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

LilRhody

Private
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Bellingham, WA
seems a lot of hindsight to conclusions.......not sure how in some of the cases it could have been obvious their impact was going to be limited when construction was started.

and disagree a bit that they somehow didn't focus on the Mississippi River, both the New Orleans and Memphis fleets showed they put emphasis and were doing what they could to protect the Mississippi, as far as ironclads on the Mississippi the two cities most capable of production Memphis and New Orleans were lost early on, so not only did ironclads need produced...........but the shipyards and skilled personnel capable of building them also needed somehow produced......and also the western railroad network to aid in production was weak.........

EDIT Added- IIRC The biggest hindrance in the south in producing ironclads was the powerplants.....they couldn't produce them.........Even if produce shipyard, hull and roll iron plate, still need a capable powerplant to power it........
I think your comment about poor powerplants for the Rebel Navy ironclads is well stated. CSS Virginia and CSS Manassas are two examples. Not sure about CSS Abermarle but I would point to CSS Arkansas as well. When we ask the question about Confederate ironclads, we have to remember that Mallory did an extraordinary job given what he was provided, which was NOTHING. He was the last Cabinet member named by Davis, even though Mallory lasted in his job throughout the war (as did his counterpart Gideon Welles). Davis had virtually NO interest in naval science and probably did not appreciate, beyond granting the letters of marquee for the raiders that did such a spectacular job for the Confederacy against Union merchants, Davis did NOTHING to help Mallory. The Confederate Navy was essentially doomed from the start. They didn't have New York, Boston, Philly, or Baltimore from which to buy up ships and convert them. Their machine shops (for propulsion gears) were virtually non-existent beyond Tregedar. I think Mallory did a hell of a job given what he was up against. A hopeless situation.
 

LilRhody

Private
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Bellingham, WA

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.)
From "The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organization, 1861-65" Dr. William N. Still, Editor, 1997. "A supply of powerful steam engines and all the ancillaries--propeller shafts, boilers, steam and inlet pipes, valves, flywheels, gears, links, etc.--was vital to the Confederate Navy. Early in the War [SecNav] Mallory told the President [Davis] that the 'steam engine is as essential to the worship as her battery . . . But in the Confederacy,' Mallory said, 'the want of workshops of large capacities is severely felt. No marine engines, such as are required for the ordinary class of sloops of war or frigates, have ever been made in any of the Confederate states, nor have workshops capable of producing them existed . . . Parts of three engines only have been made in Virginia but the heavier portions of them were constructed in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and had we the workshops, the construction of one such engine would require a year." PAGE 79. NOTE: I visited the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, GA in January of this year. Highly recommended. Curator is a good tour guide. Outstanding exhibit. See attached pics.

IMG_1516.JPG


IMG_1518.JPG


IMG_1513.JPG


IMG_1520.JPG


IMG_1521.JPG


IMG_1519.JPG


IMG_1508.JPG
 
Last edited:

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
From "The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organization, 1861-65" Dr. William N. Still, Editor, 1997. "A supply of powerful steam engines and all the ancillaries--propeller shafts, boilers, steam and inlet pipes, valves, flywheels, gears, links, etc.--was vital to the Confederate Navy. Early in the War [SecNav] Mallory told the President [Davis] that the 'steam engine is as essential to the worship as her battery . . . But in the Confederacy,' Mallory said, 'the want of workshops of large capacities is severely felt. No marine engines, such as are required for the ordinary class of sloops of war or frigates, have ever been made in any of the Confederate states, nor have workshops capable of producing them existed . . . Parts of three engines only have been made in Virginia but the heavier portions of them were constructed in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and had we the workshops, the construction of one such engine would require a year." PAGE 79. NOTE: I visited the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, GA in January of this year. Highly recommended. Curator is a good tour guide. Outstanding exhibit. See attached pics.

View attachment 357061

View attachment 357062

View attachment 357063

View attachment 357064

View attachment 357065

View attachment 357066

View attachment 357067
Nice photos. My wife and I visited last fall and it is a fine museum.

Mallory was correct about the South's lack of major machine shops and foundries. The railroads suffered from the same deficiency, never able to make a locomotive from scratch during the war (there were 3 or 4 "new" locomotives made, but they were all reworks of existing machines).

However, better machine shops, yielding better engines, would hardly have changed the naval situation. I do not believe any Confederate ironclad would have succeeded if it had possessed better engines. Only the Arkansas was lost to an engine issue, and it would not have retained the Mississippi River for the Confederacy by itself -- Grant and his army were not put at risk by the Arkansas.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Nice photos. My wife and I visited last fall and it is a fine museum.

Mallory was correct about the South's lack of major machine shops and foundries. The railroads suffered from the same deficiency, never able to make a locomotive from scratch during the war (there were 3 or 4 "new" locomotives made, but they were all reworks of existing machines).

However, better machine shops, yielding better engines, would hardly have changed the naval situation. I do not believe any Confederate ironclad would have succeeded if it had possessed better engines. Only the Arkansas was lost to an engine issue, and it would not have retained the Mississippi River for the Confederacy by itself -- Grant and his army were not put at risk by the Arkansas.
Hypothetically speaking if the Confederacy could out produce the Union in having Ironclad naval vessels at least comporable in quality to Union Ironclad Riverine vessels the Confederacy would of won control of inland rivers. Of course that was not to be but in naval warfare doesn't having the biggest and at least naval craft comporable to the enemy win naval wars?
Leftyhunter
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Hypothetically speaking if the Confederacy could out produce the Union in having Ironclad naval vessels at least comporable in quality to Union Ironclad Riverine vessels the Confederacy would of won control of inland rivers. Of course that was not to be but in naval warfare doesn't having the biggest and at least naval craft comporable to the enemy win naval wars?
Leftyhunter

That's not the whole story. Confederate ironclads, or warships in general, could only operate on the waterways where they were constructed. They built a good number, but they were 2-3 each at Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, etc.

Although Union naval forces operated around the periphery of the Confederacy, they had the functional equivalent of interior lines - they were the ones who could concentrate superior force at whatever point they chose.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
That's not the whole story. Confederate ironclads, or warships in general, could only operate on the waterways where they were constructed. They built a good number, but they were 2-3 each at Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, etc.

Although Union naval forces operated around the periphery of the Confederacy, they had the functional equivalent of interior lines - they were the ones who could concentrate superior force at whatever point they chose.
True but wasn't the main reason the Confederacy lost the naval war on both the rivers and oceans due to lack of numbers mostly because of inadequate industrial production?
Leftyhunter
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
True but wasn't the main reason the Confederacy lost the naval war on both the rivers and oceans due to lack of numbers mostly because of inadequate industrial production?
Leftyhunter

Yes and no, but mostly no. Even if the Confederacy could build comparable numbers of ironclads, they'd still be all dispersed in penny packets wherever they were built.

When Farragut attacked Mobile Bay, there were some fine ironclads at Charleston, Richmond, etc. Didn't help.....

If the Confederates could built more warships, and both sides could meet in some great battle of Jutland or Lepanto, maybe they'd do all right, but that wasn't the reality.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Yes and no, but mostly no. Even if the Confederacy could build comparable numbers of ironclads, they'd still be all dispersed in penny packets wherever they were built.

When Farragut attacked Mobile Bay, there were some fine ironclads at Charleston, Richmond, etc. Didn't help.....

If the Confederates could built more warships, and both sides could meet in some great battle of Jutland or Lepanto, maybe they'd do all right, but that wasn't the reality.
Of course the reality was the Confederacy lacked the Industrial ability to produce adequate numbers of Irornclads ,cannons and didn't have enough manpower to man them.
Naval warfare is basically a numbers game and that's where the Union advantage comes from. No doubt a navy fighting a riverine war must work in complete cooperation with a strong Army .
Leftyhunter
 

LilRhody

Private
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Bellingham, WA
Nice photos. My wife and I visited last fall and it is a fine museum.

Mallory was correct about the South's lack of major machine shops and foundries. The railroads suffered from the same deficiency, never able to make a locomotive from scratch during the war (there were 3 or 4 "new" locomotives made, but they were all reworks of existing machines).

However, better machine shops, yielding better engines, would hardly have changed the naval situation. I do not believe any Confederate ironclad would have succeeded if it had possessed better engines. Only the Arkansas was lost to an engine issue, and it would not have retained the Mississippi River for the Confederacy by itself -- Grant and his army were not put at risk by the Arkansas.
Agree on all points
 
Joined
Sep 10, 2020
Mallory was the best the South could have hoped for. But, like any service head, Mallory saw everything through the eyes of his service. It was up to Davis (and Congress to an extent) to see the big picture and correctly prioritize. When national leaders refuse to do this, or come to the wrong priorities, they loose.

WW2 Japan had the same problem -- #1 need was to secure the incoming supplies, but they chose to make the conquest of China and the attack on the US battle fleet higher priorities.

WW2 Germany made the punishment of Hitler's enemies #1 priority. This led to the attack on the USSR before other festering sores were dealt with completely. It also led to Germany declaring war on the US for no reason.

Britain was the master of keeping the eye on the ultimate goal and shifting temporary targets in order to achieve victory. From the Dutch wars to the Cold War, they got it right every time -- except when trying to figure out the American problem.

Regarding Mallory's three mistakes:
Failure to create a Mississippi navy -- agree
Trying to create a blue-water navy -- agree
Not creating a coast defense navy -- I think that is what he was trying to do with the ironclads. But as I said above, his job was to help achieve the strategic goals of the country -- in the CS/CSN situation, the number 1 goal was to keep the internal and external supply lines open, not create a coast defense navy. The coast defense ironclads not related to the Mississippi River or the blockade running were wasted projects.

Regarding the James River squadron to prevent a river attack on Richmond -- do you have any documents that show that the US was deterred from making such an attack by the presence of these ships? I don't know of any.

The existence of the CSS Virginia did paralyze the U.S. Navy at Hampton Roads preventing any excursions up the James River toward Richmond. Louis M. Goldsborough, the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, carefully kept what he hoped to be enough ships at the Roads to deal with the Virginia if she ever attacked again. When George B. McClellan requested more ships for the York River during the Yorktown siege, Goldsborough sent as few as possible. On the other side, George W. Randolph, the Confederate secretary of War, stated the Virginia's position "at the mouth of the James River ... adds materially to the defenses of Richmond, besides giving us a chance to move the material from the navy-yard up [the] James River." Navy Secretary Mallory supported that view telling Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall the Virginia's mission was to protect the entrance to the James River. "We look to the Virginia alone to [do this]. Her presence in the river is of vital importance." Mallory soon would have to modify that instruction to include protecting the mouth of the Elizabeth River, entrance to Norfolk, Portsmouth and the Gosport Naval Yard. It was only with the active presence of President Abraham Lincoln in early May that spurred the Union Navy into actively sending ships up the James in a failed attempt to get to Richmond.
[McClellan asked for the ironclad USS Galena to be sent to the York River, but Goldsborough did not send her. (He also had a poor opinion of her.) McClellan to Gustavus Fox, April 20, 1862, OR, ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 115; Randolph's endorsement disagreeing with Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder's suggestion that the Virginia should be sent to the York River--passing the Union guns at Fort Monroe--to break up the siege of that city. Magruder to Randolph, May 5, 1862, and Randolph's endorsement, OR ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 494-95; Mallory to Tattnall, May 5, 1862, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 7, 785.]
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
The existence of the CSS Virginia did paralyze the U.S. Navy at Hampton Roads preventing any excursions up the James River toward Richmond. Louis M. Goldsborough, the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, carefully kept what he hoped to be enough ships at the Roads to deal with the Virginia if she ever attacked again. When George B. McClellan requested more ships for the York River during the Yorktown siege, Goldsborough sent as few as possible. On the other side, George W. Randolph, the Confederate secretary of War, stated the Virginia's position "at the mouth of the James River ... adds materially to the defenses of Richmond, besides giving us a chance to move the material from the navy-yard up [the] James River." Navy Secretary Mallory supported that view telling Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall the Virginia's mission was to protect the entrance to the James River. "We look to the Virginia alone to [do this]. Her presence in the river is of vital importance." Mallory soon would have to modify that instruction to include protecting the mouth of the Elizabeth River, entrance to Norfolk, Portsmouth and the Gosport Naval Yard. It was only with the active presence of President Abraham Lincoln in early May that spurred the Union Navy into actively sending ships up the James in a failed attempt to get to Richmond.
[McClellan asked for the ironclad USS Galena to be sent to the York River, but Goldsborough did not send her. (He also had a poor opinion of her.) McClellan to Gustavus Fox, April 20, 1862, OR, ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 115; Randolph's endorsement disagreeing with Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder's suggestion that the Virginia should be sent to the York River--passing the Union guns at Fort Monroe--to break up the siege of that city. Magruder to Randolph, May 5, 1862, and Randolph's endorsement, OR ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 494-95; Mallory to Tattnall, May 5, 1862, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 7, 785.]
The question was regarding the James River ironclads, not the Virginia. Virginia delayed US operations by a month or so -- not much return for the vast expenditure of limited resources. Norfolk was never going to be allowed to be a long term Confederate naval base because of its very exposed position. The yard was taken in April (?) 61 and lost in April 62. Twelve months was plenty of time to remove all the valuable material, but a lack of strategic thinking almost caused the loss of much of it.
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
The existence of the CSS Virginia did paralyze the U.S. Navy at Hampton Roads preventing any excursions up the James River toward Richmond. Louis M. Goldsborough, the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, carefully kept what he hoped to be enough ships at the Roads to deal with the Virginia if she ever attacked again. When George B. McClellan requested more ships for the York River during the Yorktown siege, Goldsborough sent as few as possible. On the other side, George W. Randolph, the Confederate secretary of War, stated the Virginia's position "at the mouth of the James River ... adds materially to the defenses of Richmond, besides giving us a chance to move the material from the navy-yard up [the] James River." Navy Secretary Mallory supported that view telling Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall the Virginia's mission was to protect the entrance to the James River. "We look to the Virginia alone to [do this]. Her presence in the river is of vital importance." Mallory soon would have to modify that instruction to include protecting the mouth of the Elizabeth River, entrance to Norfolk, Portsmouth and the Gosport Naval Yard. It was only with the active presence of President Abraham Lincoln in early May that spurred the Union Navy into actively sending ships up the James in a failed attempt to get to Richmond.
[McClellan asked for the ironclad USS Galena to be sent to the York River, but Goldsborough did not send her. (He also had a poor opinion of her.) McClellan to Gustavus Fox, April 20, 1862, OR, ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 115; Randolph's endorsement disagreeing with Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder's suggestion that the Virginia should be sent to the York River--passing the Union guns at Fort Monroe--to break up the siege of that city. Magruder to Randolph, May 5, 1862, and Randolph's endorsement, OR ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 494-95; Mallory to Tattnall, May 5, 1862, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 7, 785.]
The question was regarding the James River ironclads, not the Virginia. Virginia delayed US operations by a month or so -- not much return for the vast expenditure of limited resources. Norfolk was never going to be allowed to be a long term Confederate naval base because of its very exposed position. The yard was taken in April (?) 61 and lost in April 62. Twelve months was plenty of time to remove all the valuable material, but a lack of strategic thinking almost caused the loss of much of it.

And that's most of the contribution of the entire Confederate ironclad program (Albemarle enabled them to hold Plymouth, N.C. for a few months). In terms of ships, the program was literally a loss, depriving the Union navy of three wooden ships while giving them three useful ironclads.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I accept the judgement of the lady’s gunboat quilt groups. In the first bloom of enthusiasm, ladies formed groups that sewed quilts & auctioned them off to raise money for gunboats. It did not take them long to realize that the gunboats were obviously a waste of money. From that point, they raised money for soldiers relief. I know of no reason to argue with their conclusion.
 

Ptarmigan

Private
Joined
Jul 21, 2013
Imagine 2 small Arkansas class gunboats at New Orleans facing Farragut's wooden fleet, they would have been cheaper and easier to complete than Louisiana and Mississippi. The Richmond fleet was a complete waste of resources and could have probably been replaced by some sunken ships and powerful guns mounted in forts with torpedoes planted downstream. The threat of lightly armoured low draught ironclads at Wilmington and Charleston sortieing out from the harbour scattering the blockaders would have upset the effectiveness of the blockade, if only they had the hindsight to do all this.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Imagine 2 small Arkansas class gunboats at New Orleans facing Farragut's wooden fleet, they would have been cheaper and easier to complete than Louisiana and Mississippi. The Richmond fleet was a complete waste of resources and could have probably been replaced by some sunken ships and powerful guns mounted in forts with torpedoes planted downstream. The threat of lightly armoured low draught ironclads at Wilmington and Charleston sortieing out from the harbour scattering the blockaders would have upset the effectiveness of the blockade, if only they had the hindsight to do all this.
By 1861 the USN had 278 ships, most of which were blockaders. By 1864, the Army Quartermaster had 11,000 shallow draft vessels. I think you have mixed up harbor defense with breaking the blockade. That was going to take a blue water force complete with support elements. Blockade runners were being intercepted on the approaches to the 9 ocean going ports in the CSA. As Mobile Bay graphically showed, one or two ironclads could annoy, but not stop a fleet.
 
Last edited:

Ptarmigan

Private
Joined
Jul 21, 2013
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 .
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
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 .
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.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Ironclads were part of a defensive war strategy. If the Confederacy did not out mobilize the US early and strike a decisive blow early the way @Saphroneth has suggested, fighting a long defensive war was going to lead to a used up and shrunken Confederacy even if they had outlasted the US. One of the reasons the US Civil War casualties were so high is that the Confederacy never gambled everything on an attempt to capture Washington, D.C. Advocates complain about a war of attrition, but the Confederacy might have had no choice.
The Confederates may have lacked the logistical capability of supporting an army greater than 60,000 men. They could do it close to Richmond, but at any distance from Richmond or Atlanta, the logistical capability was maxed out.
Defenses like the ironclads, even if successful, were going to expose the Confederacy's other problem. It was leaking manpower during the entire course of the war.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
For what it's worth, ironclads are a fairly good way of economizing on manpower and engines for coastal defence and for the Confederacy that kind of matters. The Virginia effectively helped them purchase more than a month of time to concentrate at Richmond for example.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
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.
 
Top