View Full Version : A Monitor in a gale.

Sam F
11-21-2002, 05:54 PM
When the original Monitor’s turret was raised, I remembered this account of another Monitor, the Passaic class Weehawken, surviving a bad storm. If you are a boat-nut combined with a history buff you may find this interesting.
What follows is a nearly complete account of what happened but the language is 19th century and may seem alien to some… any typos are my own.

Detailed report of the passage of the Weehawken to Hampton Roads.

US Ironclad Weehawken
Norfolk Navy Yard, January 26, 1863

Sir: I have the honor to report that on the 18th instant, while lying in New Your harbor, the Boardman, side-wheel tug, came alongside to tow us to the Chesapeake, whereupon we immediately got under way for sea.

When just outside of the Hook, the wind suddenly chopped round to the northeast, and the pilots thought gave indications of a gale. These I could not perceive but I knew the Boardman would founder in rough weather and the Weehawken be left in case of accident to her machinery, to drift upon the lee shore. I felt it my duty to anchor, and report the character of the tug to the admiral commanding the station.

It was found that no better vessel could be procured, and we sailed next morning, the 19th, towed by the Boardman, and under convoy of the Iroquois, Captain Case, which in the meanwhile had anchored near us at Sandy Hook.

We steamed down the coast, generally in sight of land, and with the water smooth. On the 20th we were, at daylight, off the entrance to the Delaware.

At about eight o’clock it was reported to me that the Boardman, with us in tow had turned, and was seeking shelter under the breakwater. The weather was no longer fine, but I did not think the appearance justified my seeking shelter, and the tug was ordered to stand for the Chesapeake.

The weather grew continually worse, and the barometer fell regularly, but I did not anticipate more than I judged the Weehawken could easily weather.

The performance of the vessel in the sea was admirable. I remarked, however, that when the tow-line, from any cause was slackened, the motion of the vessel was better than when it was stretched.

At about 2.30 p.m. the Boardman was no longer of use, and it seemed probable that we should find her an incumbrance. Made signal to her to leave us and look out for her own safety. We cut the tow-line, in order not to endanger our propeller: with the sea breaking over our decks it would not have been safe to send men to gather it in had she cast it off. We were in sight of Fenwick’s Island light. The Boardman ran northward, and was soon out of sight. I have heard since that she arrived safely inside the breakwater, but half full of water.

Upon seeing the Boardman leave us the Iroquois promptly ran down from her station to windward and offered to tow us: But I declined, thinking we should do better alone.

The vessel commenced leaking through the hawse-hole; put new parceling and lashing on to restrain the leak, which gradually increased, notwithstanding our efforts. It was thought openings in the overhang admitted water from the deck. We commenced leaking badly from the after overhang. Here too, the flow of water increased as the gale grew worse., but it was still thought that these leaks were from the deck.

The steam pumps were continually choked, and much time was lost in clearing them. Our limbers which, when we received the vessel, it was reported, had been carefully cleaned, proved to be very foul. Cotton waste lamps, oil feeders, hammers and chips obstructed the flow of water to the pumps, and interrupted their action. We cleared as much of them out as we could.

The water at last forced up the floor plates in the fire-room, and covered the ash-pits. The leaks still increasing, it was found that the fires had been neglected; that two furnaces were so far out as to need rekindling with wood; that the others were very low, and we had only ten pounds of steam. In this emergency, one of the passengers, Mr. John Farren, chief engineer in the navy, promptly took measures to re-establish the fires and procure the necessary pressure of steam. The sea was about thirty feet high, and was made irregular and trying, in consequence, probably, of the probability of the land. Through all this the behavior of the vessel was easy, buoyant and indicative of thorough safety. Her movements filled me with admiration. I saw in them everything to admire; nothing to improve. The waves rolled furiously across the deck. Instead of expending their force against the side, as in an ordinary vessel, they swept harmlessly by. A plate of iron two inches thick, and weighing some thirty-three hundred pounds, was broken from its lashing upon the deck, and transported about forty feet to some side stanchions, which arrested its course overboard, and to which it was secured.

The opinion formed then confirmed my anticipations, that a hull rising but little above the surface of the water, and having a central elevation as in the Monitors, is the shape to form a good sea boat; and I am convinced that on this idea all successful ironclads must be built. This form reduces the surface to be plated to a minimum and puts the part having the necessary elevation above the sea f or fighting guns, where it can be carried without inconvenience, and in Weehawken is easily carried. With us I think, safety is solely a question of strength.

I had relied on former experience to correct any faulty motion which I might discover, in a sea way, by shifting or reducing weights. I abandoned, however, the idea of improvement; as I watched the action of the vessel it was perfect.

The sea exercised great power upon the upper hull, and our speed, while we could measure it, fell to two and a half knots, and she trembled through all her plating at some of the blows which she received. During the height of the gale the waves swept over us so violently that no one could go on deck to heave either log or lead.

The stanchions on the side were of the greatest service; without their aid, men whose feet were swept from under them would have been carried overboard. Lifelines at sea cannot be too much multiplied….

On the night of the 20th and morning of the 21st the wind blew very hard; hardest from two to four a.m. We had been running all night on our course rather in the trough of the sea. At about eight o’clock the bad weather had passed away the sea was much smoother. I then made signals to the Iroquois for a tow-line. Which Captain Case promptly gave. There was still so much motion that we parted a couple of new 9-inch hawsers. I found that by bending my tow-line, to his we did much better, on the principle of a long scope of cable in a sea-way. The length, and consequent elasticity, prevented any injurious jerk, and the line held.

At eleven a.m. we made “Cape Henry light-house”. At about one p.m. the Iroquois made signal that she had disable her machinery. We cast off her tow-line, and came in alone, anchored in the fog off the tail of the Horseshoe, and got underway the next morning, the 22nd, as soon as we could see the light-boat, and came up to Fortress Monroe, from which I telegraphed our arrival.

Both Captain Case and I remarked that the Weehawken did much better, as regards to motion, without a tow-line.

I cannot withhold my expressions of thanks to Captain Case for the noble manner in which he kept by me during the night. His boats were fully prepared, provisioned and watered for service, in a night too wild for any boat to live. He was always near us, and handled his vessel in a daring manner in giving us tow-lines, where a collision would inevitably have sunk him. I must also express my thanks to the engineer passengers for the purpose of observation; Messrs. John Farren, chief engineer fo the navy, N.C. Davis assistant to Mr. Farren, and William Alden, sent out by the contractors. Without their efficient and experienced aid in attending to the machinery, I dare not assert the result.

I have the honor of you obedient servant,
John Rodgers, Captain.
Hon. Gideon Wells,
Secretary of the Navy.

(from: Report of the Secretary of the Navy in relation to Armored Vessels.
Washington: Government Printing Office; 1864. Pages 42-45)

In another account of the storm reported by Captain Rodgers:
“ The Monitor model rolls very little, and is extremely easy in a seaway. In a gale of wind it was found on board the Monitor Weehawken that while her companion, the wooden corvette Iroquois, (deemed a very perfect model) had an excessively violent motion, so violent indeed that no one could stand upon her decks without the assistance of life-lines, the Weehawken had so little motion that a bottle of claret stood for an hour upon its narrow base on the dinner table in the cabin, when it was put away.”

Weehawken later sank at her mooring in Dec of 1863 with a loss of 30 lives
There is more on her at:

[ 11-21-2002, 05:59 PM: Message edited by: Sam F ]

Greg H
11-21-2002, 06:11 PM
That's cool. Thanks Sam.

11-21-2002, 09:42 PM
Thanks Sam, that's a good'un.

Alan D. Hyde
11-22-2002, 11:28 AM
Thanks, Sam. That's great.

Anyone else read Joshua Slocum's account of taking the Destroyer to Brazil?

It's an interesting story, not without some similarities to this one.


Sam F
11-22-2002, 03:22 PM
Alan, I haven't read that one. Slocum could really tell a story. I'll have to put that on my wish list.

When I re-read the Weehawken’s experience I noticed something I missed the first time:
The contractor's representative was aboard as a passenger (the ship was brand new).
Don't you wonder what he said when he got back to the shipyard with tales of hammers and other junk being stuck in the limbers; and how they nearly got him drowned?
I bet he was hot.
That book is filled with reports of the then radically new technology. Almost all of it is the sort of stuff that they never teach in history class.
Those Monitors were sent out untried, "used hard and put up wet" as the saying goes.
The battle accounts are amazing with the top of a pilothouse being partially peeled back by cannon fire and bolts being dislodged by direct hits and ricocheting around the enclosed spaces until they hit something... sometimes they hit the crew.
One ship ran aground in range of a Confederate fort and spent hours being pounded before refloated on the tide.
Even the mechanical reports are impressive. The stuff they did in the field is incredible. In one case a turret rotating gear broke a tooth and some amazing mechanic dovetailed in a new wrought iron one.
It's humbling to read.