The Timberclads

When James B. Eads submitted a proposal to build a flotilla designed to wrest control of the Mississippi River from ihe Confederates, he was echoing the call by General Winfield Scott to make the river a major focal point of Union strategy. Eads was a successful St Louis businessman, and experienced in riverboat construction. The Navy was hard-pressed just to establish a blockade around the Confederate coastline, so the matter was passed to the War Department, which ran the US Army. What the Navy Department could do was to send an experienced naval officer to supervise operations. In May 1861, Commander John Rodgers, USN, and Naval Constructor Samuel Pook were sent westward, with orders to work with Eads and the theater commander, General McClellan. As the War Department put ic

Uss Lexington 1861 Armament

The timberclad gunboat USS Lexington usually operated in conjunction with the USS Tyler, and served with distinction throughout the war. She is probably best remembered for providing naval gunfire support to General Grant's Union Army at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

Union Timberclads

Meanwhile, McClellan had been replaced by General Fremont, and the new regional commander asked for Rodgers's removal, due to the complaints ol local businessmen that he was not displaying enough largesse with naval contracts. The capable Rodgers was duly sent back east.

At Louisville, Phelps struggled to complete the gunboats. I'helps complained "there is no paint for the boats," and questioned the quality of the riverinen hired by his colleagues. Finally, die river rose enough for the ihree gunboats to continue on to Cairo, where their guns and stoics waited for them on the quayside. The trio constituted the only river defense available to the I nion, and were duly put to work by the Army. While they were crcwed by Navy personnel, they (and all other Union river gunboats) came under Armv control. The river flotilla would only be transferred to the US Navy in August 1862. They were available for service by August 1"), 18f)l, and six days later the '/yfcr fired the first naval "shot in anger" on the Mississippi, engaging Confederate patrols on the Missouri shore. The trio would operate in support of (lie Army until enough warships were gathered to permit independent naval operations.

These wooden gunboats were only protected by timber. With a touch of sarcasm, in comparison with the ironclads designed by Fads and 1'ook, they were duly dubbed "timberclads." Despite their fragile appearance, they were useful, well-armed warships. The Conestoga only carried four

32-pounders, but her consorts were stronger, allowing the emplacement of a heavier broadside armament. The Ij>xingtori carried two 32-pounder, and four 8-inch smoothbores, while the Ty In carried one 32-pounder and six 8-inch smoothbore pieces. Although all these weapons were smoothbores, changes were made to ihese ordnance suites during the war. The Lexington and Tyler were issued with 30-poundrr rifles by late 1802 (two and three respectively) but the

The timberclad gunboat USS Lexington usually operated in conjunction with the USS Tyler, and served with distinction throughout the war. She is probably best remembered for providing naval gunfire support to General Grant's Union Army at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

The timberclad gunboat USS Conestoga first saw service in September 1861, and subsequently took part in the attacks on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. She was sunk in a collision with the USS Genera/ Price in March 1864.

Timberclad ConestogaCivil War Confederate Uniforms

Colonel Charles Ellet was a staunch advocate of the wooden ram, and his flotilla of "Ellet rams" helped turn the tide of the war on the upper Mississippi River. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Memphis in June 1862.

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