US postcard

Maritime Topics
On Stamps:


in the American
Civil War!

The American Civil War (Secession War) lasted from 1861 to 1865. It was caused by the deep economic, social and political separation between the northern and southern states, primarily with regard to slavery.
The departure of many southern states from the Union of the United States and the formation of a confederation was the reason for this war. (Civil War, Secession - is the separation of individual parts of an existing state with the aim of a new sovereign state to form).

The Union consisted of 20 states and was economically stronger, primarily through their industry. The 11 southern states had to increase their cotton exports, to create the revenue for buying military equipment.
For this reason, the northern states attempted to create blockades in front of all Confederate ports. The blockades were quite successful, only a few "blockade runners" succeeded getting through.

At the outbreak of war, the Union commanded 40 unarmoured ships. The South had only few ships, ships they had captured from the Union in the southern ports. Now a race began, building new ships.
And it was ironclads. These vessels had a metal-coated hull, a steam engine and guns, with those exploding grenades were fired.

The Swede John Ericsson designed and built the first ironclad vessel for the Northern States. The ship was mainly made to operate in shallow waters and to be as small a target as possible for hostile cannons.
Therefore it kept a low profile, except for its gun turret, a small helm stand at the bow and two tiny chimneys.
The vessel had a freeboard of only 46 cm and was named "Monitor". This name became the class designation of all ships, which were built with these criteria in mind. They had very poor performance when looked upon as ships, because they were not much more than sea-going platforms for some large-caliber cannons. You could think of them as floating batteries for use in coastal and inland waters and not suitable for combat out at sea in deep water.
Monitor 11

In the foreground USS "Monitor", behind a frigate.
    Some key data:
  • Weight 987 t
  • Length 52 m
  • Beam 12,6 m
  • Depth about 2 m
  • Drive-Ericsson beam engine 320 hp
    Speed 8 knots
  • 59 men crew
  • Armament 2 x 279 mm guns in a rotating tower, battering ram.
The bow was designed as a battering ram and fortified. The deck was made from 76 cm thick oak planks and covered with 2.5 cm thick wrought-iron tiles. The side walls of the hull were tilted at about 50° angle such that the armoured deck extended over them and protected the sides all the way down to below the waterline. Other sources report a 12.5 cm strong side armour.

A letter to the
"Steamer Monitor".

In 1854/55 the Union built the USS "Merrimack" in Boston, a three-mast frigate with a steam engine. In 1861 the state Virginia left the Union to join the southern confederation states.
The "Merrimack" was caught by surprise sitting in the shipyard at Norfolk, which had all of a sudden become a port of the Confederation. The blockade prevented the ship from sailing. To not become a bounty of the enemy, the "Merrimack" was burnt and sunk.
The South needed ships badly. So the "Merrimack" was floated again and made into an armoured battleship. She was given the name CSS "Virginia". The armour was made from 51 mm iron plates / and railroad rails (2 inches).
    Some Data:
  • 4,500 dwt
  • Length 84 m
  • Beam 11.8 m
  • Depth 6.7 m
  • Drive steam engine, 9 kn
  • 320 man crew
  • Armourment 12 guns with calibers from 15 to 22.5 cm, ram.

Shown here is a letter to the "Frigate Merrimack ", before she was she rebuilt into the "Virginia".

On the 8. of March 1862 the "Virginia" and more southern states boats showed up at Hampton Roads in order to break the blockade of the northern states.
The "Virginia" rammed the "Cumberland", which went down then, see stamp to the left.
It broke a part of the ram of the "Virginia" as she struggled to free himself again. Then she started a battle with the "Congress" that began to burn and explode. Then the "Virginia" chased away the "Minnesota", which ran on a sand bank and was stuck.
On different stamps, the "Virginia" means still with her first name "Merrimack" or "Merrimac."

The next day, the "Virginia" encountered the USS "Monitor". The two ironclads fought for several hours , mostly in shortest distance, however neither ship was damaged decisively. The smaller and handy "Monitor" out-maneuvered the "Virginia" staying away from her ram, but could not sink her either.

The "Virginia" even got into the fire of land batteries of Union troops and the "Minnesota", which was sitting stuck in the mud nearby. At last the "Virginia" retreated and left the battlefield to the northern states.

This was the first battle between two armoured ships, ending in a draw. However strategically the southern states were defeated, because they failed breaking through the blockade of ports by the Northern States.

The "Monitor" and "Virginia" never again fought against each other, and none of the two ships played an important role in this war.

The "Monitor" was hardly seaworthy, because of her minimal freeboard. She sank in December 1862, on her way to Charleston in heavy seas off Cape Hatteras. Sixteen men of her crew lost their lives.

The "Virginia" was set on fire in May 1862 by its own men before the troops of the Union occupied Norfolk, such that she was useless for the enemy. When the fire reached the magazine, she blew up in a large explosion.

During the Civil War about 40 to 50 monitors were built. They were designed for battles on rivers, inland and coastal waters. On high seas they were not operational as battleships, because of the prevailing sea conditions. Her deck was constantly under water.

At the top left, the USS "Chickasaw" is shown. This monitor was dispatched in blockades of Gulf ports, in the Battle of Mobile Bay, and on the Mississippi.

Shown on the right is the CSS "Tennessee." She was the flagship of the Southern States in the Battle of Mobile Bay. She got into the fire of an overwhelming number of Union ships, which rapidly destroyed all her defences and forced her to surrender.

Up on the left, the USS "Passaic" is shown. She was also designed by Ericsson. Measuring 61 meters in length, she was longer than the "Monitor" and had her wheelhouse on top of the turret. The "Passaic" too became a type-ship and nine more ships were built.

The USS "Essex" at the top right was built to become a ferry boat named "New Era." Built in 1856 she was turned into a gunboat with an armour of wooden beams, which however was soon enforced with iron amourment.
The ship was deployed on the Missouri and Mississippi. Among other little victories she succeeded to destroy the CSS "Arkansas."

Again on the right is a picture of the USS "Rattler", which was built as the steam wheeler "Florence Miller". At the beginning of the war she got an iron armour and was equipped with cannons. The ship was deployed on the Mississippi and Arkansas River.

On the left you see the 32 pound cannon on board the gunboat CSS "Teaser", a former tractor. Smaller gunboats were used on both sides for shelling of coastal batteries.

David Farragut was a Southerner, but took the side of the Northern States Union (stamp at left). He commanded a fleet of various vessels to conquer New Orleans. The "Hartford" was his flagship (stamp on the right). On April 24, 1862, he succeeded to break through the blockade, passed several forts and reached New Orleans. The city surrendered on the 28th of April and put under the Northern States control.
Farragut's most famous deed however was his victory in the Battle of Mobile. The Mobile Bay was blocked by a minefield. Several forts along the banks protected the bay too.

Mobile Bay
Farragut commanded 14 wooden sailing ships, including the Corvette USS "Hartford," which was his flagship, and the four Monitors USS "Tecumseh," USS "Manhattan", USS "Winnebago" and USS "Chickasaw".
The USS "Brooklyn" led the fleet, because she had a device, which would detect mines and explode them, freeing the path.
Unfortunately it was the "Tecumseh", who arrived early at the meeting point, and ran on a mine. She sank in 25 seconds allegedly! Although the Union ships were under severe fire from the land batteries, they nevertheless broke through the mine field.

Farragut's cry shouting - "Damn the torpedoes (mines), full speed ahead!" found its way into all history books.
During the fight in the bay northern states vessels surrounded the monitor ship "Tennessee", who led the Confederate fleet. When a projectile destroyed the rudder, the ship hoisted the white flag of surrender. The Northern States had won the battle.

Following the example of the American ship USS "Monitor" many fleets did also build and deploy ships with shallow draft and low freeboard, armed with a few large-caliber guns in one or two turrets.
They served in coastal defence. Because of their low profile design, most monitors war not seaworthy. Nevertheless, there were a few deep-sea monitors, various river monitors, in England four submarine monitors and ram monitors.
On the left is shown the French ram monitor "Taureau". It was built in 1865.
Its size was L * B * T = 59.37 m - 14.50 m - 5.41 m.
Displacement 2718 tons, Engine 1793 hp, maximum speed 12.54 knots.
As late as in the World Wars I. and II. monitors were used.

In the American Civil War the truly gruesome battles took place not at sea but on land instead. Overall, about 650,000 people lost their lives.
The war's costs exceeded $8 billion.
The North had won, the coloured slaves had reached their freedom. However, the coloured in the South continued to encounter discrimination and segregation.
USS stands for United States Ship
CSS stands for Confederate States Ship

Collection of Werner Leichnitz with the letters of the "Merrimack" and "Monitor",
Wikipedia Encyclopedia,
Richard Hill, War at Sea in the Ironclad Age, 2000.

© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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