Thursday, January 19, 2012
The Confederacy's First Ironclad and Her Attack on a Wooden Ship
As head of the U.S. diplomatic mission to the free city of Hamburg, James Anderson was quite far away from Civil War. During his daily business in September 1861, the war came to him. One day, he encountered a German citizen who had just left New Orleans. This citizen, who had Union sympathies, provided Anderson with a sketch and description of a "turtle"-like ironclad (shown above) with a "hellish engine" under construction. The ironclad's builders, according to the information, wanted to ram the steam sloop USS Brooklyn. Anderson quickly passed the intelligence to Secretary of State William Seward.
The man behind this turtle from Hell, was New Orleans river pilot John A. Stepheson. Having failed to get any support from the Confederate government for his idea, Stepheson raised money on his own and converted an ice breaking tugboat into an ironclad ram. He wanted to construct "such a vessel that would be able to drive off or sink the most powerful man-of-war without the use of cannon or other instrument of warfare."
The Confederate squadron withdrew back to New Orelans, but not after putting enough fear into Pope to order a retreat. "Put this matter in any light you may, it is the most ridiculous affair that ever took place in the American Navy," Gideon Welles wrote to David Dixon Porter after the war. Pope later asked for medical leave. Welles made the request permanent and forced Pope out of the service. Manassas, in the mean time, was made ready to defend New Orelans.