Ironclad Warships

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IRONCLAD WARSHIPS. Thickening a ship's sides against enemy fire was common practice in the sailing-ship era. The perfection of the rifled cannon by 1850, however, spurred the development of new armored warships. During the Civil War inadequate shipbuilding facilities forced the Confederates to fit armor onto existing hulls; the captured Union steam frigate Merrimack (renamed Virginia ) was the first so converted, with a waterline belt and an armored central casemate. The Union generally relied on newly constructed iron or wooden vessels designed to carry metal armor. The Monitor was the first completed, and its success against the Virginia on 9 March 1862 led to the construction of many others of the same typecharacterized by a very low freeboard, vertically armored sides, and armored revolving gun turretsbased on the designs of engineer James B. Eads.

On 12 October 1861 the Confederate privateer ram Manassas became the world's first ironclad steamer in action. Although Confederate ironclads achieved startling victories in the early years of the Civil War, such as the Arkansas ' single-handed passage of the combined fleets of Adm. David G. Farragut and Adm. Charles H. Davis above Vicksburg, Miss., 15 July 1862, the United States quickly gained ironclad superiority, which contributed largely to the splitting of the Confederacy in 1863. The ironclad war on inland waters ended with the surrender of the Confederate ship Missouri in the Red River, 3 June 1865.


Baxter, James P. The Introduction of the Ironclad Warship. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1968 (orig. pub. 1933).

Still, William N., Jr. Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1971.

Dudley W. Knox / a. r.

See also Armored Ships ; Mobile Bay, Battle of ; Monitor and Merrimack, Battle of ; Navy, Confederate ; Navy, United States ; Rams, Confederate ; Warships .