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

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georgew

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I have never seen any mention of effort by the railroads to deal directly with the runners. In the latter part of the war, the government controlled the shipment of cotton so closely that it was hard for roads to get cotton to the ports, though a few did.

Someone had to buy the rails and ship them. I doubt any runner company was willing to certify the quality of the rails and handle all the work necessary to ship them, unless they had a contract for the work. Much easier to load various high-value items or government freight.

Maj. John M. Robinson bought supplies for several Virginia RRs in 1863 while also buying material for the Confederate Engineer Bureau. He though he was going to be kept in England to continue to buy for the railroads, but that did not happen.

What can you tell me about this 200 tons of iron in Bermuda. Was it RR rail or armor? Can you provide references?
Hi Dave: Let me hit the files. I have two three drawer lateral files in the garage with a lot of this stuff and it's going to take a while to find the original document.
 

Carronade

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Someone had to buy the rails and ship them. I doubt any runner company was willing to certify the quality of the rails and handle all the work necessary to ship them, unless they had a contract for the work. Much easier to load various high-value items or government freight.
Wouldn't that be true for any commodity? For example, when the Confederates imported small arms or artillery, would they not require assurance that the guns had been manufactured properly and wouldn't blow up in the troops' faces?

You're right of course that blockade runners liked to import luxury or high-value goods, which probably had fewer quality control issues; but within the category of war-related material, was it more challenging to import rail?
 

USS ALASKA

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I believe there is evidence that at least 200 tons of British iron had arrived in Bermuda or Bahamas for transshipment to a southern port.
I have never seen any mention of effort by the railroads to deal directly with the runners. In the latter part of the war, the government controlled the shipment of cotton so closely that it was hard for roads to get cotton to the ports, though a few did.

Someone had to buy the rails and ship them. I doubt any runner company was willing to certify the quality of the rails and handle all the work necessary to ship them, unless they had a contract for the work. Much easier to load various high-value items or government freight.
Question sirs, if this iron was in the form of rails, could it have been from an antebellum order that was bought and paid for - perhaps through bonds - that wasn't completely delivered before the war broke out?

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DaveBrt

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Question sirs, if this iron was in the form of rails, could it have been from an antebellum order that was bought and paid for - perhaps through bonds - that wasn't completely delivered before the war broke out?

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USS ALASKA
Perhaps, though I have not seen any mention of such in any newspaper article or any RR annual report. There should have been such information given to the public to explain where the public's money was. Again, there should have been records in the Engineer Bureau or Quartermaster Department letters and I have seen nothing.
 

John S. Carter

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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.)
This is like asking if the V2 rockets that the Nazis fired into London were of any benefit? The answer would be as to what was achieved in their use.Such new weapons have proved after the fact as at times not achieving the purpose which they intended to achieve.The North built iron clads to counteract the Confederate clads .The result after the war other nations began their programs on construction of similar vessels. After the war the Allies collected all sources of rocket development and even scientists. Then would this all not prove that the Confederate navy was right in construction of these and similar vessels for what little they may have accomplished to counter the Union strength?
 

DaveBrt

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This is like asking if the V2 rockets that the Nazis fired into London were of any benefit? The answer would be as to what was achieved in their use.Such new weapons have proved after the fact as at times not achieving the purpose which they intended to achieve.The North built iron clads to counteract the Confederate clads .The result after the war other nations began their programs on construction of similar vessels. After the war the Allies collected all sources of rocket development and even scientists. Then would this all not prove that the Confederate navy was right in construction of these and similar vessels for what little they may have accomplished to counter the Union strength?
The question is whether they should have built so many of them and in places where they had no strategic value. I never said the CSN should not have built ironclads.
 
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Carronade

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The North built iron clads to counteract the Confederate clads .The result after the war other nations began their programs on construction of similar vessels.
Britain and France had ironclads in commission before Virginia or Monitor, and other European navies were working to acquire them (two ironclad frigates were laid down for the Italian navy in New York in November and December 1861, contemporaneous with Monitor and New Ironsides). Ironclad floating batteries had been used in the Crimean War, 1855-56; if anything it was Europeans who gave Americans the idea. The British were developing turrets, the Coles roller-path design which became the standard, rather than the Ericsson spindle type. Some monitors were built for world navies (also the name and concept were resurrected in WWI) but the Civil War casemate type saw little further application.
 

Carronade

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I'd still like to hear how Confederate ironclads contributed to the defense of harbors. The US Navy attack on Charleston was repelled by forts and batteries. The one sortie by Chicora and Palmetto State had no impact on the blockade. Tennessee's valiant fight hardly delayed the Union capture of Mobile Bay. Virginia could not prevent the Federals landing troops to capture her base and force her destruction. The James River squadron couldn't stop Grant's operations ten miles from Richmond.

We might imagine a Confederate ironclad squadron helping the defense of someplace like New Orleans, but in time the Union would always be able to concentrate superior numbers at their chosen point of attack.
 

USS ALASKA

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William N. Still Jr's viewpoint...

"...Confederate ironclads, perhaps with the exception of the European-built Stonewall , were not things of beauty. In many ways they were rather primitive men-of-war with serious defects in design and construction. Most of them, however, were serviceable and contributed significantly to the Confederate war effort. Moreover, they had some notable successes in defending Southern rivers and harbors.


Of the five Confederate seaports captured during the last six months of the war—Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Mobile, and Galveston—two were taken by Union land forces from the rear and two others indirectly as a result of pressure from the rear. Ironclads figured prominently in the defenses of all of the ports but one, Galveston. In the end, innovation, ingenuity, and hard work enabled the Confederacy to put into service the strongest ironclad navy possible given the South’s limitations..."


https://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2014-01/confederate-ironclad-navy

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DaveBrt

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William N. Still Jr's viewpoint...

"...Confederate ironclads, perhaps with the exception of the European-built Stonewall , were not things of beauty. In many ways they were rather primitive men-of-war with serious defects in design and construction. Most of them, however, were serviceable and contributed significantly to the Confederate war effort. Moreover, they had some notable successes in defending Southern rivers and harbors.


Of the five Confederate seaports captured during the last six months of the war—Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Mobile, and Galveston—two were taken by Union land forces from the rear and two others indirectly as a result of pressure from the rear. Ironclads figured prominently in the defenses of all of the ports but one, Galveston. In the end, innovation, ingenuity, and hard work enabled the Confederacy to put into service the strongest ironclad navy possible given the South’s limitations..."


https://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2014-01/confederate-ironclad-navy

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USS ALASKA
Still had a vested interest in promoting Confederate ironclads -- his entire publishing effort has been about them. What notable successes did Confederate ironclads have defending Southern rivers and harbors? Of the 5 ports captured in the last six months of the war (Galveston???), how much of their survival up to that point was due to the ironclads and how much to poor Union planning, to Confederate mines and to Confederate fortifications?
 

John S. Carter

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Britain and France had ironclads in commission before Virginia or Monitor, and other European navies were working to acquire them (two ironclad frigates were laid down for the Italian navy in New York in November and December 1861, contemporaneous with Monitor and New Ironsides). Ironclad floating batteries had been used in the Crimean War, 1855-56; if anything it was Europeans who gave Americans the idea. The British were developing turrets, the Coles roller-path design which became the standard, rather than the Ericsson spindle type. Some monitors were built for world navies (also the name and concept were resurrected in WWI) but the Civil War casemate type saw little further application.
Appreciate the correction;however , the Confederacy had to build and place these ships into action in order to bring even a token force against the aggressive acts of the North.They overcame the facts that the CSN did not have any NAVAL ships at the beginning of the war ,where as the North had both men and the facilities to build ships of the line. Were not most of the CSN ship converted merchant ships or ships that had been sunk by the fleeing Northerner Navy, as at Norfolk,Va.?
 
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USS ALASKA

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Were not most of the CSN ship converted merchant ships or ships that had been sunk by the fleeing Northerner Navy, as at Norfolk,Va.?
Not the Ironclads - only 4 (?) of those were conversions, I believe.

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rebelatsea

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Not the Ironclads - only 4 (?) of those were conversions, I believe.

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Full ironclads:
Brandywine from an uncompleted merchant hull at Richmond VA.
Virginia (I) from steam frigate USS Merrimack at Gosport VA.
Baltic from a garbage scow at Mobile Ala.
A Bonner type ironclad from an unidentified merchant hull at Wilmington NC.
Arctic from a lightship at Wilmington NC.
Atlanta from the blockade runner Fingal at Savannah Ga.
Danube from a merchant hull at Mobile. Floating battery
Mobile from a merchant vessel of the same name at Yazoo City Miss. Not completed.
Livingston converted from an uncompleted ferry at New Orleans La.
Several conversions from fast river steamers proposed b y I. N. Brown including CSS Eastport, his conversion is NOT USS Eastport, that is USN Constructor Phelp's ship.

There were also several partially protected vessels converted, completed and put into service.
 

rebelatsea

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The "protected" conversions were:
Selma converted from the coastal steamer Florida at Mobile Ala.
J. A Cotton converted at New Orleans La.
General Polk converted from steamer Ed Howard at New Orleans La.
Diana converted at New Orleans La. by the CS army.
Stevens converted from the steamer Ed R Hart near New Iberia on Bayou Teche La.
Barataria converted at New Orleans La.
Pontchartrain, converted from steamer Lizzie Simmons at New Orleans La.
Little Rock, a private conversion of the sternwheeler of that name at Memphis Tenn. Not carried out
 
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USS ALASKA

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Was going from memory of vessels that were actually 'commissioned' (however you would like to define that) and operational in the CSN.

Question - Did the Confederate States have an official 'commissioning' ceremony?

Shouldn't CSN Manassas be on the list of conversions also?

Thanks!
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rebelatsea

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Was going from memory of vessels that were actually 'commissioned' (however you would like to define that) and operational in the CSN.

Question - Did the Confederate States have an official 'commissioning' ceremony?

Shouldn't CSN Manassas be on the list of conversions also?

Thanks!
USS ALASKA
All except the Bonner and Little Rock actually served the CSN or CS army (where indicated). Yes I left Manassas off, Kaz will hit me !
 
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Carronade

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Appreciate the correction;however , the Confederacy had to build and place these ships into action in order to bring even a token force against the aggressive acts of the North.They overcame the facts that the CSN did not have any NAVAL ships at the beginning of the war ,where as the North had both men and the facilities to build ships of the line. Were not most of the CSN ship converted merchant ships or ships that had been sunk by the fleeing Northerner Navy, as at Norfolk,Va.?
Again I would question the "had to" rationale. I have invited the forum several times to cite significant contributions by Confederate ironclads or, alternatively, how the Confederate cause would have suffered had they not existed. I've even cited the temporary delays or setbacks to Union operations imposed by Virginia, Albemarle, and perhaps Manassas at Head of Passes; that seems to be about it.

In truth, merchant vessels converted to rams or cottonclad gunboats contributed more to the cause than ironclads at vastly less cost in limited resources, including the only sinkings/captures of Union ironclads.

AFAIK the only ships salvaged at Norfolk were Virginia, the old frigate United States, which became a floating battery and depot ship, and the sloop Plymouth; the Confederates had plans to refit her but had not done more than raising her by the time they had to scuttle her again on the approach of Union troops.

I'm a former Navy officer with a lifelong interest in naval matters modern and historic, but I firmly believe that a nation's naval policy needs to be based on rational analysis of its needs and resources.
 

wausaubob

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I've learned quite a bit.
It seems that the only place that Confederate ironclads could have made a difference was on the Mississippi. They would not have needed open ocean seaworthiness, and they could have been mutually supporting.
On the Atlantic coast, the United States could out build and out man the Confederate navy, at any level. If the Confederates had developed more ironclads, the United States would have built more ironclads too.
The strategic center for both belligerents was the very difficult transportation area between Nashville and Atlanta.
Ironclads had no affect on this area.
With respect to the Richmond area, the Confederates had sufficient ground forces to embarass the United States, on multiple occasions. Only beginning in 1863 did the Confederates realize that once Richmond was cut off from the north and partially cut off from the east, that the rate of train arrivals in Richmond had a profound impact on the fighting capabilities of the men and horses that made up the army of Virginia.
Ironclads could not remedy that problem unless there were several at a place like Wilmington, and they were capable of pushing the blockading ships far out to sea.
 
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