The Civil War Connections Blog

Ironclads: “little or no use to the country”

An article in Scientific American entitled “THE NEW IRON-CLAD GUNBOATS” was printed February 15, 1862. In the article Congress confers on the making of an ironclad warship and how effective they will be.  There appears the editorial comment in that articles that says: “It appears to us that unless the new iron gunboats are designed and constructed so that they can be employed for cruising, and active war purposes as good sea boats, they will be of little or no use to the country.”


Immediately after reading the editorial comment is seems humorous in hindsight.  The USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads is arguably one of the most influential naval battles in history, so surely this comment is totally ridiculous, right?


Well actually there maybe more truth to this comment than one may think at first glance.  Since most would say the Battle of Hampton Roads was a stalemate maybe these ironclads were “of little use” when engaged against one another.  In a modern world of speedboats and jet skis all 19th century watercrafts seem slow and hardly maneuverable and the Monitor and Merrimack were not an exception, especially since they were covered in iron.  Slow movements along with low visibility during battle are hardly commendable traits in a warship. While surely the editorial comment did turn out to be erroneous most would say the point of this post is to show the uncertainty that still surrounded ironclads prior to the Battle of Hampton Roads.


Look no further than the men serving aboard the USS Minnesota, the ship protected by the Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads, who would certainly argue for the fact that ironclads were more than a “little” help to the nation.