On other recent threads, the idea has been stated that the Confederate ironclads (the home brew variety) were useful. One poster stated "Where they existed, the Confederate ironclads had an impact. They were very disruptive on the Mississippi while they could be kept in operation. The existence of the Tennessee affected and delayed the assault on Mobile. And the existence of the Albemarle was an operational problem which was not resolved until Cushing pushed a mine into it."
My contention is that ironclads were of value in only the following places:
New Orleans -- the cost of loosing control of the Mississippi River was so great that they had to be used to prevent the loss.
Wilmington and Charleston -- the need to keep these blockade runner ports open was so great that the ironclads were worth the cost
Mobile -- the loss of the only remaining east-west RR line, through Mobile and by barge across the river, made this a serious pressure point that had to be defended
None of the others, including Virginia I, was worth the effort because of strategic factors. In Virginia I's case, Norfolk was going to be captured soon, by direct assault or from the South. The ship did not delay the Union more than a few days and had no chance to prevent the actual outcome.
Keep going down the list of ships and find one that mattered -- in Savannah? in the Chattahoochee River? as a single ship in the upper Mississippi? in Shreveport? in the NC Sounds? in Richmond? The cost, however, was noticeable -- RR cars required to carry the guns, engines and armor to the building ironclads, the loss of RR rails that could have been re-rolled (if the rollers had not be monopolized by armor production) and used to keep the RRs operational, the requirement for mechanics to build them, etc.
In my opinion, Davis should have reigned in Mallory and allowed only the ships that mattered to be built. But how did he know which ones would matter? It was not the ships, it was the strategic targets that needed to be defended that mattered.
(It is really quite analogous to the German Navy in WW1. The huge expenditure for the battleships brought no useful return and no one should have expected such return.)
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