Strange Ships of the Civil War

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Strange Weapons of the Civil War

USS MonitorPerhaps, the most unique ship in the Union Navy’s arsenal was the U.S.S. Monitor. It was the first all-ironclad in the Union Navy and was followed by a number of ships that utilized its unique armament and iron cladding.

In the Battle of Hampton Roads the Monitor met the C.S.S. Virginia and the two ironclads fought. For all intents and purposes the age of wooden ships was ended on March 9, 1862.

Both sides began to build ironclads, although the Union Navy had more access to iron so they were able to manufacture more boats. Both sides made ships for different uses; both for river and open ocean uses. The river ironclads made by both navies had less draft while there ocean-going vessels needed a deeper draft. The Union Navy made a wide variety of monitors including twin-turret models.

The monitors continued to be used by the Union Navy in concert with ironclad steam ships. These were former two and three-masted sailing who were fitted with ironcladding on the sides and steam engines either when they were originally built or during the war. The Battles of Mobile Bay, Charleston Galveston were the best examples of this combined arms strategy.

The CSS and USS Teaser was originally a tugboat that was used by both sides. Teaser was built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.CSS Teaser Purchased at Richmond, Virginia by the State of Virginia in 1861, she was assigned to the naval forces in the James River with Lieutenant James Henry Rochelle, Virginia State Navy, in command.

Upon the secession of Virginia,Teaser became a part of the Confederate States Navy and continued to operate in Virginia waters. With Lieutenant William A. Webb, CSN, in command, she took an active part in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8–March 9, 1862, acting as tender to CSS Virginia. She received the thanks of the Congress of the Confederate States for this action.

Teaser was a pioneer “aircraft carrier”, serving as a base for an observation hot air balloon; she also became a pioneer minelayer when ordered on June 17, 1862, to assist General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Under Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, CSN, she was used by the Confederate Naval Submarine Battery Service to plant and service “torpedoes” (mines) in the James River.

While engaging USS Maratanza at Haxall’s on the James on July 4, 1862, a Union shell blew up Teaser’s boiler and forced her crew to abandon ship. When seized by Maratanza, Teaser was carrying on board a balloon for aerial reconnaissance of Union positions at City Point and Harrison’s Landing.

Later that summer, Teaser was taken into the United States Navy and was assigned to the Potomac Flotilla. With the exception of three brief deployments elsewhere, USS Teaser plied the waters of the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia, south to Point Lookout, Maryland to enforce the blockade by interdicting a thriving trade in contraband between the Maryland and Virginia shores. She was never used as a hot air balloon carrier by the Union Navy.

The USS Alligator the fourth United States Navy ship of that name, is the first known U.S. Navy submarine, and was active during the American Civil War.

USS AlligatorThe ship was about 30 ft long and 6 ft or 8 ft in diameter. “It was made of iron, with the upper part pierced for small circular plates of glass, for light, and in it were several water tight compartments.”

For propulsion, she was equipped with sixteen hand-powered paddles protruding from the sides, but on 3 July 1862, the Washington Navy Yard had the paddles replaced by a hand-cranked propeller, which improved its speed to about four knots. Air was to be supplied from the surface by two tubes with floats, connected to an air pump inside the submarine.

It was sent to Hampton Roads where several targets were considered but none were approved. Additional sea trials were ordered with Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr. in command. The tests proved unsatisfactory, and Selfridge pronounced “the enterprise… a failure.”

Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont decided that Alligator might be useful in carrying out his plans to take Charleston, South Carolina, the birthplace of secession. Acting Master John F. Winchester, who then commanded the Sumpter, was ordered to tow the submarine to Port Royal, South Carolina. The odd pair got underway on 31 March.

The next day, the two ships encountered bad weather which, on 2 April, forced Sumpter to cut Alligator adrift off Cape Hatteras. She either immediately sank or drifted for a while before sinking, ending the career of the United States Navy’s first submarine.



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