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USS Naugatuck (1844)

USS Naugatuck (1844)

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USRC Naugatuck was a twin-screw ironclad
Ironclad warship
An ironclad was a steam-propelled warship in the early part of the second half of the 19th century, protected by iron or steel armor plates. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, La Gloire,...

 experimental steamer
A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels...

 owned by the US Revenue Cutter Service during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. She served the U.S. Treasury Department as the USRC E.A. Stevens (later Naugatuck), a name she retained until sold in 1890. She is mistakenly referred to in US Navy dispatches during early 1862 as "USS Naugatuck".

An experimental ironclad design

In 1841, Robert L. Stevens and Edwin Augustus Stevens — the sons of Colonel John Stevens
John Stevens (inventor)
Col. John Stevens, III was an American lawyer, engineer and an inventor.-Life and career:Born the son of John Stevens , a prominent New Jersey politician who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and Elizabeth Alexander, daughter of New York lawyer and statesman James Alexander. His...

 of Hoboken, New Jersey
Hoboken, New Jersey
Hoboken is a city in Hudson County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population was 50,005. The city is part of the New York metropolitan area and contains Hoboken Terminal, a major transportation hub for the region...

 — proposed to the Navy Department the construction of an ironclad
Ironclad warship
An ironclad was a steam-propelled warship in the early part of the second half of the 19th century, protected by iron or steel armor plates. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, La Gloire,...

 vessel of high speed, with screw propellers and all machinery below the water line. This proposal was accepted and an Act of Congress
Act of Congress
An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by government with a legislature named "Congress," such as the United States Congress or the Congress of the Philippines....

 — approved on 14 April 1842 — authorized the Secretary of the Navy to contract for the construction of a shot-arid shell-proof steamer, to be built principally of iron, on the Stevens plan. The armor was to be 4.5 in (11.4 cm) thick, a thickness believed by the Stevens to be sufficient to resist any gun then known. But experiments made by John Ericsson
John Ericsson
John Ericsson was a Swedish-American inventor and mechanical engineer, as was his brother Nils Ericson. He was born at Långbanshyttan in Värmland, Sweden, but primarily came to be active in England and the United States...

 with his big wrought iron gun proved that 4.5 in (11.4 cm) armor was insufficient, and the construction of the vessel was thus delayed. In 1854, the builders constructed a larger battery, to be plated with 6.75 in (17.1 cm) of iron, but this in turn was never finished. This vessel was referred to as the Stevens Battery
Stevens Battery
The Stevens Battery was an early design for a type of ironclad, proposed for use by the United States Navy before the American Civil War. One full-sized example was begun but never completed due to lack of funding.-Background:...


A working "proof of concept" vessel

To demonstrate the practicality of the plan of the "Stevens Battery", the Stevens brothers bought, modified and fitted out at their own expense a small prototype. The iron steamer — originally named Naugatuck — was built in 1844 by H.R. Dunham & Company, a New York City locomotive builder, for the Ansonia Copper and Brass Company. During the 1850s, Naugatuck ran between New London and New York.

In 1861, Stevens bought Naugatuck as a test-bed for innovations intended for the Stevens Battery, still unfinished in the shipyard. During 1861 and early 1862, Stevens reinforced the deck to support one 100-pound Parrott gun amidships trained forward, later augmented with two 12-pounder howitzer
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent...

s. Stevens replaced the original engine with a twin propeller arrangement, driven by two inclined engines with one boiler . He also added interior ballast tanks fore and aft. The New York Times reported on March 22, 1862, that “The Naugatuck is not intended to be a model of Mr. Stevens’iron-clad battery, but is designed to illustrate one or two novel ideas connected with that monstrous engine of war, viz: The ability to sink and raise a vessel with great rapidity; to turn and manage her by means of two propellers located one on each side of the stern; also, taking up the recoil of the gun by means of India-rubber.”

Stevens renamed the vessel after himself. Many contemporary newspapers and later historians mistakenly confused the E.A. Stevens with the Stevens Battery
Stevens Battery
The Stevens Battery was an early design for a type of ironclad, proposed for use by the United States Navy before the American Civil War. One full-sized example was begun but never completed due to lack of funding.-Background:...

. Edwin Stevens designed the gunboat to operate in shallow waters. The iron hull's ballast tanks were placed at the fore and aft extremes of the hull, and utilized a patented gum rubber liner to ensure a watertight seal. These ballast tanks were used to make the vessel semi-submersible, allowing the hull to change its draft
Draft (hull)
The draft of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull , with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained...

 from 7 in 8 in (2.34 m) to 9 in 10 in (3 m). The 2 foot (0.6096 m) reduced freeboard minimized the vessel’s vulnerability to gunfire, keeping the steam machinery below the waterline. Stevens added heavy duty centrifugal pumps that could fill ballast in minutes or, if the boat grounded while ballasted down, pump out to refloat the vessel quickly. With the ballast tanks dry, the vessel could increase speed from four to over 9 knots (4.9 m/s).

While its hull boasted all iron construction, its only armor consisted of a low-lying angled armor band or skirt surrounding the main deck. This band covered a wooden bulwark built of solid cedar, which rose 18 in (45.7 cm) above the deck and measured 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in depth. The bulwark surrounded the deck, keeping water off it and providing slight cover from enemy fire while ballasted down.

At the onset of the Civil War, Stevens offered to donate his gunboat to the Navy, but officials refused the gift, explaining that the untried prototype was not suitable for Navy missions. Stevens then donated her to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, providing them with their first ironclad gunboat. E.A. Stevens was stationed as one of the cutters patrolling the Varrazano Narrows entrance to New York harbor.

Operating with the North Atlantic Blockade

In March 1862, the Treasury Department ordered the gunboat to steam south from New York to Hampton Roads. It did so with a crew of boatswain, gunner, carpenter, steward, cook, two quartermasters, 14 seamen, and a “servant.” The crew also included some of Stevens’ associates, including William W. Shippen, from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company. Shippen commanded the vessel, and Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

s J. Wall Wilson and E.L. Morton (USRCS) serving under him. Thomas Lingle, who installed the gunboat’s machinery, served as chief engineer and remained in that position into 1863.

On April 9, E.A. Stevens reached Hampton Roads to join the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron’s James River Squadron. On April 11, under command of Captain Shippen, Stevens exchanged fire with CSS Virginia when the ironclad emerged from its anchorage near Craney Island. Virginia’s primary target, USS Monitor, declined action, so the hostilities proved inconclusive.

On April 29, Lt David Constable, USRCS relieved Shippen and took command of the gunboat and its crew of two dozen. By May 10, Confederate land forces evacuated Norfolk, leaving the deep-draft Virginia with neither a defensible homeport nor a feasible escape route. On the evening of May 10, commanding officer Josiah Tattnall ran the ironclad aground near Craney Island and set it on fire. When the fire reached the ship’s magazine, the Virginia was completely destroyed.

With the destruction of the Virginia, the Confederate Navy retained only a few lightly armed gunboats to counter the superior forces of the Union Navy.

Action at Drewery's Bluff (Fort Darling)

In an effort to renew his Peninsular Campaign, General George McClellan requested a squadron to force its way up the James River and threaten Richmond from the water. To fulfill this request, North Atlantic Blockading Squadron commander, Flag Officer Louis Goldsborough, assigned Commodore John Rodgers the command of the James River Squadron, which included the navy’s wooden steam gunboats Aroostook and Port Royal, the ironclads Monitor and Galena, and E.A. Stevens. The Federal warships experienced only minor resistance during their passage up the James River to reach the fortifications at Drewry’s Bluff. On May 15, the battle opened when Rodgers’ flagship Galena approached to within 400 yd (365.8 m) of sunken obstructions in the river. The fort was armed with eight heavy naval guns manned by local Confederate land forces and naval personnel (the former crew of the Virginia). Galena received over forty hits of which eighteen penetrated its armor. Monitor was designed for surface naval combat rather than shore bombardment, so its guns could not elevate high enough to hit the fort. Stevens moved up to take its place. The gunboat's technological innovations worked effectively, and she sustained no heavy damage from plunging fire as it sat partly submerged and firing its main battery. Moreover, the gunboat’s ordnance loading system successfully protected the crew from enemy sharpshooters and musket fire. Stevens suffered from the same problem as Monitor, her gun designed to battle warships, not for shore bombardment. Stevens bombardment halted when the 100-pound Parrott rifle burst while firing. The explosion shattered the gun’s breech, damaging the pilothouse and the ship’s deck. Despite losing its main gun, the gunboat continued to fight its 12-pound howitzers with canister and shell. By 11 a.m., Galena had suffered severe damage, exhausted its ammunition, and sustained thirteen dead and many wounded. Rodgers ordered the fleet to retire down river. The Stevens had experienced few casualties despite musket fire, enemy shelling, and its catastrophic gun failure. One of the crew received a shot in the arm; another suffered a serious contusion. Lt. Constable sustained a head injury from shrapnel from the exploding Parrott gun, but remained at his station directing the broadside guns and commanding the ship throughout the remainder of the battle. The James River Squadron retired to City Point, with Stevens arriving that evening and the rest of the squadron arriving in the morning of May 16. On the 16th, Rodgers convened a board, composed of squadron officers, to examine the remains of the Parrott rifle and determine the cause of its failure. The board concluded that rigorous testing and experimentation before installation on board the Stevens had weakened the gun, which was the first of its kind produced by the manufacturer.

Meanwhile, the gunboat received the squadron’s wounded and proceeded downriver shortly thereafter to Fort Monroe. E.A. Stevens had been operating in Virginia waters since early April 1862. Even though its main gun remained shattered, Commodore Rodgers still felt it could provide good service to the James River Squadron. Nevertheless, the vessel saw no serious action after Drewry’s Bluff.

Returned to the Treasury Department

"Naugatuck" was returned to the Treasury Department, and on May 26 the Secretary ordered the gunboat to depart Hampton Roads and steam north to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs. On May 29, while the gunboat underwent these repairs, President Lincoln honored Lt. Constable by promoting him to Captain before an audience of his full cabinet. Soon afterward, the Treasury Department transferred Constable to a new assignment, but not one near the front lines of the war.
By mid-July 1862, the gunboat had made its way to New York City to become guard ship for the harbor. In July 1863, the gunboat defended the McDougal General Hospital at Fort Schuyler, playing a small role in the infamous New York City Draft Riots. On July 29, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase ordered the gunboat’s name to revert from E.A. Stevens back to Naugatuck. Out of its 45 years of its existence, the vessel held the name E.A. Stevens for little more than three years.

After the conclusion of hostilities, the Treasury Department assigned Naugatuck responsibility for patrolling North Carolina’s inland sounds, homeported at New Bern. Naugatuck served in this duty from late 1865 until the summer of 1889, with periodic trips to New York, Norfolk, and Baltimore for maintenance and repairs. Throughout its career as a gunboat, E.A. Stevens/Naugatuck remained a steamer in the Revenue Cutter Service and at no time had belonged to the United States Navy. On 18 August 1889, she was reported at Baltimore, Maryland to be sold.

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