USS New Era/Essex

Mike Werner

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
California
I've been trying to determine the timeline of when the timberclad armed ferry USS New Era was rebuilt as the casemated ironclad USS Essex. It is known that the USS New Era was part of an expedition up the Cumberland River in November 1861. Her name then appears to be changed to USS Essex. She was known to have been on an expedition down the Mississippi River and in a small battle at Lucas Bend on January 11, 1862. However, based upon the several months it took to strip down and rebuild the similarly sized Benson into an ironclad, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for the complete strip down and rebuild from ferry boat to large ironclad casemate between the Cumberland River expedition and the Mississippi River expedition. There then followed the expedition up the Tennessee River and attack on Fort Henry on February 6, 1862. Again, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for a complete strip down and rebuild between the Mississippi River expedition and Tennessee River expedition. The only significant equal time block for the rebuild of the New Era would have been in late February to May, 1862 - after the attack on Fort Henry - which is also when there appears to be a lapse of deployment activity of the Essex. This would be contrary to the "popular" history of the Essex.

Anybody have any factual information on this?
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I've been trying to determine the timeline of when the timberclad armed ferry USS New Era was rebuilt as the casemated ironclad USS Essex. It is known that the USS New Era was part of an expedition up the Cumberland River in November 1861. Her name then appears to be changed to USS Essex. She was known to have been on an expedition down the Mississippi River and in a small battle at Lucas Bend on January 11, 1862. However, based upon the several months it took to strip down and rebuild the similarly sized Benson into an ironclad, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for the complete strip down and rebuild from ferry boat to large ironclad casemate between the Cumberland River expedition and the Mississippi River expedition. There then followed the expedition up the Tennessee River and attack on Fort Henry on February 6, 1862. Again, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for a complete strip down and rebuild between the Mississippi River expedition and Tennessee River expedition. The only significant equal time block for the rebuild of the New Era would have been in late February to May, 1862 - after the attack on Fort Henry - which is also when there appears to be a lapse of deployment activity of the Essex. This would be contrary to the "popular" history of the Essex.

Anybody have any factual information on this?
The OR (Naval), Series 1 Vol. XXII, contain documents from Foote dated 12/5/61 (p. 451-452) that both Benton and Essex were expected from St. Louis the next day and dated 12/10/61 (p. 459) that they had not yet arrived because Benton had grounded and Essex was prevented from proceeding farther because of the grounding. Then there is a document dated 1/11/62 (p. 497-498) from Foote stating that he had ordered Essex and St. Louis to proceed downriver. Meanwhile, as you indicate, there are entries into 11/61 indicating that New Era was on active duty. There is a January 11, 1862 (p. 493-96) report by Foote that states he has Essex and St. Louis (as well as Lexington, Tyler and Conestoga) but has not received "the seven others". The list shows Essex with a "total" of 5 guns (although the numbers itemized by gun type add up to 6).

Vol XXIII has entries dated 4/25/62 (p. 72) with an urgent request from Porter to Meigs to complete the fitting out of Essex; 5/25/62 (p. 106) dated 5/25/62 indicating Essex was still being fitted out; and 5/31/62 (p. 111) stating that she would soon be ready to join the flotilla. Porter's report of operations from October 1862 - May 1863 (p. 399) has New Era involved during that time frame. So far as I can tell, the only way to make sense of all this is that, unless there are two New Eras, Essex was a different gunboat that was pulled out of service in Spring 1862 and refitted.
 

NeilL

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2013
Location
Michigan
The conversions to New Era/Essex were ongoing starting in the Fall of 1861. The improvements included some siding/armoring, enclosing the exposed decks, moving the pilothouse, etc., which accounts for the different appearance in each of the sketches, and the photo, duirng the months before Fort Henry. The major refit (taking it out of service) followed the damage sustained at Fort Henry. She then was lengthened and converted to the more familiar Essex. Some good reference materials are: a Harper's article from February, 1863, by C.E. Lester, here is a link: http://www.navyandmarine.org/ondeck/186Essex.htm

and see DM Wegner's article in the Nautical Research Journal, from years ago (sorry, I do not have specific volume/issue).
 

Mike Werner

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
California
The article at the website link seems to confirm that the conversion of the New Era Armed Ferryboat into the fully armored ironclad Essex was not actually completed until the end of June 1862.
 

Biscoitos

Corporal
Joined
May 14, 2020
I've been trying to determine the timeline of when the timberclad armed ferry USS New Era was rebuilt as the casemated ironclad USS Essex. It is known that the USS New Era was part of an expedition up the Cumberland River in November 1861. Her name then appears to be changed to USS Essex. She was known to have been on an expedition down the Mississippi River and in a small battle at Lucas Bend on January 11, 1862. However, based upon the several months it took to strip down and rebuild the similarly sized Benson into an ironclad, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for the complete strip down and rebuild from ferry boat to large ironclad casemate between the Cumberland River expedition and the Mississippi River expedition. There then followed the expedition up the Tennessee River and attack on Fort Henry on February 6, 1862. Again, there doesn't seem to have been enough time for a complete strip down and rebuild between the Mississippi River expedition and Tennessee River expedition. The only significant equal time block for the rebuild of the New Era would have been in late February to May, 1862 - after the attack on Fort Henry - which is also when there appears to be a lapse of deployment activity of the Essex. This would be contrary to the "popular" history of the Essex.

Anybody have any factual information on this?

You have the basic facts about her first conversion correct.

The Essex was badly damged by Confederate artillery fire at Fort Henry February 06, 1862.
As she needed extensive repairs, W. D. "Dirty Bill" Porter had her extensively rebuilt. He had the Essex widened, lengthened with a stronger casemate.
She joined the flotilla which was under command of C.H. Davis above Vicksburg about July 13th.
Because she had burned one of her boilers on the trip down the Mississippi River, the Essex was undergoing serius repairs and could not fight the CSS Arkansas on July 15. But she did attack the Arkansas on July 22nd.
 

Crossroads

Private
Joined
Jan 2, 2021
You have the basic facts about her first conversion correct.

The Essex was badly damged by Confederate artillery fire at Fort Henry February 06, 1862.
As she needed extensive repairs, W. D. "Dirty Bill" Porter had her extensively rebuilt. He had the Essex widened, lengthened with a stronger casemate.
She joined the flotilla which was under command of C.H. Davis above Vicksburg about July 13th.
Because she had burned one of her boilers on the trip down the Mississippi River, the Essex was undergoing serius repairs and could not fight the CSS Arkansas on July 15. But she did attack the Arkansas on July 22nd.
You beat me to the punch, Biscoitos.
Well done.
There's nothing like reading a post by someone who knows what he's talking about!
 
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
If interested in a shipboard perspective from an ordinary tar aboard Essex, see Two Civil Wars (LSU Press, 2016). There's also an excerpt in Civil War Navy: The Magazine, summer 2021, vol. 9.1. The magazine is highly recommended for anyone interested in the naval war -- beautiful layout and photos, excellent content.
 
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