In his report to Congress on July 4, 1861, Secretary of the Union Navy, Gideon Welles, voiced the following opinion:
Much attention has been given within the last few years to the subject of floating batteries, or iron-clad steamers. Other Governments, and particularly France and England, have made it a special object in connection with naval improvements; and the ingenuity and inventive faculties of our own countrymen have also been stimulated by recent occurrences toward the construction of this class of vessels. The period is perhaps not one best adapted to heavy expenditures by way of experiment, and the time and attention of some of those who are most competent to investigate and form correct conclusions on this subject are otherwise employed. I would, however, recommend the appointment of a proper and competent board to inquire into and report in regard to a measure so important; and it is for Congress to decide whether, on a favorable report, they will order one or more iron-clad steamers, or floating batteries, to be constructed, with a view to perfect protection from the effects of present ordnance at short range,and make an appropriation for that purpose.
It was not a thunderous or rousing speech, but then, Welles was not the most excitable man. Still, the “Rip Van Winkle of the Navy Department” had his eyes open enough to know that the Confederates were up to something down at Gosport…..