Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: Mighty Ironclads and Other Amazements: Civil War

Mighty Ironclads and Other Amazements by Alison Wells, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2005

The first Ironclads are amazing enough, but this booklet talks of other advances and how they effected the Civil War.  Improvements in photography brought the war to people.  Pictures of the dead were often taken and sent to home states.  Mathew Brady sponsored a crew of photographers, who documented much of the war.  However, the first battle, Manassas or Bull Run has no surviving photographs.  In the Union retreat, the wagon of Brady was upset, and the pictures were ruined.  There of course were other photographers.  Newspapers did not always purchase pictures, and they were wold directly to the public.  Also soldiers also wanted their image taken in case they did not make it home.
The telegraph was also a major advance.  Information could travel the speed of light.  No longer were there long delays in disseminating information.  The advance of Morse Code gave a method for exchanging information.  It was not unheard to have telegraph wires lined to the battle front.  Along with the telegraph, was the use of balloons for spying on military formations of the enemy.  Telegraph wires were also wired right to the balloon.
The telegraph wire did have it drawback.  The enemy could intercept messages, or worse could fake messages.  However, telegraph operators were familiar with the patterns of those with whom they communicated frequently.  They often could tell the difference between fake and real messages. 
The Virginia against the fleet blockading Richmond was a pivotal moment in history.  The Virginia was the Confederate conversion of the ship Merrimac, a steam powered ship.  It had been lined with steel.  There was some difficulty getting enough, and in some cases rails were used, having been melted and formed into plates.  These were attached to the ship.  This ship was 263 feet long.  In addition to cannon, it was armed with a battering ram.  The first day on Hampton Roads, the ocean waterway where the James River drains, the Virginia had great success.  Cannon fire from the ships did not affect the Virginia, and it was able to ram and sink the Cumberland, one of two ships (of about fifteen Union ships) that had cannon large enough to do any damage to the Virginia.  The other ship, Congress, it had badly damaged and ran aground.  Another ship had been sunk, and two more run aground.  At the end of the day, it withdrew, with the expectation of retuning to finish the job the next day. 
The Union had heard of the Confederate plans for an armored vessel, and had made their own.  When they heard of the battle in Washington, the USS Monitor, a flat vessel with a turret had been floated to the area.  The trip had been rough.  The USS Monitor almost sunk in the high seas.  However it was there waiting the next morning, and thus the first ironclad battle took place.  The USS Monitor was smaller, but its turret made a difficult target.  It was also better able to steer because of the smaller size.  The ships battled for four hours with no clear winner.  The Virginia withdrew and steamed upriver.  The blockade held. 

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