The Civil War Connections Blog

“your duty to the country…”

To John Ericsson’s surprise, when he arrived at the Navy Department on September 15, 1861, he found that not only was he not expected, but that his plan had been rejected! Cornelius Bushnell had conveniently left that bit out.  When Ericsson inquired as to the reasons for the rejection, Commodore Smith replied that because of the vessel’s apparent instability, “it would upset and place her crew in the inconvenient and undesirable position of submarine divers.”

Ericsson chided the Board for their lack of vision in a speech now lost, but those present recalled that he ended his soliloquy with the stirring admonition “Gentlemen … I consider it to be your duty to the country to give me an order to build the vessel before I leave this room.”   Cornelius Bushnell recalled that Ericsson “carried the Board and Secretary Welles as if by storm,” and the Board, clearly moved by Ericsson’s impassioned speech, conferred briefly and asked him to return at 1 p.m.  Prompt as always, Ericsson returned at the appointed hour to find Commodore Paulding alone in the Board room.  Paulding asked Ericsson a few more questions about buoyancy and stability to which Ericsson responded in full; Paulding declared afterwards that “I have learnt more about the stability of a vessel from what you have now said than all I knew before.”  But Ericsson still did not have a contract.  Once again, he was asked to return at 3 p.m. at which time he found Gideon Welles awaiting him, along with a promise for a contract.