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Civil War Ironclads

The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization

William H. Roberts

Publication Year: 2002

Civil War Ironclads supplies the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding. In constructing its new fleet of ironclads, William H. Roberts explains, the U.S. Navy faced the enormous engineering challenges of a largely experimental technology. In addition, it had to manage a ship acquisition program of unprecedented size and complexity. To meet these challenges, the Navy established a "project office" that was virtually independent of the existing administrative system. The office spearheaded efforts to broaden the naval industrial base and develop a marine fleet of ironclads by granting shipbuilding contracts to inland firms. Under the intense pressure of a wartime economy, it learned to support its high-technology vessels while incorporating the lessons of combat. But neither the broadened industrial base nor the advanced management system survived the return of peace. Cost overruns, delays, and technical blunders discredited the embryonic project office, while capital starvation and never-ending design changes crippled or ruined almost every major builder of ironclads. When Navy contracts evaporated, so did the shipyards. Contrary to widespread belief, Roberts concludes, the ironclad program set Navy shipbuilding back a generation.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

Colonel Dan and Coomie Lee Stedham provided unfailing welcome and encouragement. Their gracious hospitality and Jenny Knotts’s arduous service as “the au pair from Indiana” made it possible to conduct extensive archival research...

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pp. 1-8

For thousands of years, warships were built of wood and powered by human muscles and the wind. Gunpowder carved the first niche for chemical energy and machine-made materials, but successfully mounting and using cannon aboard ship still required vast amounts of...

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1. “I Have Shouldered This Fleet”: Gustavus Fox and “Monitor Mania”

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pp. 9-24

In 1859, France launched the world’s first seagoing ironclad ship, the frigate Gloire, and in 1860, Britain countered with HMS Warrior. By the end of 1860, the two navies had a total of ten ironclads in hand, but the United States had little attention to spare for such developments...

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2. Forging the Fleet: Alban C. Stimers and the Passaic Project

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pp. 25-44

The navy’s enthusiasm for ironclads led to a construction program that dwarfed any previous shipbuilding effort. Whatever the truth of the claim that the Monitor had included at least forty “patentable contrivances,” no one could doubt the novelty of the enterprise.1 The Navy...

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3. The Navy Looks West

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pp. 45-68

The “harbor and river monitors” took their name from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles’s letter of March 1862 advising the Navy Department’s intent to build monitors “for harbor defence and to operate upon the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico,” but the design for...

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4. Mobilization on the Ohio River

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pp. 69-83

Cincinnati’s waterfront was busy in late 1862. Joseph Brown and McCord & Junger had finished the wooden-hulled riverine ironclad Chillicothe in September, and were building the similar Tuscumbia and Indianola. As winter approached, both Greenwood and Swift were working...

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5. Miserable Failures: Combat Lessons and Political Engineering

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pp. 84-100

The monitors’ first significant combat experience came in 1863, revealing some strengths and a number of weaknesses. Their first fleet engagement was Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont’s unsuccessful attack on Charleston, and in its aftermath the monitors became a focal point of...

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6. A Million of Dollars: The Price of “Continuous Improvement”

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pp. 101-121

The number of “lessons learned” that the Navy gained from two months’ worth of operations and a two-hour general engagement highlighted the unaccustomed problems that the monitors brought in their wakes. Complicating the introduction of the new technology, the...

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7. Progress Retarded: The Harbor and River Monitors, 1863–1864

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pp. 122-146

"Continuous improvement” directly affected the harbor and river monitors. After Stimers’s letter of December 22, 1862, construction more or less paused on all the vessels—Stimers’s draftsmen could not furnish drawings of the accumulated changes rapidly enough to keep the...

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8. The Sudden Destruction of Bright Hopes: The Downfall of the General Inspector

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pp. 147-169

By February 1864, the troubled harbor and river monitor program was at last beginning to show results. Although a year overdue, the eastern-built Canonicus, Saugus, and Tecumseh were nearing completion, and the Manhattan was close behind. The last of the eastern ships,...

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9. Good for Fifty Years: Winding Down the Mobilization

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pp. 170-197

It has been said that the armed forces of democracies hit their stride just about the time the war ends. This was certainly the case with the Civil War Navy’s ship acquisition programs. By late 1864, Fox had been weaned from the continuous improvement philosophy and the negotiation method of making changes had begun to gain momentum....

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10. Additions, Alterations, and Improvements: Reversing Technological Momentum

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pp. 198-210

The Civil War impelled changes in many areas, and the Navy’s acquisition management and contracting systems evolved along with its technology. In its search for an efficient, fair, and reasonably priced acquisition system, however, the government had tinkered endlessly...

Appendix: Tabular Data for Passaic- and Tippecanoe-Class Monitors

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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-267

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 269-275

While there is a mountain of literature on the Civil War and a foothill on the naval war, a large fraction of the naval works are operationally oriented. A good-sized body of literature of varying quality deals with the ships themselves,and a smaller number of authors have written on the strategic and political aspects of the naval struggle and on naval administration. Very little work has...


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pp. 277-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780801873706
E-ISBN-10: 0801873703
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887512
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887518

Page Count: 300
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 17 line drawings
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology