St. Louis' Ships of Iron

The Ironclads and Monitors of Carondelet (St. Louis), Missouri

Featuring the 1862 Music of  the Navy Ballad, "Oh Give Us a Navy of Iron !"

By Scott K. Williams


 This lithograph published by Currier & Ives, New York depicts the bombardment of the Confederate fortifications on Island Number Ten (April 7, 1862) by Federal gunboats and mortar boats. Ships seen include (from left to right): Mound City, Louisville, Pittsburg, Carondelet, Flagship Benton, Cincinnati, Saint Louis and Conestoga. Mortar boats are firing from along the river bank. Image courtesy of  the U.S. Navy.

Many ironclad ships of  the Union's brown fleet navy were built by James B. Eads & Co. at Carondelet, Missouri (a city now incorporated within the city limits of St. Louis.) The construction was primarily at Eads' Union Marine Works (also known as Union Iron-Works or Marine Railway). This facility, located at the confluence of the River des Peres and the Mississippi river was formerly known as the Carondelet Marine Railway Company, situated at the terminus of Marceau Street. It consisted of a series of tracks and cranes that could transport ships in or out of the river using a railway car.  The railway car could move a short distance into the water, up a shallow slope then up into one of the handful of sheds where 800 artisans, laborers and shipwrights were employed .  It was built in the 1850's by Primus Emerson and leased to James Eads. Also in support of  the ship yard operations, Eads had a rolling mill, five sawmills, and two foundaries.

Ead's Union Marine Iron Works, Carondelet, Missouri

Eads' shipyard at Carondelet, Missouri constructing federal gunboats.
Source: Harper's Weekly, Oct 5, 1861. Sketch by Alexander Simplot.

Under contract with the U.S. government, Eads was to build seven identical "city-class" * ironclad ships by October 5 1861. A penalty of two hundred dollars per day for each boat if it was not completed and delivered to Cairo by that date.  To assist in this endeavor, Eads had three ships (Cairo, Mound City, and Cincinnati) under his direction,  constructed  by Hambleton & Collier Co. in Mound City, Illinois. Of the seven, the following were built at Carondelet: "St. Louis" ** ,  "Carondelet", "Louisville" and the "Pittsburgh". Even with the help of the Mound City facility, Eads lost considerable amounts of money as a result of  the Oct. 5th 1861 deadline. The first iron clad, the "St. Louis" **, completed was  launched 12 Oct. 1861 from Carondelet, Missouri. Even though the ships were late, all seven of the ships were "finished and ready for armament within one hundred days after the signing of the contract", which had been awarded on August 7, 1861 . NOTES: * "City Class" are those ironclads named after U.S. Cities. **Note: One exception ,the "St. Louis" was later renamed the "Baron De Kalb" as there was another ship bearing the name "St. Louis".

The ironclad gunboat, U.S.S. St. Louis (later renamed the U.S.S. Baron De Kalb). She was sunk July 13, 1863 by a Confederate torpedo (mine) in the Yazoo River of Mississippi. Photo credit: U.S. Naval Archives/

The above "city-class" gunboats were designed by Samuel Pook. In general these gunboats "were about one hundred and seventy-five feet in length, fifty-one feet beam, six feet depth of hold in the clear, and when ready for service drew about five feet of water, and made nine miles per hour. They had five five-flued boilers twenty-four feet long and thirty-six inches in diameter, with seven feet stroke. The shaft was made of wrought iron, worked by both engines. A casemate enclosed the wheel, which was placed in a recess near the stern of the vessel. The hulls were made of wood, the bottoms of five-inch plank, and the sides of four-inch, and the vessel was sealed all over with two-inch plank. The sides projected from the bottom of the boat to the water-line at an angle of about forty-five degrees, and from the water-line the sides fell back at about the same angle to form a casemate about twelve feet high. This slanting casemate extended across the hull near the bow and stern, forming a quadrilateral gun-deck. The casemates were made of three-inch plank, and well fastened. The knuckles of the main deck, at the base of the casemate, were made of solid timber, about four feet in thickness. The boats were calked all over, both inside and outside, and sheathed on the outside with two-and-a-half-inch iron, thirteen inches wide, and riveted on the edges to make a more perfect joint.  The plating covered the casemates above and below the water-line. The boats were bulkheaded into compartments to prevent their sinking in case of damage to any particular part. The gun-deck was about one foot above water, and the vessels were pierced to carry thirteen heavy guns. Three 9- or 10-inch guns were placed in the bow, four smaller one on each side, and two smaller ones astern."  [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883].

Four "city class" ironclads being constructed simultaneously at the Carondelet shipyard. Three are visible in the above image (two in the front are laying bow to bow.) (photo credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

  Two "city-class" ironclads, under construction at Carondelet. Laying bow to bow with the five boilers of the nearest ship exposed. (photo credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Others ships Eads built at the Carondelet shipyard  were  "Fort Henry", "Essex" (ironclad),  Neosho, (river monitor), "Osage" (river monitor, identical twin of the Neosho),  "Choctaw" (ironclad ram), "Winnebago" (double turreted river monitor),  "Milwaukee" (monitor), and the Chickasaw" (river monitor)  . The last three ships were propeller driven (as opposed to having paddle wheels).  In addition, two light-draft ironclad monitors (the "Etlah" and "Shiloh") of the Ericsson design were by another company, McCord & Steel at their St. Louis National Iron-Works. Another ship the "Benton", was formerly a U.S. snag boat. It was bought  and converted  Eads to be his "submarine wrecking-boat, "No. 7".  In 1861, Eads sold the boat back to the Federal government for $ 26,000. It was converted into a ironclad gunboat by Morse & Daggett of the St. Louis Dry Dock Company, under the superintendence of James Eads. It is reported to have been the "most powerful ironclad afloat."
  Ironclad mortar boats being constructed at Carondelet.


These non-propelled armored floating barges housed large mortars that were used against the Confederates at Missouri's Island No. 10 on the Mississippi . Thirty-eight of these mortar boats were built at Eads' naval works. Each armored mortar boat would carry one 13 inch mortar. Because of the extreme noise, the crew would load the gun, exit thru an escape hatch, and fire the gun by pulling a lanyard. The shells would travel a distance of two miles before coming straight down on the Confederate positions.




The monitor as invented by John Eriksson. The U.S.S. Etlah and U.S. S. Shiloh, built in St. Louis were of this design. Technically this was not an ironclad (wood clad in iron), but a ship made entirely of iron.  Unfortunately the Etlah and Shiloh were

completed too late for service during the war.



  Building of ironclad mortar boats at Eads' Carondelet Iron Works. As depicted in Frank Leslie's Magazine.

The Brief History of the St. Louis Made Ironclads & Monitors

Inside the gun deck of a "city class" ironclad. From Harper's Weekly, courtesy of U.S. Naval Historical Center.

"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

                                  --Commodore David G. Farragut

  U.S.S. Baron De Kalb (formerly the St. Louis) launched as St. Louis 12 October 1861. Saw action at Ft. Henry, Ft. Donellson, Ft. Pillow, Duvall's Bluff,  Drumgould's Bluff , Arkansas Post, White River Expedition, Fort Pemberton , Haines' Bluff Yazoo Pass Expedition. Sunk 13 July 1863 by a Confederate torpedo (mine) in the Yazoo River, Mississippi. (photograph displayed above)


U.S.S. Benton

Drawing of the U.S.S.Benton, by R.G. Skerrett. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.

U.S.S. Benton: Originally a U.S. snag-boat, she was altered and plated as an iron-clad. She was considered to be the most powerful of all the union vessel in the western gunboat flotilla. "Was one hundred and eighty-six feet long on deck, and seventy-five feet wide at the beam; her hold was eight and one-half feet in depth, and she drew about five feet of water. She had a double hull, with the wheels working in the recess near the stern. Her hull was of four-inch plank and timbers eight by ten inches, and was divided by five fore-and-aft bulkheads and thirteen cross bulkheads, making forty-five water tight compartments. The deck-frame beams were ten inches square, and the main deck was planked with four-and-one-half inch plank. The forward casemate ran down to the two-feet water-line, and was of twenty-four-inch iron plating. The entire boat was sealed with three and four-inch oak plank, calked, and made perfectly tight. Casemates extended around the whole vessel, and was made of twelve-inch timber. At the knuckle on the main deck the timber was from three to four feet in thickness." Her eighteen guns ranged anywhere from  32-pounders to 42-pounders in caliber. "There were also two nine-inch Dahlgren guns in the forward part of the boat and two smaller ones at the stern."  "The machinery, boilers, ect. were all under the deck. The cylinders were twenty inches in diameter, double-flued. The wheels were twenty feet in diameter, with nine-and-one-half feet bucket, the wheel-house being protected by timber from six to eight inches in thickness and sheathed with heavy iron. The pilot-house was protected by twelve-inch oak timber placed at an angle of about thirty degrees with the upper deck, and was conical in shape, and sheathed in heavy iron."   [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883].Commanded by Capt. John Scott.  Served as Capt. Andrew Hull Foote's flagship during the March 1862 assault on Island No. 10. Became Capt. Charles H. Davis' flagship during the battles of Plum Point and Memphis. Engaged in a fight against the Confederate ironclad, the C.S.S. Arkansas at the mouth of the Yazoo river. Took part on the failed July 22, 1862 mission to destroy the C.S.S. Arkansas at Vicksburg. August 1862 Expedition to Milliken's Bend. Served as Flagship in sortie against rebel batteries at Hayne's Bluff. On 29 April 1863, took on Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf where it received severe damage with numerous casualties. Red River Expedition.

U.S.S. Carondelet: She was the first ship to run past the Confederate batteries on Island No. 10, as well as being a part of the naval force that forced the surrender of Ft. Henry; played the leading role in the naval attack on Ft. Donelson, where it suffered four killed, 30 wounded on board. Sent to Cairo, Illinois for repair of damages. March 1862 operation against Island No. 10 and New Madrid. Sunk the Confederate ship, "General Sumter" at the Battle of Plum Point. Engaged and destroyed the Confederate fleet at the Battle of Memphis. On July 15, 1862, she was run aground by Commander Henry Walke to avoid sinking after an attack by the Confederate ironclad, "C.S.S. Arkansas".   The Arkansas inflicted a devastating broadside that destroyed water pipes and steam guages as well as cutting away the wheel ropes. During this engagement she received four killed, 16 wounded, and 10 missing. By March 1863, the Carondelet was repaired and back to duty for Grant's expedition up the Yazoo to Steele's Bayou. Expedition to Hayne's Bluff.  On 29 April 1863, took on Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf . Involved in operations on the Red River. (Image of the U.S.S. Carondelet, depicts the common use of an awning over ironclads in order to reduce the searing heat from the sun. Photo credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center)


Confederate shell explodes inside the U.S.S. Carondelet
during the attack on Ft. Donelson.

U.S.S. Chickasaw:  The launching of this ship on Feb 10, 1864 resulted in a unsuspected calamity.  After the wine-breaking ceremony, the ship "plunged into the river, rising again, and floating like a cork." "The anchor was jerked overboard, and the immense rope was being paid out with fearful rapidity." The huge coils of rope swept overboard the following guests: "Miss Jenny Eads, daughter of J.B. Eads; Miss Mary Maguire, daughter of Mr. John Maguire; Mr. O.B. Filley, son of Mr. O. D. Filley; and Mr. and Mrs. Wm. P. Bradley. The chair on which Miss Stewart sat was pulled into the river, and she herself thrown on the coil of ropes, where she was grasped by two gentlemen and literally dragged away from the rope. The unfortunate persons supported themselves in the water by getting hold of pieces of timber, until two skiffs pushed out into the river and picked them up, all save Mrs. Bradley, who was supposed to have been stunned by striking one of the timbers, and drowned. "  [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883]. Despite the tragedy, the Chickasaw was commissioned 14 May 1864. Patrolled the Mississippi river and saw action at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Decommissioned 6 July 1865, laid up in New Orleans until sold  12 September 1874.

U.S.S. Chickasaw, Drawing courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.

U.S.S. Choctaw: Designed by Capt. Wm. D. Porter. 225 feet long, "originally designed for a turret and two heavy guns. She was afterwards altered so that she could be used either as a ram (bell metal of two feet in length) or as gunboat. "Commissioned  23 March 1863.(See picture above) Besides patrolling the Mississippi river as well as its tributaries it was used against Confederate fortifications at Haynes' Bluff, Yazoo City, and saw action at Millkin's Bend, La  . Between March and May 1864, she was used in the attack on Fort DeRussy. Decommissioned, 22 July 1865 in Algiers, LA. Sold 28 March 1866.

U.S.S. Choctaw

 The U.S.S. Choctaw was originally a merchant sidewheel steamer, built in 1853,
but later converted at Eads' shipyard in 1862 to an ironclad ram.
Watercolor by Ens. D. M. N. Stouffer, ca. 1864-65. David Dixon Porter Papers,
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.


U.S.S. Essex:  [Information and pictures]


U.S.S. Etlah:  Built under the supervision of D. G. Wells, government engineer. "The keel of the Etlah was laid in August, 1863, but owning to alterations found necessary, from actual experiments with monitors of this class, the completion of the vessel was delayed beyond the original contract time. The Etlah was the largest vessel ever built on the Mississippi up to that time, and when she was launched, on July 2, 1865, a vast concourse assembled to witness the trial."   The Etlah weighed about 1800 tons, "carried two guns, one 11-inch Dahlgren and one 150-punder rifled Parrott." Its "extreme length was 225 feet with a breadth of beam of forty-five feet; depth of hold was eleven feet; thickness of side armor was three inches; thickness of deck armor was one inch; internal diameter of turret was twenty feet; thickness of turret was eight inches; internal diameter of pilot house was six feet;" thickness of armor on pilot house was ten inches; two motive-engines; twenty-two inch diameter cylinders; stroke length: thirty inches; two nine inch diameter propellers. [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883]  Since she and her twin, the U.S.S. Shiloh were completed at end of war, they never saw combat service. It was sold 12 September 1874.

U.S.S. Fort Henry: Designed by Capt. Wm. D. Porter. Launched from Marine Railway Company in Carondelet on Sept. 22, 1862. Was 280 feet long and about 40 feet wide.  [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883]

U.S.S. Louisville: Commissioned 16 January 1862. Fort Donelson, Columbus, Ky, Island No. 10, New Madrid, Fort Pillow, Battle of Memphis,  Vicksburg, White River expedition, Ft. Hindman, captured the steamer Evansville,  Steele's Bayou Expedition, Grand Gulf, Red River Expedition, as well as patrol duty on the Mississippi river. Decommissioned 21 July 1865. Sold at auction  29 November 1865 at  Mound City, Illinois.

U.S.S. Milwaukee: Sister ship of the U.S.S. Winnebago. Took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay and operations against Ft. Blakely. In the Blakley river she struck a Confederate torpedo and sunk. Fortunately all the crew was able escape with no loss of life.

U.S.S. Milwaukee, probably in Mobile Bay in 1865. Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval Historical Center.

U.S.S. Neosho: Red River Campaign. Engaged Confederate batteries on the Cumberland River near Nashville in December 1864.

U.S.S. Osage: The smallest ship of her class. "One hundred and eighty feet long by forty-five feet wide, with four feet depth of hold, and had an iron hull divided into six compartments. When fully complete and armed she had a draft of only three and a half feet of water. She was of the monitor pattern, and carried two long-range eleven-inch guns placed in a turret on the forward deck. Her hull was strengthened on the outside and two feet below the water-line by a plating of four-inch iron. Her deck, the outer edges of which extended but twelve inches above the water, was slightly oval, instead of being flat, as was the case with the other gunboats built on the Mississippi." [History of Saint Louis City and County, by J. Thomas Scharf; Louis H. Everts & Co.; 1883]  The U.S.S. Osage saw action on the  Red River Campaign.

The USS Osage, a river monitor built by James B. Eads at the Carondelet shipyard. The Osage was propelled by a stern paddlewheel. It was the first U.S. Navy ship to use a periscope in combat. The Osage was used both on rivers as well as in saltwater of Mobile Bay. She was sunk by a Confederate torpedo (mine) in the Blakely River, Alabama March 29, 1865. (photo credit, Library of Congress)




U.S.S. Pittsburgh: Saw action at Ft. Henry but was put out of action in assault on Ft. Donelson due to severe damage. Sent to Cairo, Ill. for repairs. Took part in the attack on Island No. 10, Grand Gulf,  and the Red River Campaign.

U.S.S. Pittsburg (Pittsburgh). Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.

U.S. S. Shiloh:  Was a sister ship of the U.S.S. Etlah. However its maker, McCord & Steel "had considerable difficulty in launching the "Shiloh", but she was finally gotten into the water. This vessel was built in three separate divisions or compartments. Her turret was composed of one hundred and sixty plates of iron one inch in thickness by forty inches in width and nine feet high, each plate weighing about twelve hundred pounds. The plates were riveted together by bolts of one and a half inches in thickness, which, with the arrangement of the planed joints of the plates, rendered it one solid mass of iron weighing over one hundred tons. The turret, when occasion required it, was revolved by two turret engines, and moved upon a stationary ring. (see above description of U.S.S. Shiloh for other details) Completed at the end of the Civil War and never saw action. Eventually sold at auction on 12 September 1874.


U.S.S. Winnebago: Commissioned on 27 April 1864 Patrolled the Mississippi River and participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Also was involved in shelling of Ft. Morgan and operations against Ft. Blakely. Later served on the Tombigbee river against Confederate forces in Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. Remained in U.S. Navy service, stationed at Mobile Bay and later New Orleans. Sold at auction on 12 September 1874 to Nathaniel McKay, who then sold it to the Peruvian Navy. Renamed the "Manco Capac".


Brief History of Eads' Mound City Ironclads

U.S.S. Cairo: Commissioned  26 January 1862. Patrolled the Cumberland river at Clarksville and Nashville, Tenn. Escorted motar boats during the siege of Ft. Pillow. Took part in the naval battles of Plum Point and Memphis. Patrolled the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. On 12 December 1862 she struck a Confederate torpedo and sunk.

U.S. S. Cincinnati: Commissioned at Mound City, Ill., 16 January 1862. Fired the first shot against Ft. Henry but was heavily damaged during the battle. Returned to Cairo, Illinois for repairs. Took part in operations against Island No. 10.  She was sunk in 11 feet of water at the Battle of Plum Point after being rammed by the Confederate ships, "General Bragg" and "Sterling Price".    After two months she was raised and back in action. Took part in the expedition up the Yazoo river to Steele's Bayou. On May 27th, 1863 she was sunk in three fathoms of water during an operation against Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi.   Raised a second time on August 1863,  took part once again at patrolling the Mississippi river and Mobile Bay..  Decommissioned 4 August 1865 at Algiers, La. She was sold at New Orleans 28 March 1866.

U.S.S. Mound City: Took part in operations against Island No. 10. Sunk May 10, 1862 in 12 feet of water at the Battle of Plum Point after being rammed by the Confederate ship, "General Van Dorn". Was raised the next day, and on June 12th 1862, became Capt. Charles H. Davis' flagship during his expedition up the White River. At St. Charles, Arkansas the "Mound City" was crippled after a Confederate shell penetrated her iron-plating and exploded her steam drum. Of the crew of 187 men, 125 were killed and 25 wounded (including Capt. Davis). Aug 16th 1862, the "Mound City" was back in operation at Milliken's Bend, north of Vicksburg. Took part in the sortie up the Yazoo river to Steele's Bayou, and against the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf. Participated in the Red River campaign, including the assualt on Ft. De Russy.



"Oh! Give Us a Navy of Iron"

A Popular Naval Ballad (1862)

Midi file courtesy of : Benjamin Tubb

[19th Century American Popular Music]

Words by D. Brainerd Williamson, music by James W. Porter
Dedicated to Capt. John Ericson, inventor of the Monitor.

Verse One

O give us a Navy of Iron,
And to man it our Yankee Lads;
And we'll conquer the world's broad oceans,
With our Navy of Iron clads;
Then adieu to _Britannia's_ power,
We'll crush it when ever we please;
The _Lion_ shall yield to the _Eagle_,
And _Columbia_ shall rule the sea's.


O give us a Navy of Iron,
And to man it our Yankee Lads;
And we'll conquer the world's broad oceans,
With our Navy of Iron clads.


Verse two

Old England the foe of our fathers,
The foe of their children today,
Is gloating in hopes that our Union
In darkness is passing away.
But Treason shall die in its ashes,
And stronger than ever before;
We'll turn on the jealous old tyrant,
And punish John Bull at the door.


O give us a Navy of Iron,
And to man it our Yankee Lads;
And we'll conquer the world's broad oceans,
With our Navy of Iron clads.

Verse Three

And where in the wide world a nation,
That could cope with our Iron Jacks?
We would sweep all their seas and harbors,
Of their Warriors and Merrimacs.
Then prove to the despots of Europe,
That freedom must reign on the seas.


O give us a Navy of Iron,
And to man it our Yankee Lads;
And we'll conquer the world's broad oceans,
With our Navy of Iron clads.

Recommended Web Sites:

The Missouri Civil War Museum

U.S.S. Baron De Kalb  (formerly the "St. Louis")
U.S.S. Cairo
C.S.S. Arkansas (Confederate Ironclad)
C.S.S. Arkansas (Confederate Military History)
Confederate State Navy
Vicksburg National Military Park (where the U.S.S. Cairo is on display)
Naval Historical Center
Naval Historical Center (Battle Chronology)
Naval War  (American Civil War)
Confederate Torpedos (Mines) (excellent pictures of various types)


History's Time Portal to Old St. Louis