Ironclad Civil War rams, were they intended to ram other ships?

major bill

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It seems that both sides built ships referred to as rams. I assume they were designed to ram other ships. So was ramming still practical during the Civil War? What would be the number of ships successfully rammed? Some of the ironclad Civil War rams were kind of slow and would not a ship need to have a fair speed to be used as a ram?
 

leftyhunter

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It seems that both sides built ships referred to as rams. I assume they were designed to ram other ships. So was ramming still practical during the Civil War? What would be the number of ships successfully rammed? Some of the ironclad Civil War rams were kind of slow and would not a ship need to have a fair speed to be used as a ram?
Paging @Mark F. Jenkins .
Leftyhunter
 

Rhea Cole

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The only actions on the Mississippi that involved two flotillas was at Memphis. The Ellet Rams, an independent squadron that reported directly to the US Sec of War & a collection of CSA rams that reported to nobody had it out. Col Ellet charged ahead of the Mississippi Squadron gunboats & slammed into the CSA boats in a fight that only lasted about half an hour. Only a single CSA ram survived to steam down stream as fast as she could go.

The CSS Virginia rammed an anchored steam frigate, sinking her, The ram was wrenched from the Virginia’s bow.

At Island #10, CSA rams swarmed one of the Mississippi Squadron ironclads & dank her by ramming. There was only a few feet of water under her bottom, so was soon raised & returned to service.

There were numerous attempts to use ramming tactics during the CW. It turns out to be a lot harder to hit another craft dead on than one might think. More often than not, wind, current & evasive action resulted in futile glancing blows.

Into the 1890’s, steel battleships & armored cruisers had can opener shaped rams built into their bows. While they proved harmless to enemy vessels, the ram bows were responsible for sinking friendly vessels in what otherwise would have been relatively harmless accidents.

Ironically, HMS Dreadnaught that gave its name to modern battleships never engaged an enemy with her big guns. Her only victory was over a U boat that she sank by ramming. History really does have a droll sense of humor.
 
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Granted the prow of a ram is under the waterline but can you tell a ram from another sort of ship just by looking at it?Are there other features that designates a ship as a ram?
 

Rhea Cole

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The CS Webb and CS Queen of the West defeated the USS Indianola by ramming her on the Mississippi in February 1863
And then, of course, an unmanned scow with an out building sitting on it painted black terrified the crew of the raised Indianola to blow her up.

“DELUDED PEOPLE CAVE IN” was painted on side of the scow.

The difference between fiction & history is that fiction
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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It seems that both sides built ships referred to as rams. I assume they were designed to ram other ships. So was ramming still practical during the Civil War? What would be the number of ships successfully rammed? Some of the ironclad Civil War rams were kind of slow and would not a ship need to have a fair speed to be used as a ram?

This question can best be addressed in context, so I'll need to go back a little ways...

Ramming was the principal (and almost the only) means of inflicting severe damage to other vessels in the era of oared warships such as galleys or triremes. Some of the larger Roman warships could carry some "artillery" in the form of ballistae or catapults, but rate of fire was slow and ammunition was quite limited. Naval victories were effected by boarding actions, by archery to reduce the other crew (and therefore the vessel's mobility), and ramming. The main idea was to destroy the other ship's power of movement by killing oarsmen and shaving off oars with the ram-- once incapacitated, the victim could be taken by boarding or finished off by ramming the hull.

(A notable exception was the sort of flamethrower developed by the Byzantine navy in the Middle Ages, usually referred to as "Greek Fire," but this was a closely-guarded secret that did not see general use in other navies-- and in fact, there is still some uncertainty and debate about exactly how it was done.)

The advent of gunpowder and large sailing vessels revolutionized naval warfare. Sailing warships mounted banks of guns on the broadsides rather than banks of oars, and the amount of destruction that could be dealt over a distance constantly increased with the technology. Oared warships were still used, but increasingly in specialized situations, and they were nearly always quite small (such as the galleys employed in the Revolutionary War at Valcour Island).

Early on, the damage was really still aimed at the crew or the sails rather than the vessel. Well-built wooden ships can take a surprising amount of punishment and stay afloat, apart from the threat of fire. As naval artillery improved, the tactics changed-- but killing crew and disabling movement (by shooting away masts and rigging) were still the main methods of winning victories. But in the early 1800s, the technology changed again with the advent of steam power and improved weaponry, such as rifling and especially explosive shells. This made rapid and devastating damage to the structure of the ship itself increasingly possible, and led directly to the introduction of armor plate to restore the former relative invulnerability of the vessel.

Ramming (with intent to cause structural damage) was quite impractical in the height of the age of sail, but when steam allowed freedom of maneuver apart from the wind, there were many who thought that this made ramming once again practical (such as Charles Ellet, who took direct inspiration from the ancient triremes). There was a brief interlude when this was true, but ramming was usually only successful when the target already had its mobility constrained, such as the becalmed USS Cumberland at Hampton Roads, or on the Western rivers where maneuver was necessarily limited by the river itself. The American Civil War occurred during this interlude; but even then the window of effectiveness of ramming closed rapidly with constantly-improving artillery and buoyancy improvements like truly watertight compartmentalization from construction in iron rather than wood. Within a few years, opposing warships wouldn't be able to get close enough to ram; the solution to that was the "automobile" torpedo. And so the naval technological arms race rapidly left ramming behind.*

____________________
*With exceptions. It was not unknown for destroyers to ram submarines to sink them in the World Wars, but this happened only sporadically.
 

major bill

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Mark F Jenkins thank you for this fine answer. I learned a lot. It does appear that ramming was thought about and tried during the Civil war era. Technology soon made ramming a thing of the past. It is had to believe that for many years after the Civil War ships were still designed with rams.
 

Rhea Cole

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This question can best be addressed in context, so I'll need to go back a little ways...

Ramming was the principal (and almost the only) means of inflicting severe damage to other vessels in the era of oared warships such as galleys or triremes. Some of the larger Roman warships could carry some "artillery" in the form of ballistae or catapults, but rate of fire was slow and ammunition was quite limited. Naval victories were effected by boarding actions, by archery to reduce the other crew (and therefore the vessel's mobility), and ramming. The main idea was to destroy the other ship's power of movement by killing oarsmen and shaving off oars with the ram-- once incapacitated, the victim could be taken by boarding or finished off by ramming the hull.

(A notable exception was the sort of flamethrower developed by the Byzantine navy in the Middle Ages, usually referred to as "Greek Fire," but this was a closely-guarded secret that did not see general use in other navies-- and in fact, there is still some uncertainty and debate about exactly how it was done.)

The advent of gunpowder and large sailing vessels revolutionized naval warfare. Sailing warships mounted banks of guns on the broadsides rather than banks of oars, and the amount of destruction that could be dealt over a distance constantly increased with the technology. Oared warships were still used, but increasingly in specialized situations, and they were nearly always quite small (such as the galleys employed in the Revolutionary War at Valcour Island).

Early on, the damage was really still aimed at the crew or the sails rather than the vessel. Well-built wooden ships can take a surprising amount of punishment and stay afloat, apart from the threat of fire. As naval artillery improved, the tactics changed-- but killing crew and disabling movement (by shooting away masts and rigging) were still the main methods of winning victories. But in the early 1800s, the technology changed again with the advent of steam power and improved weaponry, such as rifling and especially explosive shells. This made rapid and devastating damage to the structure of the ship itself increasingly possible, and led directly to the introduction of armor plate to restore the former relative invulnerability of the vessel.

Ramming (with intent to cause structural damage) was quite impractical in the height of the age of sail, but when steam allowed freedom of maneuver apart from the wind, there were many who thought that this made ramming once again practical (such as Charles Ellet, who took direct inspiration from the ancient triremes). There was a brief interlude when this was true, but ramming was usually only successful when the target already had its mobility constrained, such as the becalmed USS Cumberland at Hampton Roads, or on the Western rivers where maneuver was necessarily limited by the river itself. The American Civil War occurred during this interlude; but even then the window of effectiveness of ramming closed rapidly with constantly-improving artillery and buoyancy improvements like truly watertight compartmentalization from construction in iron rather than wood. Within a few years, opposing warships wouldn't be able to get close enough to ram; the solution to that was the "automobile" torpedo. And so the naval technological arms race rapidly left ramming behind.*

____________________
*With exceptions. It was not unknown for destroyers to ram submarines to sink them in the World Wars, but this happened only sporadically.
In the late 1890’s, during fleet maneuvers in the Mediterranean, a Royal Navy battleship struck another battleship with its solid ram shaped bow. The admiral had ordered a maneuver that put both ships in peril. The bridge offers recognized the danger but did nothing to save their ships. Both ships were lost along with the admiral & many crewmen. The incident is documented in ‘Dreadnaught’ a book I recommend to everyone.

HMS Victoria, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, was rammed & sunk by HMS Camperdown 22June, 1893. 358 crew were lost along with the admiral. Had it come to it during the 1890’s, ramming battleships would have been effective but no doubt tactically impractical.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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One thing that cemented the ram as a major warship weapon in the late 1800s was some ramming done by the Austrians at the Battle of Lissa in 1866. Ram bows continued to be a feature of many large warships right up through the dreadnought era and World War I, though (as @Rhea Cole noted) they probably did more total damage in accidents to friendly vessels than to the enemy.

(The thing I wonder about is if ram bows bestowed the same sorts of streamlining/water-flow benefits as later 'bulbous' bows, or if the resemblance is purely coincidental... paging @rebelatsea )
 
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The TENNEESEE wanted to ram the Federals at the Battle of Mobile Bay but her smoke stack was shot up badly and her speed reduced to a crawl. The ARKANSAS had the same problem when she ran through the entire Federal Fleet sitting above Vicksburg with no steam built up and in theory helpless. Ironically, one of Ellet's ram had steam for some reason and as she was engage in a turning movement to ram the Ram ARKANSAS (a ram trying to ram a ram) a single broadside from the ARKANSAS blow up her steam barrel and killed much of the crew. The ramming event stopped by heavy artillery. We are robbed of an exciting ramming event that almost happen.
 

DaveBrt

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Mark F Jenkins thank you for this fine answer. I learned a lot. It does appear that ramming was thought about and tried during the Civil war era. Technology soon made ramming a thing of the past. It is had to believe that for many years after the Civil War ships were still designed with rams.
During the 1870-1900 period, ships were designed to carry few, but very large, rifles. The idea was that only a big gun could penetrate the armor keeping enemy ships afloat. But few big guns means few shots, not bracketing the enemy ship with a broadside, and the high likelihood that the enemy ship would never be hit by a big shell.

The result was two-fold: MANY small and medium quick and quicker firing guns to destroy the enemy's unarmored upper works, bow and stern, followed by the few hits by the huge guns OR a ram hit (which would be below the armor belt). The many small and medium guns would have destroyed the smoke stacks and essentially stopped the enemy ship for the killing blow. In diagrams of the armor on later battleships, you will see the trunks and part of the stacks are armored, to prevent the loss of steam pressure.
 

bdtex

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The CS Webb and CS Queen of the West defeated the USS Indianola by ramming her on the Mississippi in February 1863
That's a great example and a good read in books/articles that cover that at length.
 

Rhea Cole

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Athlit Ram circa 530-270.jpg

Here is the bronze ram from an ancient warship.​
 

James N.

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It seems that both sides built ships referred to as rams. I assume they were designed to ram other ships. So was ramming still practical during the Civil War? What would be the number of ships successfully rammed? Some of the ironclad Civil War rams were kind of slow and would not a ship need to have a fair speed to be used as a ram?
It worked to a point, especially if the target was riding at anchor like the steam frigate USS Cumberland when assailed by the ironclad ram CSS Virginia; however, you're correct insofar as the jolt tore Virginia's ram partially away from her hull causing a bad leak. Nevertheless, in their famous "duel" Virginia attempted unsuccessfully to ram USS Monitor, failing mainly because of slow speed.

1624294729332.png
 

Carronade

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In the late 1890’s, during fleet maneuvers in the Mediterranean, a Royal Navy battleship struck another battleship with its solid ram shaped bow. The admiral had ordered a maneuver that put both ships in peril. The bridge offers recognized the danger but did nothing to save their ships. Both ships were lost along with the admiral & many crewmen. The incident is documented in ‘Dreadnaught’ a book I recommend to everyone.

HMS Victoria, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, was rammed & sunk by HMS Camperdown 22June, 1893. 358 crew were lost along with the admiral. Had it come to it during the 1890’s, ramming battleships would have been effective but no doubt tactically impractical.
….and Camperdown was the second in command.

Second the recommendation of Dreadnought.
 
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