Brass Napoleon Award Were Confederate Ironclads Worth The Effort/Cost?

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The Blockaders stood inshore during the hours of darkness which prevented the runners from steaming parallel to the shore, imagine if they didn't do that for fear of a light ironclad coming out to sink them in the dark, it would only have to happen a few times to make them stand off the shore. The trouble is the Confederates built heavily armoured vessels that had problems getting across the bar, they didn't need to be that well armoured to take on inshore vessels with pop guns you just need a few lightly armed and armoured ships to act as a constant deterrent .
Not really. Stephen Lee's design of the blockade was tiered. The smallest ships were closest to shore. Another line of ships stood further out to sea. But the biggest, fastest ships stood far off to sea and patrolled the sea lanes to Bermuda and Nassau.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Location
Kent ,England.
The ironclads achieved some successes. But the question is about at what cost? The iron and the rolling mill capacity was extremely scarce. And the industrial workers dedicated to the projects may have been hiding from conscription and staying busy far from the Virginia front.
On the contrary, Mallory and his constructors fought long and hard to stop skilled workers being conscripted and to get those who had been back where they were needed.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The ironclads achieved some successes. But the question is about at what cost? The iron and the rolling mill capacity was extremely scarce. And the industrial workers dedicated to the projects may have been hiding from conscription and staying busy far from the Virginia front.
As for the rolling mill capacity, what is the other possible use of the rolling mill? The Tregedar mill in particular is a strategically unique asset - Union armour manufacturing could not match 2" rolled plate and so had a massive time or weight penalty in building ironclad armour as strong as what the Confederates could manage.

The value gained by the ironclads is essentially in keeping ports open and denying SLOCs to the Union.

As for industrial workers, the number of those was not very large. I would say an ironclad is worth more than (say) a full fresh brigade, and not building (e.g.) the Virginia in exchange for having an extra CS infantry brigade instead sees the Yorktown line outflanked weeks earlier (one way or another) and a major CS strategic disaster.
 

Ptarmigan

Private
Joined
Jul 21, 2013
I suggest reading up on the handling & sea keeping characteristics of CSA iron clads. They were anything but seaboard. What were your lone light iron clads going to when confronted by a squadron of Monitors? It would be a very good idea to read a couple of good books on blockade running & blockading. That will inform your understanding in a way that this cryptic format does not allow for.

A single ironclad blundering around the dark amid the shifting sand banks at 3 knots was not a threat to anybody but itself.
I think you have misunderstood, I am not talking about clumsy Confederate ironclads, I am talking about a new class of seaworthy light draught lightly armoured vessels that had enough protection to stand up to inshore blockaders and enough firepower to worry them. If you look at the vast majority of these inshore blockade vessels you will see that they were frail and very lightly armed ex merchant vessels. The larger US warships stood offshore due to their greater draughts and faster speeds. Palmetto state and Chicora and Raleigh bumbled around in the dark to great effect but their heavy armour with a 12 foot draught meant that they could only just clear the bar at high tide so their tactical value was very limited. The Confederates could do nothing about the fast cruisers in the offshore squadrons but if the inshore blockaders could be pushed further out due to an inshore deterrent the greater the chances a runner had of making port. If you have six inshore blockaders that moved to within say a mile of the inlet at night as per Admiral Lees instructions then the spacings between each ship would double if you could force them to stand off the shore by two miles so the gaps between each blockader would increase and so would the chances of evading detection for inbound and outbound runners .
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I think you have misunderstood, I am not talking about clumsy Confederate ironclads, I am talking about a new class of seaworthy light draught lightly armoured vessels that had enough protection to stand up to inshore blockaders and enough firepower to worry them. If you look at the vast majority of these inshore blockade vessels you will see that they were frail and very lightly armed ex merchant vessels. The larger US warships stood offshore due to their greater draughts and faster speeds. Palmetto state and Chicora and Raleigh bumbled around in the dark to great effect but their heavy armour with a 12 foot draught meant that they could only just clear the bar at high tide so their tactical value was very limited. The Confederates could do nothing about the fast cruisers in the offshore squadrons but if the inshore blockaders could be pushed further out due to an inshore deterrent the greater the chances a runner had of making port. If you have six inshore blockaders that moved to within say a mile of the inlet at night as per Admiral Lees instructions then the spacings between each ship would double if you could force them to stand off the shore by two miles so the gaps between each blockader would increase and so would the chances of evading detection for inbound and outbound runners .
The Union Navy had a carrier for launching a balloon. That was reality… why stop at fantasy “lightly armored” gunships that could not be built? Hundreds of ship borne airships would be infinitely more entertaining.
 

Ptarmigan

Private
Joined
Jul 21, 2013
Rhea I think you are taking all this a little too seriously and perhaps you didn't notice that the original story was based on what could have been done better with the benefit of hindsight which of course they did not have. I gave you the credit for seeing this but perhaps I was wrong. If the Confederates had the resources to build two useless ironclads at New Orleans then why could they not have built two useful Arkansas class ironclads instead. My blockade hypothesis was based on two historical events that didn't work out due to the wrong type of vessel employed in carrying them out. History is fascinating but sometimes you want to question why certain decisions were made and not others. In answer to the question posed by this post I will say that I am not overawed by the Confederate ironclad program but I feel that you cannot dismiss anything with sincerity unless you can suggest an alternative course of action. It is okay for you to challenge the value of asking such questions or query the utility of such a ship but to imply the construction of these vessels is fantasy and beyond what is possible demonstrates to me a lack of understanding of Confederate shipbuilding capacity. if it was possible to construct an Ironclad then why could in theory could they not build a seaworthy vessel that was superior to the rag tag inshore squadrons. I will admit my first post was a little ambiguous but if you read my second post carefully then you will see that at no time did I imply that such vessels could lift the blockade, I was merely suggesting a solution to the problem imposed by Admiral Lee's instruction ordering the inshore vessels to move closer to shore during the hours of darkness which did in fact work off Charleston for a period but when the threat of attack was lifted the blockade was reimposed.
 
Last edited:

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Rhea I think you are taking all this a little too seriously and perhaps you didn't notice that the original story was based on what could have been done better with the benefit of hindsight which of course they did not have. I gave you the credit for seeing this but perhaps I was wrong. If the Confederates had the resources to build two useless ironclads at New Orleans then why could they not have built two useful Arkansas class ironclads instead. My blockade hypothesis was based on two historical events that didn't work out due to the wrong type of vessel employed in carrying them out. Again with hindsight why couldn't seaworthy vessels of the type described have not been built instead of three unsuitable ironclads. What really is fantasy here is the thought that a Monitor could be safely worked inshore in the dark during the middle of winter in order to destroy a wooden gunboat that only had its boilers and main gun protected from the fire of lightly armed blockaders.
I always take discussion of Civil War history seriously. There is a fantasy/what if forum on this site. Perhaps you would be more at home there. This is the actual history forum.
 

Ptarmigan

Private
Joined
Jul 21, 2013
Should Lee have ordered Pickets charge? No he should have probably retreated. This is speculative discussion about the use of available resources with the benefit of hind sight. You can argue the utility of such speculation but I will guarantee you that it's a thought that has crossed the mind of every serious historian.
 
Last edited:

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Location
Kent ,England.
As for the rolling mill capacity, what is the other possible use of the rolling mill? The Tregedar mill in particular is a strategically unique asset - Union armour manufacturing could not match 2" rolled plate and so had a massive time or weight penalty in building ironclad armour as strong as what the Confederates could manage.

The value gained by the ironclads is essentially in keeping ports open and denying SLOCs to the Union.

As for industrial workers, the number of those was not very large. I would say an ironclad is worth more than (say) a full fresh brigade, and not building (e.g.) the Virginia in exchange for having an extra CS infantry brigade instead sees the Yorktown line outflanked weeks earlier (one way or another) and a major CS strategic disaster.
Putting my railroad hat on - rolling rail. Having said that, the rollers for plate and and any form of railroad rail are very different in form and shape. Not sure how long it would take to change from one to the other. By mid 1864 Charlotte Naval Ironworks were experimenting with 5" plate, but I have no confirmed idea of what for at the moment
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Putting my railroad hat on - rolling rail. Having said that, the rollers for plate and and any form of railroad rail are very different in form and shape. Not sure how long it would take to change from one to the other. By mid 1864 Charlotte Naval Ironworks were experimenting with 5" plate, but I have no confirmed idea of what for at the moment
At 640 tons of armour on the Virginia and 45 kg/m on rails (typical figure) you get about 7,000 metres of two rails from the iron that went into the Virginia.

Seems like a better use of the iron to me.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
The monitor class seems ideal for the confederacy with their shallow draft compared to the Virginia class. Keeping control of the rivers/harbors should have been 1st priority for CS navy. The rivers were the transport system for the south.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The monitor class seems ideal for the confederacy with their shallow draft compared to the Virginia class. Keeping control of the rivers/harbors should have been 1st priority for CS navy. The rivers were the transport system for the south.
I think there's two basic issues with the Monitor type.

The first is that they are individually not very capable combatants. The prototypical Monitor has a very slow fire rate (which is inextricably linked to the difficulties of loading the cannon in the space) and is inaccurate, partly because it depends on fiddly gearing to rotate the turret, and so to get the same amount of shots on target you need many monitors to match one broadside ironclad.

The second is that they're not really shallow draft per se, not compared to a broadside ironclad constructed under similar constraints. What is often missed is that the Virginia was built on top of an existing hull, and that existing hull was a deep draft heavy frigate; a British broadside shallow draft ironclad from the mid 1850s had a much shallower draft than the Monitor.

Aetna class: 6-9 feet draft depending on model, armour comparable to Virginia, guns 14-16 8" high velocity smoothbores (not all of which could go on the same broadside at the same time). So you can get good protection and plenty of firepower on a shallow draft broadside ironclad in this period, while a turret ironclad is going to compromise firepower one way or another.

It's only when the armour environment has advanced to the point you need a small number of very heavy guns anyway just to pierce that it makes sense to shift to a turret-only model.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Location
Kent ,England.
Obviously Mallory & Co knew about the floating batteries, indeed HMS Terror was on their doorstep, very nearly. However Amongst he many proposals and plans that we know of, no one it seems thought of copying the vessels for Southern conditions, had they not got so enamoured with Porters plans and and rifled guns, A suitable weapon existed for such vessels in the 64pdr (in the event only 16 were produced) which was little inferior to the 68pdr 95cwt of the RN, certainly against laminated armour.
The nearest I can think of would be CSS Mississippi in Tift's original form.

BUT What we must all remember is that the first ironclads everywhere, including the Monitor principle were intended to be proof against shell fire, fighting wooden vessels and forts not other ironclads, that inevitably followed.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
BUT What we must all remember is that the first ironclads everywhere, including the Monitor principle were intended to be proof against shell fire, fighting wooden vessels and forts not other ironclads, that inevitably followed.
Indeed, but if we're considering something being worth the effort, then there are really three options for what to do with the metal and effort that went into Virginia:

1) Do the Virginia, which is a large deep-draft ironclad built on an existing hull.
2) Do a Monitor type (or two), which is a medium/shallow draft ironclad with a new hull and 2 guns on one turret.
3) Do a new-build broadside ironclad (or two), which is a shallow-draft ironclad with a new hull and a 4+ gun broadside.

Options 2 and 3 may involve extra work.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Where was the CSA going to get the engines for a fleet of ironclad warships? As we know, many of the CSA ironclads that were built had clapped out engines salvaged from other vessels. There were no engine building facilities in the CSA.

A City Class gunboat burnt a ton of coal an hour. Even churning their wheels as hard as they could go, a tugboat was needed for them to move upstream on the Mississippi. Coal barges were lashed on both sides to provide enough fuel for moving from point to point. Even the much lighter tinclads burnt hundreds of pounds of coal per mile. Where were all these new ironclads going to get the mountains of coal they would need for routine operations? Where were the coal barges & tenders needed to keep the ironclads at sea going to come from?

Steam engines of the 1860’s required constant maintenance. As we know from the history of CSA ironclads, a lack of parts & engineers to install them kept exiting CSA ironclads tied up for weeks & months at a time. Where were the mechanical, logistical & support elements of the iron clad fleet going to come from?

Steam engines don’t run on automatic. They require constant attention by skilled firemen & engineers. There weren’t all that many steamboat men loyal to the South. Assuming they managed to acquire enough engines to equip a fleet of ironclads, where were the skilled engine crewmen & engineers going to come from?

After the pursuit of Hood ended, Grant ordered an entire army corps transferred from Bridgeport to New Orleans & then Mobile Bay. 40 tin clad gunboats escorted the transports. That was about 15,000 rations / day for soldiers & riverboat men. About 3,000 equines @ 26 pounds of fodder/day = 76,000 ponds a day. That is what a real strategic brown water fleet looks like. US Army Quartermasters had 11,000 brown water & littoral vessels available to support army & navy operations.

A few CSA ironclads capable of 5 knots at the best of times would have consumed vast quantities of scarce resources. At no time or place could they have been capable of doing more than annoy the littoral & brown water assets of the USN & army.
 
Last edited:

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Where was the CSA going to get the engines for a fleet of ironclad warships? As we know, many of the CSA ironclads that were built had clapped out engines salvaged from other vessels. There were no engine building facilities in the CSA.

A City Class gunboat burnt a ton of coal an hour. Even churning their wheels as hard as they could go, a tugboat was needed for them to move upstream on the Mississippi. Coal barges were lashed on both sides to provide enough fuel for moving from point to point. Even the much lighter tinclads burnt hundreds of pounds of coal per mile. Where were all these new ironclads going to get the mountains of coal they would need for routine operations? Where were the coal barges & tenders needed to keep the ironclads at sea going to come from?

Steam engines of the 1860’s required constant maintenance. As we know from the history of CSA ironclads, a lack of parts & engineers to install them kept exiting CSA ironclads tied up for weeks & months at a time. Where were the mechanical, logistical & support elements of the iron clad fleet going to come from?

Steam engines don’t run on automatic. They require constant attention by skilled firemen & engineers. There weren’t all that many steamboat men loyal to the South. Assuming they managed to acquire enough engines to equip a fleet of ironclads, where were the skilled engine crewmen & engineers going to come from?

After the pursuit of Hood ended, Grant ordered an entire army corps transferred from Bridgeport to New Orleans & then Mobile Bay. 40 tin clad gunboats escorted the transports. That was about 15,000 rations / day for soldiers & riverboat men. About 3,000 equines @ 26 pounds of fodder/day = 76,000 ponds a day. That is what a real strategic brown water fleet looks like. US Army Quartermasters had 11,000 brown water & littoral vessels available to support army & navy operations.

A few CSA ironclads capable of 5 knots at the best of times would have consumed vast quantities of scarce resources. At no time or place could they have been capable of doing more than annoy the littoral & brown water assets of the USN & army.
Wooden ships were built mainly at Portsmouth. The town was in NH, the naval base was in Maine. Engines were often installed in NYC, Brooklyn/Newark. New York was already one of the great cities of the world and could support a growing steam engine industry. Armaments were added at Philadelphia, and munitions at Hampton Roads. When the Confederacy lost Pensacola and Norfolk, what was left as far as ship building capability was not competitive. They built some ironclads anyway, but to what end? No matter what they built the US could out build the Confederates and had the man power to fill up the crews. The ironclads that the Confederates built may not have cost the US much extra. Ironclad gunboats were coming. The US built a set on the Mississippi before they were challenged by any Confederate vessels.
 
Last edited:

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Obviously Mallory & Co knew about the floating batteries, indeed HMS Terror was on their doorstep, very nearly. However Amongst he many proposals and plans that we know of, no one it seems thought of copying the vessels for Southern conditions, had they not got so enamoured with Porters plans and and rifled guns, A suitable weapon existed for such vessels in the 64pdr (in the event only 16 were produced) which was little inferior to the 68pdr 95cwt of the RN, certainly against laminated armour.
The nearest I can think of would be CSS Mississippi in Tift's original form.

BUT What we must all remember is that the first ironclads everywhere, including the Monitor principle were intended to be proof against shell fire, fighting wooden vessels and forts not other ironclads, that inevitably followed.
The US was going to build ironclads in order to attack forts from closer range. Those same ironclads were capable of dealing with anything the Confederates could build as was proven several times.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
A few CSA ironclads capable of 5 knots at the best of times would have consumed vast quantities of scarce resources.
Well, each individual one wouldn't have necessarily consumed vast quantities of those resources, because they provide a threat. The mere existence of the Virginia blocked the James for more than a month and tied down vast amounts of Union military resources, and while that isn't a good reason by itself it does mean that the Virginia (or a similar strategically placed ironclad) can exert significant strategic influence without even needing to burn much coal because it didn't need to move much.

An analysis of the Virginia indicates that it could manage about 100 hours of continuous operation at full speed (ca. 6 knots) on its load of ca. 150 tons of coal. Figures I've seen suggest that Virginia coal production was ca. 40,000 tons per annum in the war years (1863-1866), the result of a major drop in production owing to lack of labour, and this means that the Virginia could fight a Hampton Roads style battle with plenty of manoeuvering (call it 10 hours of operation) for a cost of about 15 tons, meaning that it could do about thirty of them for each 1% of Virginia coal production p.a..

I'd say that that would be a valuable use of the coal.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Well, each individual one wouldn't have necessarily consumed vast quantities of those resources, because they provide a threat. The mere existence of the Virginia blocked the James for more than a month and tied down vast amounts of Union military resources, and while that isn't a good reason by itself it does mean that the Virginia (or a similar strategically placed ironclad) can exert significant strategic influence without even needing to burn much coal because it didn't need to move much.

An analysis of the Virginia indicates that it could manage about 100 hours of continuous operation at full speed (ca. 6 knots) on its load of ca. 150 tons of coal. Figures I've seen suggest that Virginia coal production was ca. 40,000 tons per annum in the war years (1863-1866), the result of a major drop in production owing to lack of labour, and this means that the Virginia could fight a Hampton Roads style battle with plenty of manoeuvering (call it 10 hours of operation) for a cost of about 15 tons, meaning that it could do about thirty of them for each 1% of Virginia coal production p.a..

I'd say that that would be a valuable use of the coal.
Except if the Confederates had built more ironclads, the US builds entire fleets of them. And once they wipe out the Confederate ironclads they very well might accelerate the combined arms operations. On land the Confederates had relative advantages. On the water the US had all the advantages. And if the US was not going to install water tight bulkheads into armored ships, the mines were a much more cost effective way to stall US operations. Until the US changed designs, stationary and propelled mines were the way to halt the US harbor operations.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Except if the Confederates had built more ironclads, the US builds entire fleets of them. And once they wipe out the Confederate ironclads they very well might accelerate the combined arms operations. On land the Confederates had relative advantages. On the water the US had all the advantages. And if the US was not going to install water tight bulkheads into armored ships, the mines were a much more cost effective way to stall US operations. Until the US changed designs, stationary and propelled mines were the way to halt the US harbor operations.
I mean, let's be honest, what we are evaluating here is whether Confederate ironclads were worth the effort and cost. Historically speaking the Union pretty much maxed out their ironclad building and designing capacity in trying to counter the Confederate ironclads that were built (which is why there was the Casco debacle for example) and many of the strongest ironclads the Confederates attempted to gain (through purchase) ultimately cost them nothing (because they were siezed) but would have been cheap at the price if the purchase had gone through.

But mines alone are not a solution to harbour defence. Minesweeping is a fairly easy process if the minefields are not defended in some fashion (you can do it with divers, small ships and hooks) while if all a spar torpedo has that it can blow up is a small gunboat then it's not actually providing a great deal of benefit; it's the fact of armoured ships being there in the first place (i.e. to defend against enemy ironclad sallies) that means the spar torpedoes can gain useful results.

The best means of defence for a harbour is to combine the various different methods of the day, thus presenting as difficult a tactical puzzle as possible, rather than going for a mono-mine build.
 
Top