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Worden and the Rattlesnake

Commander John Worden would expand his leadership skills during the early days of his command of the Passaic-class ironclad USS Montauk. Shortly after the Montauk arrived in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont sent Worden and his ironclad to bombard Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. Du Pont planned to test the destructive and resistance capabilities of Passaic–class ironclads in preparation for an ironclad attack on Charleston, South Carolina.

During the February 28, 1863 attack, Montauk’s XV- and XI-inch Dahlgrens were able to destroy the former commerce raider CSS Nashville. Worden was pleased with his destruction of “this troublesome pest”; however, Montauk suffered a massive jolt when it struck a Confederate torpedo en route down the Ogeechee River. Worden’s quick thinking saved his ironclad, and he, the hero of USS Monitor, received even greater laurels for his newest decisive actions.

The Hero of USS Monitor

Lt. John L. Worden, USN.
The Mariners’ Museum MS 16-14.

John Lorimer Worden, a career naval ‘scientific’ officer, had previously commanded USS Monitor during its famous fight with CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862. Near the conclusion of the Battle of Hampton Roads, Worden was blinded when a shell from the Confederate ironclad struck Monitor’s pilothouse. He was then sent to Washington, DC, with his valued friend, Lieutenant Henry A. Wise, for treatment. Worden was confined for two months and eventually regained full sight in one eye.

As Worden healed, many became curious about his next assignment. Monitor’s crew hoped he would return to the ironclad; however, that was not to be. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles detailed him to command the newest ironclad steamer USS New Ironsides on May 8, 1862. [1] When Worden returned to New York for further convalescence, he was detached from New Ironsides and placed on ‘waiting orders’ status. Throughout the summer and early fall of 1862, he continued to receive gifts and accolades from throughout the North. On July 11, Worden and his officers and crew “received the thanks of Congress for skill and gallantry in the battle between the USS MONITOR and CSS VIRGINIA.”[2] Five days later, Worden was promoted commander.


On August 14, 1862, Commander Worden was detailed for special duty as an assistant to Brooklyn Navy Yard commandant Rear Admiral Francis Hoyt Gregory. Worden was to help supervise the construction of a new class of ironclads. Monitor’s success at Hampton Roads resulted in people becoming infected with ironclad fever throughout the Union. Everyone believed that a fleet of new monitor-styled warships could defeat anything they might encounter. Consequently, John Ericsson received a contract to build 10 additional monitors known as the Passaic-class, meant to correct many of the flaws found in the original Monitor. Worden and others made recommendations to enhance these new ironclads. The new and improved monitors were larger, weighing 1,335 tons. They had crews of between 67 and 88 men. The dimensions: 200 feet in length, a beam of 46 feet, and a draft of 11.6 feet. They were powered by a 2-cylinder Ericsson vibrating lever (trunk) engine with two Martin boilers turning a single screw propeller. The engine could produce 320 horsepower and make 7 knots. These Passaic-class vessels were heavily armored: 11-inch turret, 5-inch sides, 1-inch deck, and 8-inch pilothouse. [3]

Scenes aboard USS Montauk. W.T. Crane, artist, 1862.
Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.

The pilothouse was novel. Acting Assistant Paymaster Samuel T. Browne described it as “standing upon the center of the turret, and a miniature of it. The pilothouse did not revolve. It was fitted with funnel-shaped eyeholes nearly five feet above the floor of the pilot-house, which converged from the large diameter inside, to an aperture an inch in on the outside.” [4] The cylinder on top of the turret moved with the turret and was large enough to give the captain, pilot, and helmsman a superior view of the events before them. This enhanced fire control and communications with other sections of the ship. Other improvements included a blower system that brought air into the vessel and a permanent armored smoke pipe. [5]


Gustavus Vasa Fox. Print published by C.D. Fredricks & Company, NY,
ca. 1861-1865. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox required that these vessels be armed with at least one XV-inch Dahlgren shell gun. Fox wanted the Passaic-class ships to be able to take on and defeat Confederate casemate ironclads. Since the XV-inch guns had limited availability, the second gun in these turrets would be an XI-inch Dahlgren. The use of XV-inch guns was problematic. The guns were mounted flush with the gun ports because the muzzle diameter was too large for the barrels to protrude out of the ports. The large volume of propellant gasses released within the turret required the addition of a ‘smoke box’ to capture these gasses. Unable to look down the barrel meant the gun crews had to aim the XV-inch using the XI-inch Dahlgren.[6]

On October 8, 1862, John Worden was detached from his special duty at Brooklyn Navy Yard and detailed to command the USS Montauk, the second Passaic-class monitor to be built. The ironclad was constructed at Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and C.H. Delamater Iron Works built the engine. Montauk was launched at 10 a.m. on October 9, under the watchful eyes (now considered well enough to report for duty) of Commander Worden. [7] The ship would be commissioned on December 14.


Worden continued to receive praise for his command of USS Monitor. On December 8, President Abraham Lincoln recommended to Congress that it give a vote of thanks to Commander Worden for his heroic service on March 9, 1862. Three days later, Congress passed a resolution “for his gallant conduct on the MONITOR, in combat with the MERRIMAC, such thanks being necessary under the law, to advance one grade on the naval list of officers.”[8] More accolades were bestowed on Commander Worden. New York Secretary of State Horatio Ballard informed Worden by letter on December 16 that the State of New York Assembly would present him with a sword “emblazoned with the record of that glorious day [March 9]… as a memorial of your heroism and skill as commandant of the MONITOR.” Worden wrote a reply to the Honorable Horatio Ballard, saying, “To serve our country in any hour of peril has been my highest ambition….that nothing less than the aid of Heaven could have produced a result so gratifying.” [9] The gold sword was made by the legendary jewelers Tiffany and Company of New York. The sword was displayed in the shop’s front street window for several days until it was presented to Mrs. Worden.

RADM John L. Worden’s Tiffany sword with belt and scabbard.
US Navy photo by Cliff Maxwell. Public domain.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


It was fulfilling for Worden to receive so many awards; however, once Montauk arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the commander had much to accomplish before heading south. The crew was assembled, and many, like Paymaster Browne, were overjoyed to serve under “John L. Worden, whose gallant fight had restored a nation’s confidence.” Browne arrived on the ship when it was “lying at a wharf in the Brooklyn Navy Yard….in every point she was much an improvement upon the MONITOR.” The paymaster added that he “watched the fitting out of this vessel in which we were to venture to sea, and by which we hoped to strike an effective blow to preserve the Union.”[10]

Even before Montauk was commissioned at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on December 14, Worden received contradictory orders as to where he was to take his new ironclad. On December 9, Worden was detailed by Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to proceed to Beaufort, North Carolina. Four days later, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered the ironclad to proceed to Hampton Roads. Once there, Worden was to report to Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, for further instructions. Welles had two goals in mind for 1863.[11] First, he wanted to use the new Passaic monitors to join in an army-navy operation with Major General John G. Foster’s command in New Bern, North Carolina, against the blockade runners’ haven in Wilmington. Welles wanted the ironclads to go through the Cape Fear River’s Old Inlet to bombard the forts defending the river’s entrance and army units deployed to capture Wilmington. Eventually, Welles would be advised that the new Passaic monitors had drafts of 11 feet, 6 inches, making them unable to enter the Cape Fear. Once Welles realized this situation, he began to focus on his other goal: the capture or destruction of that ‘evil bed of secession,’ Charleston, South Carolina.[12]


Worden steamed his ironclad out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to an anchorage off Sandy Hook. There, lines were attached to USS Connecticut, a powerful sidewheeler capable of making 10 knots, to tow Montauk south. On Christmas Eve, Montauk left New York and headed south. “The ironclad went through short, choppy waters as we steamed into them, and would overflow over the deck.”[13] Montauk was towed right through heavy waves which forced water into every crevice at the ship’s bow. After 17 hours steaming through the heavy seas, some accommodations needed to be made as Montauk was filling with water at the bow, and there were no forward pumps. Accordingly, Connecticut and Montauk put into the Delaware Breakwater at Cape Henlopen Light near Lewes, Delaware. The ships anchored on December 25, 1862. Worden realized that the use of so much coal lightened the stern and as the bow plowed through the waves, several leaks occurred. The vessel’s commander sought to trim Montauk by shifting shot and ballast; other crew members bailed out the ship. Once this was accomplished, the companion ship waited for better weather. They put to sea again on December 28, shaping a course to Hampton Roads.[14]

Montauk arrived off Fort Monroe at 11 a.m. on December 29, 1862. Several other warships were in Hampton Roads, including the ironclads Passaic, Galena, New Ironsides, and Monitor. Browne noticed “The MONITOR–to which our gray-eyed commander called our attention as we came in, and told us of its famous fight.” [15] Monitor’s crew, many of whom had served under Worden during the March 9, 1862 engagement, had hoped to see their former commander; however, that was not to be. Monitor, towed by USS Rhode Island, left Hampton Roads at 2 p.m. that very afternoon.


Montauk required repairs to correct leaks about the deck and armor shelf. This work was completed by workers from the Gosport Navy Yard on January 1, 1863. The next day, under tow by the sidewheeler USS James Alger, the Montauk left for Beaufort, North Carolina. The weather was fine as Montauk passed Cape Henry; however, the ironclad crossed the tail end of the storm that sank Monitor. Worden noted that on “the passage from Hampton Roads the weather was exceptionally fine and the water smooth, except off Cape Hatteras, where I encountered a heavy swell from the northward and eastward, which caused the ship to roll considerably, taking water in large quantities on her deck.”[16]

Paymaster Browne commented, “the seas swept across our decks like a deluge….it seemed we were having the latter and lesser half of the storm. Signals were exchanged from our turret and the paddle-boxes of the JAMES ALGER. The ghastly light thrown by the signals out of the darkness upon the seething crests of the waves; the roaring of the sea as it dashed against the ship and turret and submerged the hull; a cold spray thrust by the wind against our faces….and we on this little tower…with not even the ship’s deck, nine feet below us, in sight more than half the time….made it an experience never to be desired again….[17] The Passaic class suffered from the same flaw as Monitor: the armored deck overhanged the hull, allowing heavy seas to work between the hull and armored deck. Browne remembered the “big seas came under our overhang as if they would rip it from its solid union with the hull, and with a shock that made the vessel tremble from stem to stern.” [18]

Sinking of USS Monitor off Cape Hatteras, NC.
Tom Freemam, artist. NOAA.


Once past Cape Hatteras, Montauk experienced good weather and neared Beaufort, North Carolina, at 7:30 a.m. on January 4, 1863. The ship received a pilot to guide the ironclad into Bogue Sound and cast off from the James Alger. But the pilot took Montauk inside the channel marker, causing it to run aground in 10 ½ feet of water. Efforts were made to lighten the ship by removing shot, shell, and ballast using two army tugs. Montauk was hauled off the shoal by 5 p.m., with high tide and the assistance of the paddler USS Miami, and by 6 p.m., was anchored off Fort Macon. Worden surveyed the ship and found that the grounding had not damaged the hull.[19]


Samuel Francis Du Pont, ca. 1863. Carte-de-visite. Mathew B. Brady, photographer. National Library of Brazil. World Digital Library online.

Montauk remained in Beaufort until January 17, 1863. It was then towed by James Alger to Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, without incident. The ironclad joined other warships in the harbor like the Wabash, Vermont, and New Ironsides. Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont, commander of the South Atlantic Blockade Squadron, was collecting an ironclad fleet to make an assault against Charleston, South Carolina. The admiral was expecting more of the Passaic-class monitors to arrive, and he planned to use them in Gideon Welles’s campaign concept to capture Charleston. Before he could organize the attack against the ‘cradle of secession,’ he needed to test the endurance and firepower of these new monitors. Who better to do so than Commander Worden! Accordingly, du Pont detailed Worden to take Montauk “…down to Ossabaw to operate up the Ogeechee River and capture if he could the fort at Genesis Point under the cover of which…the NASHVILLE was lying…and in case of success, the railroad was also accessible.” [20]


Worden’s target was Fort McAllister, built of marsh mud and sand between 1861 to 1862 by Georgia troops under the supervision of Confederate engineer Captain John McCrady. The fort was 12 miles north of Savannah at Genesis Point, near the mouth of the Big Ogeechee River. The fort was built to guard the river against any Union advance. By late 1862, Fort McAllister mounted 11 heavy seacoast guns, including a 10-inch seacoast mortar, an VIII-inch shell gun, 10-inch Columbiad, a 42-pounder, and three 32-pounders, as well as 12 field pieces to guard the fort’s land face. The fort was also protected by piles and torpedoes to protect the channel.[21] Paymaster Brown described the “massive proportions of the fortification, its banks covered with rich green sod, and the muzzles of the guns just visible, pointing at us from heavily protected embrasures. Between the guns…traverses extended back into the rear, effectively covering the guns from enfilading fire….[22]

Columbiad Gun, Fort McAllister, GA.
Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Ten days passed before Worden could leave Port Royal Sound due to bad weather. Nevertheless, under tow by James Alger, Montauk left Port Royal on January 21, 1863. When Worden reached Ossabaw Sound, Georgia, on January 24, he assumed command of a small blockading flotilla located there. This command included the Unadilla-class gunboats USS Wissahickon and USS Seneca. Each had a 114-man crew, driven by a screw propeller with an armament of one XI-inch Dahlgren and one 20-pounder rifle. The two other ships under his leadership were USS Dana (two 32-pounders and one 20-pounder rifle) and the mortar schooner C.P. Williams (one 13-inch seacoast mortar and two 32-pounders). [23] These ships had already attempted three attacks against Fort McAllister, all unsuccessful. Du Pont believed that Montauk could and would make a difference. And Worden was determined to achieve the goals of his orders.

Once in Ossabaw Sound, Browne noted, “Our vessel was now entirely cleared for fighting trim. From stem to stern not a rope or chain, or a bolt, in sight, nothing but the round turret and big smoke stack. Nothing remained to be done, in case of sudden action, but to close the battle hatches….An armed watch was stationed on deck, and the battle rattle laid in one of the turret ports, ready for immediate use by the officer of the deck.” [24]


When the fog finally lifted on January 26, Montauk and the wooden ships were able to move up river. Worden had obtained the services of a Georgian pilot named Murphy as the Big Ogeechee is “narrow, and very crooked…A vessel of war of such type as the world had never before seen, vulnerable only in her hull below the water, steaming up a narrow, tortuous river, with the assurance that in its bed were torpedoes, the slightest touch to explode them, and containing powder sufficient to destroy a dozen vessels like our own–was a realization the full import of which we could not then comprehend. ” [25]


Worden anchored his force about one mile below the fort and sent Lieutenant Commander John Davis to reconnoiter the Confederate defenses. Davis was able to remove Confederate range markers and could indicate an anchorage for the ironclad to use when shelling the earthwork. However, he could not get close enough to the obstructions to accurately check for torpedoes.

The next day, January 27, 1863, at 7 a.m., Worden’s squadron got underway and took up the positions selected by Davis about 30 minutes later. This anchorage was about 300 yards from the pilings and about 1,500 yards from Fort McAllister. Montauk opened fire at 7:35 a.m. with two shots. The fort immediately replied with its first shot striking the ironclad. About 9 a.m., a strong breeze started to alter the flight of Montauk’s shot and shell. When Montauk turned with the changing tide, the gun smoke from the fort blew back across the Union ships, disrupting their aim. Worden noted: at “11:55 a.m., our supply of shells being expended, and finding our cored shot did not affect the enemy, or at least we could not observe their effect with certainty, I ordered the firing to cease, tripped our anchor, and stood down river, and ordered the gunboats to discontinue the action.” [26]

Once away from the fort, Worden surveyed Montauk, noting his “vessel was hit fourteen times, to wit, four times on the turret, three times on side armor, four times on deck armor, once on smokestack, once in second cutter, and once on a spar lashed athwart our stern as a stern mooring for our boats.” [27] The Confederates, in turn, suffered little damage to the earthwork which could be easily repaired. The defenders of Fort McAllister claimed a great victory in repulsing the Union naval attack.


The next day, January 28, Worden met with a river pilot who was a contraband. This formerly enslaved person advised Worden about the position of the pilings below the fort and the location of torpedoes in the channel. Armed with this information, Worden now knew how he could bring his ironclad closer to the fort. The freedman was taken on board to work as a pilot. On January 29 and 31, the sidewheeler tug USS Daffodil replenished the flotilla’s ammunition.[28] After the first re-supply, on January 30, 1863, Commander Worden sent Lieutenant Commander William Gibson and USS Seneca up the Big Ogeechee to survey Fort McAllister. Gibson also looked up the Little Ogeechee to ascertain the exact whereabouts of the CSS Nashville (CSS Rattlesnake.) Seneca’s commander reported to Worden that the fort had repaired the minor damage incurred to its earthen walls and that Nashville remained in its same location. [29]


The Union Iron Clad Monitor “MONTAUK” Destroying the Rebel Steamship “NASHVILLE” in the Ogeeche River, near Savannah, GA, Feb. 27th, 1863. Lithograph by Currier & Ives.
Courtesy of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

In January 31, 1863, Worden called his gunboat officers together in the early evening to arrange the next day’s plan of action. At 4 a.m., the flotilla got underway with Montauk in the lead. The ironclad anchored 600 yards below the Confederate battery on the bank of the river, as close to the shoal as it could possibly be. Worden opened fire on Fort McAllister; however, there was a thick mist over the marsh and with the fort’s gun smoke hanging over the earthworks, as Worden reported, “we could neither see their position nor the effect of our own shells.”[30] Confederates opened fire as soon as they realized that the Union flotilla had arrived; nevertheless, the fire from both forces slackened due to visibility problems.

Worden noted that Montauk’s turret was first struck by shot about 7:53 a.m. One hour later, he noticed that the tide was falling and when the depth was sounded there was only 14 feet of water. The ironclad’s commander knew that his ship had a draft of 11.6 feet and that the tide would continue to drop another five feet. Montauk then moved down the river into deeper water; yet it was now at a range of 1,400 feet to the fort. From there, the ironclad continued its bombardment. Worden noted that his ironclad’s cannonade was only tearing up the earthen parapets and traverses; but was causing no injury to the Confederate artillery. Since he did not believe he could inflict any more damage, Worden broke off action at 11:53 a.m.


Actually, the Confederates reported that Fort McAllister had suffered more damage than Worden had imagined. Colonel R. H. Anderson, commander of Fort McAllister, detailed the “enemy fired steadily and with remarkable precision. At times, their fire was terrible.” [31] Anderson noted that the bombardment focused on the VIII-inch Columbiad destroying its parapet. One of the 32-pounders was hit by a shell from Montauk, knocking off its trunnion and blowing the brains out of the gun commander Major John B. Gallie. No other Confederate casualties were incurred.

Meanwhile, Worden surveyed Montauk, noticing that 48 shots and shells had struck the ironclad. He recorded that the Confederates hit “sixteen times on the turret, three times on the pilothouse, seven times on the smokestack, seven times on the side armor and had two flagstaffs shot away.” Paymaster Browne noted that the Confederates made “scores of indentations on our turret and pilothouse; broken off some of the bolts and driven them inside–two of them, had passed within three inches of my head….” [32]

Worden also requested that Montauk’s chief engineer, Second Assistant Engineer Thomas A. Stevens, make a report detailing conditions aboard the ironclad during the two engagements. After the January 27 attack, Stevens wrote that the temperatures within the engine room did not exceed 104 degrees and averaged about 103 degrees. Following the February 1 battle, Stevens became more critical of the ironclad’s operations and construction. The engineer studied the ironclad’s injuries, and his findings were damning about Montauk’s material and workmanship qualities. “Having examined the broken bolts and injured plates of iron….that the broken bolts from the pilothouse are of inferior quality of iron, showing in large fractured crystals, and are ‘cold short’…they have been improperly fitted, either for strength or safety,” Stevens believed that all of the “bolts fits loosely, depending on the heads and nuts, which are screwed up rigidly, causing them to part by concussion of the plates outside and endangering the lives of those inside….The deck iron plates are fractured in several places, as well as those of the outside armor.”[33] Worden forwarded this report, along with his own, to Admiral du Pont as part of Worden’s experiment to ascertain how the Passaic-class could withstand shot. Worden’s experience with ironclads made these reports clear indications that this new class of monitors had numerous flaws.


While Worden was in the Big Ogeechee, new laurels were laid upon him. On January 31, 1863, the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution “tendering the thanks of Congress to Commander John L. Worden, for good conduct in the conflict between the MONITOR and MERRIMAC.”[34] Two days later, on February 3, Worden received the thanks of Congress “for highly distinguished conduct in the conflict between the U.S.S. MONITOR and the C.S.S. VIRGINIA….and the President authorized to advance him one grade in rank.” Worden was promoted to captain on the same day.” [35]


Captain John L. Worden, Commanding the Montauk,
US Navy. Lithograph, colored.
The Mariners’ Museum 1934.1044.000001

Worden was reported ill on the receiving ship Vermont at Port Royal Sound on February 16; however, he recovered to resume command of his flotilla later that week. He once again assembled his ships to make another attempt against Fort McAllister. Worden’s command moved up the Big Ogeechee and anchored blow the fort on February 27, 1863. Captain Worden was determined to succeed by using Montauk to inflict great damage upon the Confederates.


The CSS Nashville had been one of the Confederacy’s first commerce raiders. The fast sidewheeler had captured one Union merchantman during its voyage from Charleston, South Carolina, to Southampton, Great Britain. While in Southampton, the British government recognized the fast steamer’s Confederate flag and enabled the commerce raider to escape the Union blockader USS Tuscarora under the British Act of Neutrality. During the return trip to Beaufort, North Carolina, the cruiser captured Robert Gilfillan. The ship was then sold to Fraser, Trenholm & Co., to serve as the blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg. After two successful runs, the steamer was trapped near Savannah and was then acquired to serve as the privateer CSS Rattlesnake. [36] In the North, it was still called the Nashville. Du Pont was determined to destroy the former commerce raider. When he wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles he described the ship as “proverbially fast, and doubtless rivaled the ALABAMA or ORETO [CSS Florida] in their depredation on our commerce. I have never lost sight of the great importance of keeping her in or destroying her if I could.”[37]

CSS Nashville steaming away from schooner Robert Gilfan.
26 February 1862. Wash drawing.
R.G. Skerritt, artist, 1901.
Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command, NH57824

The duty of destroying the Nashville had fallen on the shoulders of Captain John Lorimer Worden; he was determined to accomplish this mission. Although he had other duties to perform in the Big Ogeechee, he wanted to have the opportunity to terminate the Confederate warship. Unbeknownst to Worden as he steamed up the river, Paymaster Browne later noted, “A little more than two weeks before, she [Nashville] came down from her retreat near the bridge of the Savannah and Florida Railroad, and took position under the guns of Fort Allister, intending to take advantage of the spring tides prevailing then, and seize the first opportunity to slip to sea….we had been waiting for this moment. She reminded me of a caged rat seeking a hole for escape and finding none.”[38]

The Wissahickon first noted the movements of Nashville down the Big Ocheegee. Stevens, Montauk’s senior engineer, recounted, “at 4:08 p.m., while at dinner, the rebel steamer was reported in sight. All hands were called to quarters at once.” [39] Worden sent Seneca upriver to investigate the situation and confirmed that Nashville had run aground in the Seven-Mile Reach section of the river. Since it was so late in the day, Worden decided to move against the ship and fort on the morrow.


Montauk, followed by Seneca, Wissahickon, and Dawn, moved to their designated positions below the fort. Worden thought that by “moving up close to the obstructions in the river as I was able, although under heavy fire from the battery, to approach NASHVILLE, still aground within a distance of 1,200 yards.” [40] Bradley Osborn of the New York Herald reported about Nashville: “There she lay, hard and fast aground, the hasty unloading and sturdy labors of the little tug, which had been going on through the night, having failed to relieve her. She was a fair mark and knew that she was doomed.” [41] Browne noted, from Montauk’s pilothouse “we can see the whole steamer. She is newly painted and is the same light drab colors as our own vessels of war. Her masts and spars look well, her rigging taut, and her figurehead newly gilded.” [42]

At 7:07 a.m. on February 18, 1863, Worden opened fire on the privateer with the XV- and XI-inch Dahlgrens to establish the range. The fifth shot from Montauk’s XV-inch shell gun struck Nashville at 7:58 a.m. Paymaster Browne was recording every shot fired from the fort against Montauk and the ironclad’s shells being shot at Nashville. He noted they were able to watch the fifth shot from Montauk’s XV-inch Dahlgren and “follow it distinctly with our eyes, and it penetrates the rebel’s deck near the foremast.” He further noted the shot “has done its work and we can see a column of whitish-gray smoke from her fore-hatch, and in five minutes more tongues of flames leap out with the smoke, high into the air.”[43]

Worden sent a total of 14 shots at Nashville, all while under heavy fire from Fort McAllister. Browne detailed the impact of Montauk’s gunnery: “Another shell smashes through the paddle-box and explodes at the base of the smoke-stack, which comes tumbling down.” The last shot was fired at 8:03 a.m., “and as the smoke clears away from our last shot, we can see the flames bursting out around her paddle-boxes, issuing in great sheets from the fore-hatch, creeping up the foremast.” [44] Worden moved Montauk away from the action and watched Nashville burn. At 9:20 a.m., a large pivot gun forward of the foremast dramatically exploded and at 9:55 a.m., Nashville’s magazine exploded. The Confederate warship was left a smoking ruin.


A torpedo exploding under the “Montauk” in the Ogeechee River.
Line engraving, Harper’s Weekly, 1863.
Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Since Worden knew that Nashville was doomed, he took his flotilla down the river out of range of the fort’s guns. While doing so, Montauk struck a torpedo at 9:35 a.m. Worden noted “that it was a violent, sudden and seemingly double explosion.” [45] At first, Worden thought that a shell had entered the engine room and feared that the boilers might explode, sending steam throughout the ironclad. Montauk began to take on water, which was handled at first by the bilge pumps. As the water rose six inches in the engine room, Worden ordered the bilge injection pump to be started and that a bucket line and handpumps be readied. He then learned that a torpedo had exploded under the vessel.

Worden ordered Pilot Murphy to beach the ironclad. The pilot did so on an even keel where marsh mud formed a temporary seal. The captain then learned that the hull was fractured, leaving a fissure open about a fourth of an inch wide. Permanent repairs were impossible, so a temporary fix was made before high tide lifted Montauk off the mud bank. The engines were started at 3 p.m., and the ironclad steamed down to Ossabaw Sound.

En route to the sound, Montauk passed the Passaic-class monitor Nahant, commanded by a good friend of Worden’s, Commander John Downes. As their ships steamed past each other, Worden, according to Ship’s Boy Alvah Hunter, exhibited a “boy-like enthusiasm…was very manifest as he called across the narrow space between the two vessels…Worden fairly danced up and down with enthusiasm as he told of the jolly-good-time he had enjoyed.”[46]


When Montauk finally returned to Port Royal, the ship spent the entire month of March 1863 in naval workshops repairing the fractured hull. While in Port Royal Sound, Engineer Stevens provided Worden with a report concerning the conditions of Montauk. He wrote about the torpedo damage and other issues, noting, “I feel bound to complain in the name of and for all engaged in the engine department of these vessels the indifference, negligence, manifested in the construction of the machinery and hull by builders to the lives and well-being of those necessarily engaged below hatches in the engine room.” Stevens believed the torpedo damage reinforced his belief that mechanical flaws, caused by poor design, materials, and workmanship, caused more damage than the torpedo. The engineer thought that shoddy workmanship in northern shipyards was due to “unreasoning avarice, if that be an excuse.” Worden agreed and when he forwarded the report to Admiral du Pont, he noted, “This is, in my opinion…so serious a flaw that I beg leave to urge that a remedy may be applied if possible.” [47]


John Worden, August 3rd, 1876.
The Mariners’ Museum, MS0016/02-003#004.

Captain John Lorimer Worden once again achieved greater laurels when he destroyed Nashville. He noted that Montauk had achieved “the final disposition of a vessel which had long been in the minds of the public as a troublesome pest.” [48] His careful planning resulted in Nashville’s destruction and his quick thinking helped to save his ship after striking a torpedo.

After Worden’s return to Port Royal Sound, he advised Admiral du Pont that monitors’ rate of fire was too slow and that shells could not damage earthen forts. He recommended that turrets be fitted with rifled guns to use against masonry forts. While monitors had adequate armor to protect themselves, Worden noted that these warships had several weak points, such as an exposed pilothouse and the unprotected link between the turret and deck that could be jammed by solid shot. He also noted that monitors were vulnerable to Confederate torpedoes as their hulls had only one-inch boilerplate. While Worden had not destroyed Fort McAllister or the railroad bridge over the Big Ogeechee, he was able to destroy CSS Nashville, adding luster to this outstanding leader’s already impressive legacy.


1 Worden Papers, Harrogate, TN: Lincoln Memorial University.


3 Paul H. Silverstone, CIVIL WAR NAVIES, 1855-1883, Annapolis, Maryland, Naval Institute Press, 2001, p.5.

4 Samuel T. Browne, FIRST CRUISE OF THE MONTAUK, Rodman Post, No. 12, Department of Rhode Island, Grand Army of the Republic, Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society of Rhode Island, Providence: The N. Bangs Williams Co., 1880, p. 12.

5 Silverstone, 5.


7 BROOKLYN EAGLE, Oct. 9, 1862, 3, and NEW YORK TIMES, Dec. 3, 1862.

8 NEW YORK TIMES, Dec.12, 1862.

9 NEW YORK TIMES, Dec. 21, 1862, 3.

10 Browne,14.

11 Worden Papers, Harrogate, TN: Lincoln Memorial University.

12 Rowena Reed, COMBINED OPERATIONS IN THE CIVIL WAR, Annapolis Institute Press, 1978, pp. 271, 276-278.

13 Browne, p. 18.

14 Montauk Log and Worden Papers

15 Browne, 18.


17 Browne, 21.

18 IBID., 22-23.

19 ORN, Ser. 1, Vol. 8, 361.

20 IBID. 543.

21 J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaufmann, FORTRESS AMERICA, Cambridge, Mass: DeCapo Press, 2004, 271.

22 Browne, 38.

23 Silverstone, pp. 30, 73, 99, and 107.

24 Browne, 33.

25 IBID, 34

26 ORN, Ser.1, Vol. 8, 627.

27 IBID.

28 Explanatory Footnote: The USS DAFFODIL was originally the tug JONAS SMITH until acquired by the US Navy on December 12, 1862. The tug was armed with two 20-pounder rifles and was powered by a vertical beam engine capable of making 8 knots. Silverstone, p.84.

29 ORN, I, 8, 628.

30 IBID.

31 IBID,636.

32 Browne, 42

33 IBID, 631-632.

34 New York Times, Feb.1 1863.

35 Worden Papers.

36 Silverstone, 160.

37 ORN 1, 8, 697.

38 Browne,49.

39 ORN, Ser 1, Vol 8, 700.

40 IBID, 697.

41 Bradley Osborn, A SAILOR OF FORTUNE, New York: McClure, Phillips, and Co., 1906. 233.

42 Browne, 52.

43 IBID, 53-54.

44 IBID, 54.

45 ORN, Ser 1, Vol 8, 698.

46 Alvah Hunter, A YEAR ON A MONITOR AND THE DESTRUCTION OF FORT SUMTER, ed. Craig Symonds, Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1987, 32.

47 ORN, Ser.1, Vol 8, 701.

48 Worden Papers

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