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

georgew

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Location
southern california
To me, far more than the wasted resources involved with the ironclads, Mallory's real mistake was his infatuation with commerce raiders.

Sure a good captain could take, say, the Alabama on a long Atlantic cruise and sink or capture a bunch of US shipping. But so what?

The north had thousands of civilian merchantmen plying the high seas and it would have taken dozens of Alabamas a couple years to put much of a dent in trade.

And when the lists of captured or sunk ships includes whaling vessels and other such completely pointless "victories", someone should have asked why.

As noted, there was never any kind of organized naval strategy and no clear cut goals, which is always a killer when it comes to fighting a war.
Actually the critical factor was the effect of the Confederate cruisers on insurance rates, causing northern owners to reflag their ships to largely British registration. British financiers, politicians and insurance firms must have cheered. The underlying question was how vulnerable was the north to drops in shipping to foreign ports? What materials were so critical that they could not have been replaced from the resources and manpower of the north? Even if a blockade of sorts to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston had been possible due to the presence off-shore of southern raiders it would not have reduced their ability to wage war on the south. Critical shipments of men and equipment would have continued under the protection of the Union Navy. A very different situation faced the south. Although they traded large amounts of cotton across the lines, their lack of manufacturing required shipments from Europe of military goods, medicines and even bulk clothing. One interesting question is whether there existed domestic shipping insurance in the south during the war? I can't imagine a worst risk than a runner. So for the south the name of the game was either cash or cotton for purchases, although the cotton bonds were a cute idea.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The strategic affect of the ironclads was minimal. Most were under powered and unsupported. The affect must have been mainly psychological. They were the naval equivalent of the Confederate invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania. The political affect was significant. But the US was going to outbuild anything the Confederates could get afloat. Hanging on to one of the southern shipyards should have been a very high priority.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Think about what happened as a result of the counter attack at Shiloh. Island No. 10 was not supported, so the gunboats ran past it an the army was able to cut off its supply line. New Orleans had an insufficient land garrison, so Butler was able to march in, as soon as Farragut made to the levees. Pensacola naval yard was burned and abandoned, to be eventually reoccupied by the US. And there was no land garrison in Memphis, which fell to the US navy.
So what ever effort was made to construct an ironclad to protect New Orleans, was of no affect, because the Confederates responded to an insult to their honor, rather than adhere to a strategic plan. And they lost most of the naval facilities in the west in the process.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
I don't think they were worth the cost. The commerce raiders seem to have given the most value for money invested. Unlike the ironclads-defensive weapon systems the raiders were offensive and could show both the US an Europe the CSA could project power long range.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
I don't think they were worth the cost. The commerce raiders seem to have given the most value for money invested. Unlike the ironclads-defensive weapon systems the raiders were offensive and could show both the US an Europe the CSA could project power long range.
The raiders had no impact on the war They are studied because they show the South in a good light ----- look what the Alabama did! Look what Florida did! Look what Shenandoah did! What they did was make headlines, but not affect the war. The question is what were the ironclads worth.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
The raiders had no impact on the war They are studied because they show the South in a good light ----- look what the Alabama did! Look what Florida did! Look what Shenandoah did! What they did was make headlines, but not affect the war. The question is what were the ironclads worth.
No because they failed to stop US from taking or blockading the ports. A lot of money, men and iron used with little to show for it.
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
Um.. The Union Navy attack up the Red River was delayed because of the knowlage that the CSS Missouri was on the Red. The Missouri was weekly armored, under gunned, under manned and untested in battle... And would remain so until wars end.
Yuh know it really is a shame they couldn't have better utilized the CSS Missouri. I don't know why they failed to use such and asset during the Red River campaign.
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Yuh know it really is a shame they couldn't have better utilized the CSS Missouri. I don't know why they failed to use such and asset during the Red River campaign.

I believe shallow water precluded her coming downriver at that particular time. If she had, the Union fleet included a number of ironclads, including IIRC three monitors with twin 11" guns - Ozark, Osage, Neosho.
 

Horrido67

Private
Joined
Sep 29, 2019
No because they failed to stop US from taking or blockading the ports. A lot of money, men and iron used with little to show for it.

This. It was already too late by the time many naval facilities and ports were either taken or blockaded. However, the Confederacy had to do 'something' regardless. Too many times we try to seek mistakes that the Confederacy made and how things could have worked out if they had done x, y and z right. However, sometimes, the we have to conclude that Union was simply too good.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The raiders had no impact on the war They are studied because they show the South in a good light ----- look what the Alabama did! Look what Florida did! Look what Shenandoah did! What they did was make headlines, but not affect the war. The question is what were the ironclads worth.
The Confederate raiders sank or burned some unarmed merchant ships. That probably was not the way to build support for an armistice in NYC. Also, though the British investors were willing to buy US merchant ships at discount prices, it made the Confederates look like a bunch of pirates and British had spent too many lives suppressing piracy to encourage that type of behavior.
The ironclads at Mobile Bay and in the Albermerle sound probably delayed US operations there, but the cost of doing so was high.
The deployment of the Virginia reminded the US to retake Norfolk, at the cost to the US of two steam frigates sunk and one stranded. A base for two ships is a bad trade.
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
Has anyone done the math on the overall cost of the CSA Ironclad program? Could they have done something else with the money and resources?
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Has anyone done the math on the overall cost of the CSA Ironclad program? Could they have done something else with the money and resources?

Don't know about the math, but the obvious thing they could have done with iron, machinery, skilled labor, etc. was maintain and improve their rail network. One of their key advantages was interior lines. Many of their greatest victories or near-victories stemmed from the ability to rapidly shift and concentrate troops - not to mention the benefit to their economy and the war effort.

There are some good discussions earlier in this thread if you haven't seen them yet.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Don't know about the math, but the obvious thing they could have done with iron, machinery, skilled labor, etc. was maintain and improve their rail network. One of their key advantages was interior lines. Many of their greatest victories or near-victories stemmed from the ability to rapidly shift and concentrate troops - not to mention the benefit to their economy and the war effort.

There are some good discussions earlier in this thread if you haven't seen them yet.
That was always my opinion. The maintenance of the Railroads really went downhill when resources were shifted over to the Navy.
 

historicus

Private
Joined
Oct 12, 2016
In terms of the contemporary technology, the most effective coast/river defense strategy was a "stop them and shoot them" arrangement, with a physical barrier to limit vessels' movement (ideally with mines in addition) and fortifications to both protect the barrier and to shoot up the ships once their mobility was hampered by the obstructions. The two components were mutually supporting, with the barrier preventing ships from simply running past, thereby protecting the fort, and the fort protecting and maintaining the barrier. In situations where one of the two components was missing, or were too far apart (like at Fort de Russy on the Red River), the defense was much weaker.

What type of "barrier to prevent movement" are you writing about? Where did the Confederacy ever make and use such a barrier in the water?
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
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Location
Central Ohio
Usually, a heavy chain across the river-- like at New Orleans and at least one other place on the river. It required constant maintenance, though, as the current would push driftwood, etc, against it and tend to break it. In other places "obstructions" (think underwater chevaux-de-frise and sunken hulks) would be used... it depended on if the Confederates wanted it to be a "wall" or a "door," basically.
 

historicus

Private
Joined
Oct 12, 2016
Usually, a heavy chain across the river-- like at New Orleans and at least one other place on the river. It required constant maintenance, though, as the current would push driftwood, etc, against it and tend to break it. In other places "obstructions" (think underwater chevaux-de-frise and sunken hulks) would be used... it depended on if the Confederates wanted it to be a "wall" or a "door," basically.

I have been a Civil War buff for 26 years, and i have never heard of such a thing. Very interesting. Can you remember what book(s) describe the Confederacy's using chain obstructions across rivers?
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
What type of "barrier to prevent movement" are you writing about? Where did the Confederacy ever make and use such a barrier in the water?
In the spring of 1863, the Engineer Bureau had to fight off Gen. D. H. Hill's attempt to remove the Roanoke River chain. He wanted to cut it up and use the iron for other needs. The chain had been provided by the CSN (probably from Norfolk originally).

At about the same time, the Engineer Bureau sent a sketch to an officer for use in closing off the Alabama River above Mobile. The plan was to use two stone cribs, each about 1/3 the way across the river, with chain between the river bank and the first crib and again from the other bank to the second crib. Between the two cribs would be an open space for steamboats to use and as an outlet for floating logs. The chain to close the middle section was to be maintained on shore with a boat and small detachment, to be put in place when there was a Union naval threat. The barrier was to be covered with a large battery (Ovens Bluff, I believe).
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
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Mar 31, 2012
Location
Central Ohio
I think most books about Farragut's run past New Orleans talk about the one there. The initial barrier strung just downstream of Forts Jackson and St. Philip was torn away by the river in early 1862; the replacement was basically hulks strung together with cables. A Union detail crept up to the barrier and cut it in several places the night before Farragut's run.
 
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