the turret, along side one XI-inch Dahlgren.  Firing a 352-pound shell, the gun itself was one of the largest weapons ever deployed during the war. 

The new gun did have its problems.  The barrel was purposely built short to protect the muzzle from being exposed to enemy fire.  This led to the issue of smoke from each shot fired building up inside the turret.  To deal with this issue, Ericsson designed a special "smoke box" to protect the gunners.  While it worked, the box did slow down the rate of fire.

After launching at the Contential Iron Works (same builder as Monitor), Passasic steamed up the Hudson river to the Palisades cliffs, north of New York City, in early November 1862.  Here, to a booming echo up and down the river, gunners test-fired the monster XV-inch gun with increasing amounts of gunpowder (topping out at forty-five pounds of gunpowder per shooting) and shot.  Observers deemed each test a success, and determined Passaic was ready for action.  The Passaic soon set sail for Hampton Roads to join up with Monitor.  The Northern press boldly and brashly claimed that the Navy finally had its weapon against the forts of Charleston. 

No comments:

Post a Comment