90-day & double-ender gunboats

FenianPirate

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I will post what I hope are interesting gleanings from my research on these two gunboat types, which are probably the first US Navy ship classes of very large numbers, if you leave out the tiny Jefferson gunboats. To start, below are the recollections of the behavior of these shallow-draft ships as sea-going boats.

Sea-keeping character of ninety-day and double-ender Civil War gunboats.
Here are Adm. Winfield Scott Schley's recollections of the sea-keeping characters of ninety-day and double-ender gunboats, fifty years after serving in them. He reveals a pretty dry sense of humor in the telling:

FROM "Admiral Schley's Own Story" (Part 3), By Rear-Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, Cosmopolitan magazine, Volume 52, No.3 (February 1912), pp 367-378.
http://books.google.com/books?id=NIjNAAAAMAAJ

ninety-day gunboat Winona:
The characteristics of the Winona were so unique, and she was such a daring coquette on blockade duty, that I remember her vividly. She belonged to the class known in those days as ninety-day gunboats, from the fact that they were built in that number of days. Her displacement was about five hundred tons. Her battery consisted of one eleven-inch Dahlgren gun on a pivot carriage forward, one twenty-pounder Parrott rifle on her topgallant forecastle, two short thirty-twos in her waist, and two twenty-four-pounder howitzers on her quarter-deck. She was a marvel as a sea acrobat. I don't believe she ever had an equal, and certainly no superior, as a roller. In a scarcely noticeable swell, I have known her to make twenty complete rolls from side to side, in a minute. The sea was like a tightrope to her, and she was forever trying to keep her balance. A sea-gull flying over her masthead, or a tarpon swimming under her bottom, seemed quite enough to set her in motion.

(iron-hulled) double-ender gunboat Wateree:
In September [1863] I was ordered to the navy yard in Washington on temporary ordnance duty pending repairs to the Richmond. In December I was detached and ordered to the Wateree, a steam-gunboat known in that day as a double-ender, from the fact that both ends were alike, with a separate rudder. Her two side wheels were amidships. My experiences on her must be registered as among the real hardships of my naval life.

THE WATEREE "A BEAST AT SEA".
We sailed from Hampton Roads for the Pacific in March of 1864. Her first leg to St. Thomas showed that, whatever else she may have been, the Wateree was a veritable beast at sea. She was uncomfortable, wet, and slow, and so far as I could make out she had but one valuable quality in her favor— she did float. The seas of Hatteras played havoc with her guards and rails, and why her wheel-houses did not go by the board was because the gale let up on the other side of the Gulf Stream. It was a bit of good luck. From St. Thomas to Bahia, Brazil, thence to Montevideo, Uruguay, the seas were smooth, but after that, to the Strait of Magellan, we were in regions where we might expect anything, and we were not disappointed. We reached that part of the globe in the beginning of winter, which was the very worst season possible for a vessel of the Wateree's class. With short days, long nights, and a limited capacity in her coal-bunkers added to the bad weather so common in that season, she had trouble in making her way to Valparaiso. It was only the captain's fine seamanship and the fact that the Wateree's hull was of iron; that kept her from disaster. In all my experiences in the navy she was the most uncomfortable, unsuitable, and unseaworthy vessel in bad weather I ever served in.

During one of our visits to Callao, the harbor of which was usually crowded with ships coming to obtain permission to take guano from the Chincha Islands, a number of vessels anchored quite near the Wateree. In getting under way, I found great difficulty in working the ship clear of those crowded about. The wind was fresh from the southeast, and she refused to answer her helm. I resorted to every expedient possible, with the sails to aid, but to little purpose. If the jib was set she "luffed into the wind.' If the mainsail was set she would "keep away." One of the old quartermasters at the wheel, Robert Frost, observing the difficulty, came to my side and said,
"This vessel, Mr. Schley, is one of the only successes that the government ever build." A little curious to ascertain his reasons for the remark, I said,
"Why do you think so, Frost?"
His smiling, sailor-like reply I have never forgotten, because it was so true in this instance.
"Why, sir, she was built not to turn round, and I'll be dog-goned if she will, sir."

.... Quiet being restored in that part of the world, the Wateree returned to Panama, where I received orders to return to the United States. So ended my cruise of two years and four months, one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my career. When the tidal wave of a friendly earthquake at Arica, Peru, in 1868, washed the Wateree inland about a mile and left her there, I was among those who felt that earthquakes did some good occasionally.



--------------------
The whole tale of Wateree's hard passage is told in:
Where the Wateree Was [pp. 547-561] - Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 0030 Issue 179 (April, 1865)
--- I'll post it (or a link to it) if anyone wants me to.
 
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FenianPirate

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wateree clip.jpg

Google "wateree ashore" for a number of photos of her and the Peruvian gunboat America on the beach after the Arica tidal wave. There is a recent picture of her boilers, still sitting there, rusting. The beached USN ship had a varied history as a "building" until it wore away.
 

Carronade

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The sailing rig indicates how the double-enders were not perfectly symmetrical as say a ferryboat might be. Wateree's bow points out to sea; she was presumably anchored by the bow, and the wave would have swung her stern to shore before either the anchor dragged or the chain broke.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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Correct. IIRC, there were a handful of truly symmetrical "double-enders," but in most cases there was a clear bow and stern, with the forward rudder usually smaller and locked in place, though still available when needed in tight spots.
 

AGCL

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Thank you for a fascinating post. It goes a long way to answering something that's always puzzled me: why were the 90 Day Gunboats removed from service so soon after the end of the war?

I understand the overall need to save money on the USN, but I would have expected small gunboats of that sort to be ideal for a peacetime navy, short of resources. They only needed a small crew. You'd expect them to have been cheaper to run than larger vessels. Yet they could provide independent commands through which young officers could be brought-on. They would be just the thing for showing the flag and reinforcing diplomacy, upriver if necessary eg in China. Indeed they look very much like colonial gunboats built for that purpose by some of the European navies.

This account of poor sea-keeping goes a long way towards explaining why they were got rid of. I have also heard that they had been built from unseasoned timber.

Does anyone know of other reasons why they were sold out of service so quickly?

Alan
 

Carronade

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Several of the Kansas class gunboats, the slightly larger followon to the 90-day type, remained in service - Yantic lasted as a training ship into the 1900s - as did some of the later double-enders. The earliest war-built ships were phased out soon after it was over, the somewhat better or less worn out ones retained.
 

AGCL

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Several of the Kansas class gunboats, the slightly larger followon to the 90-day type, remained in service - Yantic lasted as a training ship into the 1900s - as did some of the later double-enders. The earliest war-built ships were phased out soon after it was over, the somewhat better or less worn out ones retained.

Thank you. I'd never thought of that, but it makes good sense - if newer and perhaps more seaworthy gunboats filled that role why keep the 90 Dayers.

Does anyone know what happened to the 90 Day gunboats when they were sold? Were they just broken up or were some sold in to trade or to other navies?

Alan
 

Carronade

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Thank you. I'd never thought of that, but it makes good sense - if newer and perhaps more seaworthy gunboats filled that role why keep the 90 Dayers.

Does anyone know what happened to the 90 Day gunboats when they were sold? Were they just broken up or were some sold in to trade or to other navies?

Alan

Wiki is often a good place to start for general information:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unadilla-class_gunboat

Most of them were sold for merchant service; a couple briefly served on the Asiatic station.
 

bekosh

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Thank you. I'd never thought of that, but it makes good sense - if newer and perhaps more seaworthy gunboats filled that role why keep the 90 Dayers.

Does anyone know what happened to the 90 Day gunboats when they were sold? Were they just broken up or were some sold in to trade or to other navies?

Alan
Looking through Civil War Navies by Silverstone, it looks like most became merchant ships. Some with long careers (Owasco became the Merchant Lulu in 1865 and was still in service in 1885)
 

Story

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On the Appomattox River - these two look like double-enders?
smpghxC.png
tA8MuxB.png
 

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FenianPirate

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Yes, those are surely double-enders. But note the difference in the shape the double pilot hoses -- I'll have to look up in Silverstone or Canney which class had square (vs. round) pilot houses. What is the source of the photos, please?
 

FenianPirate

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Don Canney reports:

... the one in foreground in lower picture (and you can see her stern in the upper picture) is Miami. (pg.110 and 111 in Old Steam Navy) Looks like a square pilot house to me. The other one, astern, is maybe Massasoit, which had oct. [octagonal] pilot houses - as did the rest of the Sassacus class. Both were in the James River in '64 (not Appomattox R.).
 

FenianPirate

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The third ship is one of the converted New York ferries, probably Commodore Perry, based on the black funnel and James River service location. It appears that there are two more double-enders in the distance.
 
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FenianPirate

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The very high enclosed crow's nests on the rear three double-enders seem to only show up in ships serving on the James River and tributaries. Perhaps it was a local modification to protect from sniping?
 

FenianPirate

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WoodVIron.jpg

OK, I was wrong. Here is the USS Wyalusing in Albemarle Sound, wearing enclosed crows nests. USS Mattabesset also appears to have them. Maybe(?) the modification was limited to the North Atlantic Blockading Sqn.
 

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