Ten Passaic-class Monitors That Were Built During the American Civil War

A model boat, black above and red below, with a curved deck and a cylindrical turret.

Passaic-class monitors, designed by John Ericsson, were single-turreted warships that served in the Union Navy during the American Civil War. The new class of ironclad represented an improvement to the design of USS Monitor, invented by Ericsson, and there are a variety of written sources of information about the technical details of these ships as well as their service histories. John Johnson, author of The Defense of Charleston Harbor, explains that the thickness of iron that protected the turret was increased from 8 inches to 11 inches and that the the pilothouse was moved from the foredeck to the top of the turret. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, covering the years from 1860 until 1905, claims that the length of the monitors was 200 feet and that the beam was 46 feet. Monitors of the U.S. Navy, written by Richard H. Webber and spanning the era from 1861 until 1937, explains that ships of this class were equipped with two vibrating lever engines and a pair of Martin boilers. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships states that monitors of this class possessed one engine, rather than two, and that their coal bunkers could hold 150 tons of coal. Webber claims that the engines, which Ericsson designed, were capable of generating an indicated horsepower of 320 and were intended to produce a speed of 7 knots. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, edited by James Longuemare Mooney and separated into eight volumes, states that ships of this class were equipped with a single screw that possessed a diameter of 12 feet. The screw, possessing four blades, was accommodated within a rectangular well while the shank of the anchor was housed within a circular well. The rudder, installed along the line of the keel, was situated in front of the screw. Sheer and camber, lacking in the design of USS Monitor, were added to the upper deck while the lower hull was built with curved rather than straight lines. The tubular smokestack and ventilation pipe, towering above the turret, retained their position towards the aft of the vessel. Most Passaic-class ironclads, according to Webber, possessed a single 15 inch gun while the second piece was either an 11 inch smoothbore or an 8 inch rifle. Below is a list of the ten Passaic-class monitors, constructed in a variety of shipyards yet built to the same general plan, that were completed between 1862 and 1865.

1) USS Passaic.

USS Passaic was launched on the 30th of August, 1862, and was the first of the new class of monitors to be completed. William N. Still, author of Monitor Builders: A Historical Study of the Principle Firms and Individuals Involved in the Construction of USS Monitor, claims that Ericsson's new ship was built at the Continental Ironworks in New York City. The third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that the monitor was launched on the 30th of August, 1863, and that Percival Drayton assumed command of the vessel when it was commissioned on the 25th of November. Our Iron-Clads.; the Great Test of the Monitors at Fort McAllister, published in the New York Times during the March of 1863, states that Drayton commanded one of the expeditions against Fort McAllister. Johnson explains that rear admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont ordered four expeditions against the fort, situated on the Ogeechee River, and that USS Passaic sustained damage to its deck during one of these engagements. Robert J. Schneller Jr., writing in A Littoral Frustration: The Union Navy and the Siege of Charleston, explains that the ironclad participated in the First Battle of Charleston Harbor. The battle occurred on the 7th of April, 1863, and demonstrated that the effectiveness of monitors against coastal fortifications had been overestimated. USS Passaic, according to Schneller, fired thirteen shots during the battle while sustaining thirty-five hits. One such blow, striking the monitor at the base of its turret, damaged the rails on which one of the gun carriages was mounted. John A. Dahlgren, known as the father of American naval ordinance, replaced Du Pont as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron after the failure of the ironclads at Charleston. The naval officer, who designed the main guns onboard the monitors, recounts his experience of conducting naval operations during the war in The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren and records the actions of the ironclads under his command. On the 17th of August, 1863, the rear admiral transferred his flag to USS Passaic during the ongoing bombardment of Fort Moultrie. The flag officer, describing the defenses of Charleston Harbor, explains that Fort Moultrie had been reinforced with heavy guns while its brick walls had been heaped with earth and sand.

2) USS Montauk.

USS Montauk, built in New York City, was the second Passaic-class monitor to be constructed. The third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that Continental Ironworks, situated in Greenpoint, built the ship while Delamater Iron Works constructed the machinery. The warship was launched on the 9th of October, 1862, and commissioned on the 14th of December. John Lorimer Worden, who had commanded USS Monitor during the Battle of Hampton Roads, took control of the new ironclad on the day of its commission. Schneller claims that Du Pont sent USS Montauk up the Ogeechee River to bombard Fort McAllister on the 27th of January, 1863, in what would be a four hour engagement. Thomas J. Scharf, who wrote History of the Confederate States Navy from Its Organization to the Surrender of Its Last Vessel, explains that USS Montauk destroyed CSS Rattlesnake while the Confederate warship was under the protection of Fort McAllister's guns. Scharf reports that John W. Anderson, who commanded the fort, was unsure if the commerce raider had been destroyed by the monitor or by its own crew. A plaque, installed by the State of Georgia Historical Commission in 1957, commemorates the event and explains that the ironclad was damaged after the engagement by a torpedo. Dahlgren states that he boarded the monitor, now under the command of Donald M. Fairfax, during the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. The battle occurred on the 18th of July, 1863, and the flag officer states that the first shot was fired at the fort at half-past twelve and that the engagement lasted throughout the day. A rising tide, occurring at 4 'o clock in the afternoon, allowed the flag officer to anchor three hundred yards from the rebel batteries and caused the artillery crews to abandon their guns. The monitor, according to Dahlgren, participated in the Stono River expedition in the July of 1864 and bombarded Battery Pringle. The autopsy of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, was performed on the deck of USS Montauk and hidden from public view by the awning that covered the monitor's deckHarper's Weekly Magazine published an engraving of the post-mortem examination on the 13th of May, 1865, in which the gruesome proceedings occur in the shadow of the monitor's turret.

3) USS Nahant.

USS Nahant was the third Passaic-class monitor to enter service and was constructed by Harrison Loring of South Boston, Massachusetts, whose City Point Works was situated on the waterfront. An advert for Harrison Loring, dated to the July of 1860, claims that City Point Works occupied seven acres of land and that it built iron steamships as well as marine engines. Harrison Loring, therefore, was well equipped to build monitors and the fifth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that City Point Works constructed the hull of the ironclad as well as the machinery. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships claims that the monitor was launched on the 7th of October, 1862, and commissioned on the 29th of December. John Downes, according to Webber, took command of the vessel at the time of its commissioning. Johnson states that the monitor, during the time in which Du Pont was in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, was involved in the operations against Fort McAllister and that it joined the second division of ironclads during the First Battle of Charleston Harbor. The monitor, Johnson claims, managed to fire fifteen shots before the Confederate batteries jammed its turret and damaged its steering system. Johnson explains that the monitor, which engaged Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter during the battle, suffered further damage to its deck and pilothouse before it withdrew from action. William M. Fowler, author of Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War, states that USS Nahant was one of two monitors that captured CSS Atlanta during the Battle of Wassaw Sound. Scharf claims that the Rebel ironclad met the Federal monitors on the 17th of June, 1863, and surrendered before the USS Nahant had the chance to fire its guns. Schneller states that the monitor provided covering fire to Federal troops on the morning of the 10th of July, 1863, after they landed on the southern tip of Morris Island. Dahlgren recollects that the ironclad, expecting to support an amphibious assault on Fort Sumter on the 8th of August, was bombarded by the Confederate batteries in the harbour after Quincy Adams Gillmore called off the attack. USS Nahant, according to the flag officer's autobiography, was involved in the rescue of USS Lehigh after it ran aground in range of the batteries on Sullivan's Island.

4) USS Patapsco.

USS Patapsco, named after the river in Maryland and fabricated by companies in Delaware as well as New York, was the fourth of the Passaic-class monitors to be completed. Webber claims that Harlan and Hollingsworth, who constructed ships in Wilmington, manufactured the hull and machinery while Still claims that Continental Ironworks built the turret. Webber states that the ship was launched on the 27th of September, 1862, and that it was commissioned on the 2nd of January while the third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships claims that Daniel Ammen was the first officer to take command of the vessel. Service in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron beckoned and the monitor, according to Johnson, participated in the expeditions against Fort McAllister as well as the First and Second Battle of Charleston Harbor. Dahlgren recollects that the ironclad was involved in the bombardment of Fort Wagner on the 18th of July, 1863, and claims that the Confederate gunners hid from the Federal guns when the changing tide allowed the monitors to anchor closer to the fort. The flag officer claims that the ironclad participated in the debacle of the 8th of August while missing its smokestack and Patrick Hughes, Federal inspector of ironclad vessels, believed that the monitor's own fifteen inch gun was responsible for the damage. Johnson explains that the ironclad participated in the first phase of the bombardment of Fort Sumter that occurred between the 17th and the 23rd of August, 1863, as well as the second phase that lasted from the 24th of August until the 2nd of September. The sixth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that USS Patapsco struck a torpedo on the 15 of January, 1865, and that it sank in the harbor. Schneller explains that the monitor, equipped with a torpedo rake, struck the explosive device while sweeping the harbour for obstructions. Dahlgren, who was informed of the incident by the captain of the stricken vessel, states that the ironclad sank in less than a minute and that only one of the crew members who had been below deck at the time of the explosion survived. Johnson, who had been involved in the defense of Charleston Harbor, claims that the ship sank at a distance of 800 yards below Fort Sumter and states that sixty two sailors lost their lives in the incident.

5) USS Weehawken.

USS Weehawken, built in New Jersey, was the fifth Passaic-class monitor to be constructed. Webber claims that Secor and Company built the hull and machinery at Fulton Foundry, situated in Jersey City, which was owned by Joseph Colwell. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships states that the ironclad was launched on the 5th of November, 1862, and that it was commissioned on the 18th of January in the following year. John Rogers, according to the third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, took command of the monitor at the time of its commissioning while the fourth volume of the series claims that the ship arrived at Port Royal on the 5th of February. Johnson explains that the monitor, equipped with a raft that was designed to clear obstructions, led the first division of ironclads that participated in the First Battle of Charleston Harbor. Schneller claims that the monitor, which discarded the raft during the battle, fired twenty-six rounds and was struck fifty-three times. Scharf explains that Du Pont, aware of the threat posed by CSS Atlanta to the blockade, sent USS Nahant and USS Weehawken to engage the Rebel ironclad at Wassaw Sound. Scharf states that the crew of the Confederate ram, which ran aground during the opening phases of the engagement, were injured by fragments of iron and splinters of wood when USS Weehawken scored direct hits on the casemate and pilothouse. Dahlgren claims that the monitor was present for duty during the operations of the 18th of July as well as the 17th, 18th, 21st and 26th of August. The ironclad engaged Fort Sumter on the 1st of September and Johnson reports that Fleet Captain O.C. Badger suffered a broken limb when a fragment of iron, sent flying by a direct hit on the base of the turret, struck him on the leg. Dahlgren notes that the monitor ran aground on the 7th of September, 1863, while in range of the guns of Fort Moultrie and was rescued on the 8th of September after a three hour operation. Johnson recounts that the monitor, under the command of E.W. Colhoun, struck an 8 inch columbiad with its 15 inch gun and detonated a magazine of shells. The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1863 states that the ironclad foundered in a storm on the 6th of December, 1863, and rested in 20 feet of water.

6) USS Sangamon.

USS Sangamon, the sixth Passaic-class monitor to be commissioned, was constructed in Pennsylvania by Thomas Reaney and his business associates. United States Congressional Serial Set, Volume 4400 explains that Thomas Reaney, William B. Reaney and Samuel Archbold built the monitor at their shipyard in Chester but were unable to complete other government projects on time. The document states that the late delivery of USS Suwanee, USS Wateree and USS Shamokin was blamed on the prioritization of ironclad construction. Ships of the United States Navy and their Sponsors, covering the years 1797 through to 1913 and compiled by E.W. Bentham as well as A.M. Hall, claims that William Knapp Thomas oversaw the building project. Webber states that the machinery was manufactured in Philadelphia by I.P. Morris, Towne and Company and claims that the ship was launched on the 27th of October, 1862. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships states that the monitor was commissioned on the 9th of February, 1863, while Webber claims that Pierce Crosby was appointed as the first commander of the vessel. Scharf notes that the ironclad, in the company of two unprotected gunboats, participated in reconnaissance duties along the James River during the August of 1863. The monitor, according to Scharf, witnessed the near-fatal torpedoing of USS Commodore Barney and helped to rescue some of the crew. Scarf notes that the ironclad was the only vessel to be left unscathed when a Confederate battery, supported by infantry, opened fire on the Federal gunboats at Deep Bottom. The sixth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that the monitor, having undergone repairs at Philadelphia during the February of 1864, was towed to Port Royal by USS Wachusett while Ships of the United States Navy and their Sponsors claims that the monitor bombarded Fort Sumter in that same year. Blockading duty in Charleston Harbor, according to the sixth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, ended when the monitor was recalled to Hampton Roads in the summer of 1864. The official reference work states that the ironclad spent the remainder of the war clearing the James River of torpedoes, which posed a significant threat to Union vessels, and protecting Federal troops from Confederate gunboats.

7) USS Catskill.

USS Catskill, built in New York City, was the seventh Passaic-class monitor to enter service. Ericsson, according to Webber, chose Continental Iron Works to manufacture the hull while DeLamater Iron Works was selected to construct the machinery. The second volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships states that the monitor was launched on the 16th of December, 1862, and that it was outfitted at the New York Naval Yard. Webber claims that the ironclad was commissioned on the 24th of February, 1863, and that George Washington Rodgers was placed in command of the vessel. The monitor, according to the second volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, arrived at Port Royal on the 5th of March. Scharf explains that the ironclad, following the victory of CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State over a handful of unprotected vessels, helped to maintain the blockade of Charleston Harbor and to neutralize the island fortifications. Johnson explains that the monitor, on the 7th of April, lead the second division of protected vessels that were repulsed by the guns of Fort Sumter. Dahlgren, who referred to the ship as USS Katskill in his autobiography, notes that the monitor engaged Fort Wagner on the 18th of July and that it withdrew from the fighting that occurred on the 17th of August. Lieutenant-Commander Charles C. Carpenter, whose account of the engagement appears in the 1863 edition of Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, states that the monitor was struck thirteen times during the fighting and that Rodgers was killed by a direct hit to the pilothouse roof. Dahlgren only learned of the death of Rodgers, his Fleet Captain, when he gave the order to withdraw at noon. John F. Messner, author of A Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer Ad-Vance, explains that USS Catskill captured CSS Deer in the February of 1865. The blockade runner, according to Messner, ran aground on Sullivan's Island during the Confederate withdrawal from Charleston. Messner states that the crew, sent aboard the vessel by Lieutenant-Commander Edward Barrett, became intoxicated after they discovered a consignment of liquor below deck. Henry Wilson, the author of Ironclads in Action; A Sketch of Naval Warfare from 1855 to 1895, states that the monitor was struck 106 times during the blockade.

8) USS Nantucket.

USS Nantucket, named after the island in Massachusetts, was the eighth of the Passaic-class monitors to be completed. Webber states that the ship and its machinery were built in Boston, Massachusetts, by Atlantic Iron Works. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships claims that the ironclad was launched on the 6th of December, 1862, and that it was commissioned on the 26th of February in the following year. Donald McNeill Fairfax, according to Webber, was the first officer to take command of the vessel. Scharf explains that the ship was one of seven Ericsson-designed monitors that were sent to Charleston Harbor after CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State defeated a squadron of wooden ships on the 31st of January, 1863, and raised the prospect of the Federal blockade being lifted. The threat posed to the blockade by Confederate ironclads, therefore, was neutralized by the arrival of USS Nantucket and its sisters. The Fiery Focus: An Analysis of the Union Ironclad Repulse at Charleston, written by Howard J. Fuller, claims that the monitor participated in the First Battle of Charleston Harbor while Johnson states that the ironclad was assigned to the second division of protected vessels during the engagement and that it lost the use of its fifteen inch gun. The monitor, according to the fifth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, was struck 51 times during the fighting. Dahlgren explains that the ironclad was involved in the Battle of Fort Wagner on the 18th of July, 1863, and that it was blockading CSS Savanna in Wassaw Sound on the 8th of August. Schneller attests that an anonymous monitor, stationed in Wassaw Sound, was blockading a Confederate ram on the 23rd of August and that it did not participate in the bombardment of Fort Sumter that occurred on that day. It is possible that the anonymous ram was CSS Savanna and that USS Nantucket, which Dahlgren attests had been in Wassaw Sound on the 8th, was the unnamed monitor. The fourteenth volume of Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies During the Great War of Rebellion states that USS Nantucket was involved in the capture of Jupiter on the 15th of September, 1863, when the Clyde-built steamship attempted to run the blockade. The iron-hulled sidewheeler, according to the official records, was on route from Nassau to Savannah at the time of its capture.

9) USS Lehigh.

USS Lehigh was the ninth, and penultimate, Passaic-class monitor to enter service. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships states that the monitor was launched on the 17th of January, 1863, and that it was commissioned on the 15th of April. John Guest, according to the third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, served as the first commanding officer of the vessel. Webber claims that Reaney, Son and Archbold built the ship and that the machinery was constructed by I.P. Morris, Towne and Company in Philadelphia. The 4400th volume of United States Congressional Serial Set maintains that the building of USS Lehigh, alongside USS Sangamon, took priority over the construction of other naval vessels. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships claims that USS Lehigh remained afloat during a Force 10 gale off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and that the its deck was awash with 4 feet of water. The third and forth volumes of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships maintain that the monitor, operating along the James River, served in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron until USS Home towed it to Charleston Harbor in the August of 1863. The monitor, according to the forth volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, returned to the James River in the March of 1865. Wilson, on page 246 of his book about iron-plated warships, claims that USS Lehigh was struck 36 times during the blockade of Charleston Harbor. Dahlgren recalls that the monitor, while it was under the command of Andrew Bryson, ran aground while on picket duty at Cummings Point. The event, according to the rear admiral, occurred in the November of 1863 and the ironclad had to be rescued. Scharf states that the monitor joined the Stono River expedition on the 2nd of July, 1864, after Dahlgren had received reports of Confederate troop movements on the 20th of June. The purpose of the expedition, according to Scharf, was to disrupt traffic along the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. Scharf claims that the ironclad, having joined a separate taskforce at John's Island, participated in the bombardment of Battery Pringle on the 5th of July. Dahlgren states that USS Lehigh was armed with an 8 inch Parrot rifle, while the USS Montauk was equipped with an 11 inch Dahlgren gun, and that the rifle did not perform as well as the smoothbore. 

10) USS Camanche.

USS Camanche was the tenth, and final, Passaic-class monitor to be built as well as the first ironclad to be stationed at San Francisco. An article in The San Francisco Call that was published on the 20th of November, 1899, states that the monitor was prefabricated in Jersey City before it was disassembled and shipped to San Francisco. The article, entitled From A United States Monitor to A Collier, claims that the ship was built in 1862 but provides no precise dates in regards to the laying of the keel or the completion of the project. Daily Alta California mentions that Fulton Foundry had been constructing an anonymous ironclad since the 17th of June, 1862, in an article that was published on the 21st of July. The article, entitled Laying the Keel of Another Iron-Clad Man-Of-War-Full Description of the Vessel, names Joseph Colwell as the proprietor of the shipyard while stating that the contract had been awarded to Secor and Company. The project, which the article claims was due to be completed within the space of five months, was expected to reach its conclusion in November. Fulton Foundry, according to the third volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, built USS Camanche and its machinery. The San Francisco Call names Peter Donahue, H. Ryan and Mr. Secor as the three business partners involved in the project. It is possible that USS Camanche, despite the likelihood of USS Weehawken being the vessel mentioned in the Daily Alta California, was the nameless ironclad that was under construction at the shipyard of Joseph Colwell. Webber states that USS Camanche was launched on the 5th of November, 1862, and explains that USS Aquila transported the ironclad in segments around Cape Horn. The San Francisco Call reports that USS Aquila arrived at its destination on the 10th of November, 1863, and claims that the ship sank on the 16th of November. It took five months, according to the article, to raise USS Aquilla and to rescue the disassembled monitor that was stored in its hold. The ship, the article reports, was reassembled at Steamboat Point in Mission Bay. Webber states that the monitor was launched on the 14th of November, 1864, and commissioned in the May of 1865 while the second volume of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships names C.J. McDougal as the first commander of the ironclad.

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